Preventing Water Damage in the Bathroom

 Pretty much everything in the bathroom uses water, so it’s no surprise that around 75% of household water use takes place there. All that water is meant to be confined to specific places, though: in the sink, in the tub/shower, in the toilet. Beyond these fixtures, a bathroom is, on the whole, just another room. Apart from the sealant around those fixtures, and waterproofing materials in the floor/walls of a shower, there’s not a whole lot else to stop rogue water from doing damage. Except you!

At the end of the day, it’s the vigilance of the homeowner that keeps mold and rot at bay. Knowing the signs of water damage, where it’s most likely to occur, and how it happens is just as important as a properly-installed shower pan. A keen eye, paired with the information below, can help you avoid the heartbreak and high costs of water damage repair and mold remediation.

Helpful Tips:

  • Leaks can be deceitful: just because evidence of a leak appears in a certain spot doesn’t mean the leak originates there. Take time to track down the actual source before planning out or attempting a repair.
  • Discoloration on walls or floors? Musty smell? Are any areas softer than others? These could point to a leak, mold, or bacteria. If you have access underneath/behind the suspicious area, you may be able to address it. Otherwise, you’re best off calling a professional.
  • If drywall has become warped or bubbly, it’s gotten wet. Poke a hole to allow any moisture a way out. If the drywall isn’t saturated and feels nearly dry, you may be okay. If it’s soft, it should be replaced. If the source of the water isn’t obvious, there may be a leak in the wall.
  • Regularly test the shut-off/stop valves on fixtures, and replace as necessary. Keep an eye out for any wetness or staining around them that could indicate a leak. These valves are hugely important: should a fixture overflow, they’re the quickest way to shut the water off. If you have flexible supply lines connected to them, make sure they’re tightly secured to both valve and fixture.
  • If your bathroom doesn’t have an exhaust fan, it needs one. While you can get away with a good window, nothing beats a properly-installed bathroom vent fan in taking moisture (and odors) out.
  • Always check around your shower after taking one. Curtains can get torn and seals on doors can deteriorate, allowing water to escape, collect, sit, or find its way to cracks and openings elsewhere.
  • Kids love to play with water. It’s super cute, but it’s best kept outside. Try to minimize the splashing of little ones in the tub, and wipe up any water that does make it to the floor/walls as soon as possible. A good bath mat goes a long way!
  • Drain the tub as soon as you’re done with it: standing water can find its way into all sorts of hairline cracks and spaces in compromised drains.
  • Cracked, broken, or missing tiles allow water to seep in behind walls and under floors – repair or replace them immediately! The same goes with decaying or cracked grout. If things have been that way for a while, it’s recommended that you have a professional check for any hidden damage – mold could be growing out of sight.
  • Shower pans can crack or be punctured, potentially leading to serious damage. Test your shower pan annually to catch any leaks before they have a chance to destroy your subfloor.
  • Toilets will leak, but most of the time it’s a “contained” leak between the tank and the bowl – something that definitely needs to be fixed, but probably won’t ruin anything else in the room. If the floor around the toilet is wet, has any give at all/is spongy, or you notice significant staining around the base, there’s a problem. If you don’t have experience with toilets, call a plumber – there could be a problem with the tank-to-bowl connection, the floor flange, or the gasket. Note: The wax ring under a toilet only seals air and gases from entering through the closet flange connection. It is not designed to seal against water.
  • If your toilet does not appear to be leaking, be sure that the base is sufficiently sealed with silicone caulk or a similar product. This keeps water and other liquids (think mopping and “bad aim”) from making their way underneath. Keep an open gap at the rear so that any future leaks can make themselves known, otherwise that water will be completely sealed in (and you won’t know until it’s too late!)
  • Keep in mind that the toilet is usually the lowest point in a bathroom, and it’s not uncommon for water to collect there from other sources (kids splashing, an open shower curtain, a leaking supply line or shut-off valve). For instance: a small leak from a supply line could travel along pipes to the floor, remaining unnoticeable until enough of it accumulates where gravity directs it: the base of the toilet. Assuming there’s a leak in or around the toilet, unnecessary repairs could be made while the real problem keeps dripping away.
  • Regularly check inside and under vanities, where leaks from supply lines and poorly-caulked sinks can be hidden.
  • Also check sinks for cracked or deteriorating caulking, and repair as needed. Keep the faucet and the area around the sink dry (don’t let water collect and sit).
  • If you’re going on vacation, or just leaving the house for the weekend, it’s a good idea to shut off the water supply to the entire house. A burst pipe or similar emergency when no one’s home can be catastrophic.