Where's the water coming from?
February 5, 2012 8:18 AM   Subscribe

How to identify, fix, and clean up after a water leak without destroying my walls and ceilings (any more than I have to)?

I have a 3-story house, and I recently noticed that there are 3 seemingly water-related problems, and each one is above the other. I'm thinking water leak.

On the first floor, there's peeling finish plaster all around one corner of the plaster ceiling. I removed some of the loose plaster and did not like what I saw.

On the second floor, there's peeling paint up and down the wall at the same spot.

On the third floor, there's no peeling paint, but there's a very small amount of mold. (Toothbrush included for size comparison.) I sort of absent-mindedly painted over it a couple weeks ago, and noticed that it grew back.

The roof above this spot is pitched, with asphalt shingles. I see a patch of roofing tar near this spot, but I'm not sure if it's directly overhead.

How can I figure out if water is still entering without tearing up the wall? I can cut away a piece of plaster on the third floor to check for moisture, but since there's mold growing I'm a little paranoid about it. Help!
posted by zvs to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
I see a patch of roofing tar near this spot, but I'm not sure if it's directly overhead.

The leak in the roof needn't be directly overhead of the interior damage. Water finds the path of least resistance. The leak could easily be several feet away from the areas of damage. Your best bet would be to get into the attic (if possible) and search for an obvious leak and trail of water staining/mold/etc.

You definitely will have to remove any moldy plaster, though.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:27 AM on February 5, 2012

You really, really need to consult a professional for this. Mold and water damage is serious stuff and you shouldn't be messing with it on your own with no clue. See if there's a Servpro.com business in your area, they've worked miracles on my place after floods.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:27 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Definitely talk to a professional about this. I would also consult your insurance company. Insurance companies have 24/7 emergency claims services (for the most part) and can get a contractor out there to assist with emergency repairs and clean up as required. Also contact a plumber.
posted by livinglearning at 9:54 AM on February 5, 2012

Response by poster: Yeah, sadly, there's no attic, just a 2' cockloft which isn't accessible.

To the people telling me to get a professional, I'm not going to try to remediate mold by hand, but that doesn't mean I can't find the leak. Nor do I see why I'd call a plumber with no pipes involved, and I don't particularly want to get my insurance company involved until I know the situation and my liability.
posted by zvs at 10:18 AM on February 5, 2012

Response by poster: (In that vein, I have a deductible so high for water damage that it's unlikely to cover the cost of repairs unless it really gets out of hand.)
posted by zvs at 10:33 AM on February 5, 2012

Sorry to hear there's no attic to fit into. Without being able to view the underside of the roof, it's damned difficult, if not impossible, to track-down a leak, barring some obvious, visible hole in the exterior.

You could, of course, just have the roof stripped and re-shingled. That would certainly reveal any leaks and allows easy repair.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:01 AM on February 5, 2012

Response by poster: Hmf, not the worst idea. The whole roof is maybe 100 sq ft and the shingles are quite old. I mostly worry because there have definitely been problems with the brick wall's waterproofing in the past. I'd hate to do off the roof and find out what I really needed was to repoint.
posted by zvs at 11:13 AM on February 5, 2012

Ah, well, you didn't mention the brick problems.

100sq.ft is a small job and, since you say it's an old roof anyway, you could think of it as an investment. You're going to have to do it eventually, anyway. If they discover leakage too, more's the better.

If you seriously suspect your brickwork, you should bring in a contractor (or brickmason) to inspect it.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:27 PM on February 5, 2012

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