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What Does Water Damage in a House Look Like?

Water damage is a considerable danger for a home, and it happens more frequently than you might realize.

According to the Insurance Information Institute (III) reports that water damage and freezing accounted for 23.8% of all reported homeowners insurance losses in 2018, and that the average claim was $10,849. 

Water damage also does not discriminate. It can happen at any time, in any home – old or new, large or small. When water damage does occur, it can cause severe structural damage. But while it can be a significant threat, water damage can also be hard to identify. So, what does water damage look like? And how can you prevent it in your home?

Here at ServiceMaster of Lake Shore, we specialize in helping clients in the Chicagoland area cope with, identify, and resolve water damage and get life back to normal.

In this post, we’re sharing our top tips to spot water damage and stop the problem in its tracks. 

What Causes Water Damage?

burst pipe water damage

According to III, about one in 50 insured homes has a property damage claim caused by water damage or freezing each year. There are many potential causes of water damage in a home.

Here are a few of the most common:

While you can’t prevent all the above causes of water damage, you can learn to recognize the signs and address the problem rapidly. 

What Does Water Damage on the Ceiling Look Like?

Water damage on the ceiling can happen when a pipe bursts or breaks in an upstairs room, or when a shower, bath, or toilet overflows. Here are a few common indications of water damage in the ceiling:


ceiling water damage chicago

Discoloration is one of the first signs of water damage. Water spots and stains may look wet or dry and can be brown, yellow, or copper-colored. They can occur in any part of the ceiling. 

Changes in Texture

soggy ceiling water damage

In addition to discoloration, walls may have cracking, bubbling, peeling paint or wallpaper, or sections of soggy drywall that requires repairs. Keep an eye out for warping, sagging, and expansion, as well. 

Water Accumulation

Water accumulation is one of the most obvious and most frightening signs of water damage. Look for areas of standing or pooling water or small seeps in the affected area of the ceiling. Water accumulation is also common in water-damaged basements, since there is no place left for the water to go. 

What Does Water Damage on the Subfloor Look Like?

Water damage on the subfloor can happen when a pipe bursts or breaks, or when flooding happens after a storm or natural disaster.

Here are the signs:

Swelling or Lifting

Water saturates subfloor material quickly, leading to areas that are swollen or feel lifted underfoot. Look for floorboards that don’t line up, areas where the floor seems to “heave” upwards, or places that feel soft or squishy when you step on them. 


water damaged floor

If the subfloor is exposed, you may notice staining or discoloration. Similar to ceiling staining, subfloor stains may look wet or dry and can range from yellow to dark brown. 

What Does Water Damage on Drywall Look Like?

Water damage to drywall can happen during construction or once a house is built. Like damage to subfloors and ceilings, it is often the result of leaking or burst pipes, overflows, or natural disasters.

Here are the signs:


Drywall is meant to stay, well, dry. When it suffers water damage, it becomes soggy and unable to hold its own weight. The damaged drywall will feel wet to the touch. In severe cases, it may even fall off the wall. 

Changes in Texture

bubbling paint water damage

Drywall may bubble, blister, or peel after water damage. Chipping or cracked paint and damaged trim are also reliable signs.

Musty or Moldy Smells

One of the biggest dangers of water damage is mold growth, which smells musty. In fact, mold growth can begin just 24-48 hours after water damage occurs.  If you have water damage in your drywall, you may notice a damp, stale, or moldy smell in the affected area. 

mold drywall

In addition to being unpleasant, exposure to mold can also be dangerous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

Exposure to molds can lead to symptoms such as stuffy nose, wheezing, and red or itchy eyes, or skin. Some people, such as those with allergies to molds or with asthma, may have more intense reactions. Severe reactions may include fever and shortness of breath.

Additional Signs of Water Damage

Sometimes, you can’t see water damage. Instead, you’ll notice the following signs:

Sound of Running Water

If water damage is happening behind walls, you might hear a dripping sound, or the “whooshing” of rushing water. Keep in mind that running water isn’t always a sign of an impending leak. Because these sounds occur in functioning systems, it’s important to listen for any noticeable changes in the normal sound patterns of your home. 

Increasing Utility Bills

If your water bill suddenly spikes, it could be a sign of a hidden leak. Have a restoration expert come evaluate your system, to be sure. 

Does Your Chicagoland Home Have Water Damage? We can Help!

Whether you have water damage in your basement, kitchen, bathroom, ceiling, or walls, our team can help get life back to normal. Specializing in comprehensive restoration services for customers in Chicago, IL and the suburbs, ServiceMaster of Lake Shore is your go-to water damage restoration expert.

Contact us today to learn more about our services or to request your consultation: (312) 707-8597