When you have a water leak, sometimes the only way to know it’s there is when you see the stain. A water stain, while it may seem like no more of an inconvenience, can mean that your home has potentially sustained serious damage.

If your faucet or shower is leaking, you can see the water dripping and going down the faucet.  However, if it’s a trap that's not tight, a toilet seal that's lost its grip, or even a water line with a tiny drip, you won’t know about it until it causes mold growth or damages floors, walls, or ceilings.

The worst part is that most homeowner’s insurance policies don’t cover water damage that is caused by lack of maintenance. So with this type of damage, it’s likely you’re on your own for the repair costs.

So what do you look for?
• Water marks around windows or the bottom of exterior doors where water comes in from the outside
• Damage at the joint between the ceiling and exterior wall that indicates a roof leak
• Stains on the ceiling, which indicates that there is a roof leak somewhere above
• Inside cabinets that house plumbing, where you will see a whitish ring on the floor of the cabinet where water is dripping
• Mold and mildew, specifically at the base of an exterior wall where water may be getting access.  Mold elsewhere usually simply means inadequate ventilation.
• Warped or softened flooring around dishwashers, washers, water heaters, refrigerators, and toilets means that there’s a hidden leak.

If you suspect a leak but haven’t been able to find it, take one hour to test your theory. 
• Turn off all faucets, water-using appliances such as the ice maker, and make sure everyone knows not to flush any toilets
• Make a note of the water meter reading
• Wait at least one hour, but the longer the better.  It’s good to try to run some errands or go to work if possible
• Check the water meter again; if the numbers have moved, you have a leak.  It may be time to call a plumber to help you locate your leak.

If you see water stains or suspect a hidden leak, you may or may not want to address the problem on your own.  It’s easy to tighten the seals on a leaky pipe, much harder to fix leaks inside walls or floors.  Most of the time, it’s best just to call a plumber to fix your leak, so you know the repair is done right and there are not additional trouble spots.