Leaks in homes can use more than 1 trillion gallons of water each year, an average of 10,000 gallons per household.
The most common sources of leaks are toilet flappers, dripping faucets and other leaking valves, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
One of the major sources of leaks is the bathroom. Surprisingly, certain design elements can increase the risk for water damage — or ensure that the damage stays hidden until it turns into a massive problem.
These issues aren’t limited to either residential or commercial construction, but can be found in all kinds of bathrooms, whether it is the one in your own home or a five-star hotel.
Here are three areas to watch for potential water damage, and when it is time to replace fixtures or remodel, making smart choices can reduce the risk of water damage in your new bathroom:
Vanities can hide leaks from supply lines or poorly caulked sinks. (Photo: iStock)
1. The bathroom sink
Bathroom sinks are notorious for causing water damage and it makes sense. We use these fixtures every day, which means a lot of wear and tear.
In fact, among homes, the bathroom and kitchen sink make up 16% of your water usage, on average. Even splashing your way through your morning routine can cause some damage. While you can’t eliminate the sink entirely, there are several ways to reduce some of the hidden sources of damage.
Pay close attention to the vanity or get rid of it entirely. There are numerous ways that vanities can obscure water damage: Water supply lines running through the wall or floor can develop leaks between the vanity itself and the wall or floor. In addition, the connections to the faucet and the drain can leak, which can be a major issue if you don’t look inside the cabinet often. Finally, all that splashing in the sink can cause damage to the vanity’s finish, especially if it is made of wood or laminated particle board.
One way to avoid these issues is to install a pedestal or a wall-mounted sink. Because the plumbing isn’t obscured by the cabinet, you’ll notice a puddle on the floor quickly and be able to fix the issue before it gets out of control.
If you decide to go with a vanity anyway, make sure to check all of the fittings underneath the sink regularly. Also, watch the caulk that seals drop-in sinks to the countertop. If the seal around the sink is broken, then splashed water will run underneath the sink and into the cabinet below.
Check the flapper, wax ring and wall fixtures for leaks. (Photo: iStock)
2. The toilet
Toilets can cause just as much damage as a sink, but if you don’t know what to look for, then that damage can go unnoticed for a long time.
The top sign of water damage from a leaking toilet is a soft, spongy floor, or a toilet that rocks easily. You may also find mildew or rot behind the toilet itself.
Here are a few of the causes:
- The easiest leaks to identify are those coming from the supply line to the toilet, or a leak between the toilet and the tank. Coloring the water in the tank can make it easier to identify where it is leaking. To prevent water damage, check this area often and make repairs as necessary.
- Sometimes the wax ring between the toilet and the pipe that the toilet rests on doesn’t provide a good seal. This can be a concern particularly if the toilet isn’t fastened tightly to the floor. If you can move the toilet, then be prepared to install a new wax ring and re-fasten the toilet firmly to the floor.
- The hardest water damage issue to pinpoint is condensation. Let’s say there is mildew behind the toilet, or the floor around the base is always damp, but there is no apparent source for the leak. In cases like these, condensation is often the culprit. The problem is toilet tanks are usually only supplied with cold water, so on hot days, condensation will form on the outside of the tank which can damage the wall behind the toilet or drip onto the floor. One way to fix this is to install a Styrofoam insert inside the toilet tank to insulate the cold water from the warm air.
Water damage can occur from leaking fixtures or poorly sealed grout or calking. (Photo: iStock)
3. The shower
There are three big ways that a tub or shower can cause water damage: Damaged caulking, worn or unsealed grout between tiles, and through the plumbing.
Frequently, plumbing problems are difficult to detect because the supply lines to the faucet and showerhead are hidden within walls. If at all possible, install an access panel behind the shower to allow periodic inspections of the plumbing. You can also prevent excessive water damage by routinely inspecting underneath the shower, if you have access.
When it comes to grout and caulk, these are relatively easy to correct and should be checked annually to prevent damage. In particular, look at the caulking along the base of a tub or shower surround, or at the base of the wall tiles. If it looks like the caulk isn’t providing a good seal, remove it and re-apply. For grout, simply make sure that it hasn’t worn too thin. Otherwise, you’ll need to re-apply the grout as well. In addition, if you’re not using a watertight epoxy grout, then apply a grout sealant to prevent seepage.
By identifying and eliminating the risks highlighted here, and keeping up with a routine inspection and maintenance schedule, it is very possible to stop water damage before it starts.
Erica Garland is the content marketing manager at San Fernando, Calif.-based Modern Bathroom, and has 15 years of experience in the bathroom renovation industry. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.