Detecting Leaks During a Homebuyer’s Inspection

Buying a new home is a huge investment. In fact, research shows that it’s the biggest one most regular families make in their lives. So it makes sense to ensure that you aren’t being sold a doozy—especially in these days of lower house prices and sometimes-quick sales. Your house buying inspection is an essential part of this, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll pick up everything. One area you should focus on is leak detection, because anything you miss could cost you big-time down the line. Here are some of the ways to identify leaks before you finalize your purchase.

The M&Ms – Mold and Mildew

5716875706_30e272488c (1)These are the prime suspects you’ll find in a home that has water leaks, and guess what? It’s not really the home inspector’s job to identify them! Most inspectors will point mold out if they see it, and some include it in their report to avoid liability for problems relating to mold, but you can ask the inspector if he or she spotted any signs of it. Your best bet, however, is to do some sleuthing yourself and if you spot any signs of mold or mildew, get a leak detection specialist in to verify it for you.


Look for mold and mildew by:

  • Smell – these problems are caused by the growth of fungus that feeds off moisture, and the fungus has a musty, fairly distinctive odor. So take a “sniffing expedition” through the house and see if you smell anything that gives you food for thought.
  • Look – although mold and mildew are only readily visible when they reach an advanced stage, you can usually find them if you look carefully in the corners of rooms, both at floor and ceiling level, under stairs and inside bathroom closets.

You should be able to spot signs of mold and mildew even during warm, dry weather, especially if they are caused by leaking water pipes or drains.

Check the Water Meter

A standard method of leak detection is to check the water meter. It’s easy if the house is empty, but even if it isn’t you can go ahead by asking everyone to refrain from using faucets or flushing a toilet for a while. Turn off all water sources and wait for 15 minutes, then check the meter to see if it’s running. If it is, it’s usually an indication of a leak somewhere. You’ll need to examine all the toilets in the home to see if any tanks are leaking, and test the water pressure in the faucets to make sure nothing is draining away inside the walls.

Investigate the Basement and Crawl Space

infraredBasements and crawl spaces are notorious hiding places for water leaks. Take a close look at the walls and floor of the basement for any signs of dampness. If you see anything suspicious, you may need to get a leak detection professional out to investigate thoroughly using infra-red imaging equipment to check the foundations or conduct a camera inspection inside your drains.

Examine the Exterior and Yard

Sometimes, the problems are outdoors rather than indoors. Check the earth around the house for any signs of water pooling, or discoloration against the lower walls that could indicate dampness. Check that the ground slopes away from the building to encourage runoff, and examine the gutters and downspouts to see if they are in good condition and won’t need money spent on them if you buy. Look for any large trees growing well that may have roots sucking water out of the drainage system

Review the Roof, Gutters, and Downspouts

9951959944_93aa3097e9Checking the condition of the roof is a critical aspect of leak detection. Home inspectors don’t usually climb up onto roofs, so you might have to make a plan to do so. If you can’t get up on the roof yourself, hire a contractor who can verify that the shingles are all in place and in good condition. Examine the gutters and downspouts and make sure they are able to carry water away from the roof reliably, even during a heavy downpour.

Assess the Plumbing

Comprehensive leak detection includes a thorough assessment of the home’s water pipes. Even if your water meter check doesn’t indicate a leak, you should take a good look at all accessible pipes to see if you can identify moisture around connections, joints and valves. Wipe a fresh paper towel around each seal to see if you find any signs of water that could be the start of a new leak.

Don’t be fooled into bidding on a home without doing a full inspection. Leak detection costs less than you’ll fork out for major repairs, especially if you overlook anything potentially big.

Image Credits: Leakmasters – Infrared Detection, Aaron Volkening – Downspout, US Army Corps of Engineers – Inspector