10 Warning Signs of Trouble Brewing in Your House

Just like a car that sputters when something is amiss under the hood, houses send out warnings of their own. Protect your home investment - not to mention your security - by learning some of the warning signs and seeking help when necessary. Be sure not to ignore the red flags listed below - left untreated, these small problems can become big, expensive disasters.

  1. Water bills suddenly increase for no obvious reason: If you haven't left the hose running for a few days by mistake, you may have a water leak someplace underground where it can’t be seen. To confirm whether this is the case, shut off all the water in the house and check the water meter reading over the period of an hour. If the flow continues, you have a leak.

  2. Toilets flush slowly and drains are sluggish: Because toilets quickly dump a lot of water down waste lines, they are usually the first to exhibit symptoms of a clog or trouble with a septic system. If other drains are also slow, you can be sure that it is the whole system that is not working properly and not just one cranky fixture. Untreated clogs can become a big, smelly mess.

  3. There are dark wall stains, musty odors and rusty nails, but no leaks: Water damage does not always come from an obvious source like a leaky pipe or roof. In many homes, poor ventilation can cause water damage that is just as bad as a leak from a burst pipe. In fact, it can be worse because it often goes undetected longer and can cause health problems from associated mold and mildew problems.

  4. Doors and windows will not close or keep opening, and there are mysterious cracks that keep getting larger: Your home could be settling unevenly. Small expansion cracks in concrete or plaster are usually nothing to worry about, but if there are more problems you should call a structural engineer.

  5. Appliance pilot lights need to be continually relit: The thermocouple is probably faulty. This is the safety device that shuts off the gas to an appliance when it senses that the pilot light is no longer burning. A thermocouple is a "fail safe" device - that is, when it becomes defective, it performs its intended function regardless of need. So although your pilot may be on, a malfunctioning thermocouple will still shut the pilot light and the gas off.

  6. Clothes come out of the dryer too hot or still damp: Lint often clogs dryer vents that are too long or kinked. In some cases this will even lead to fires. To solve the problem, dryer vents should be kept as short and straight as possible and cleaned at least once a year.

  7. You have flu and allergy-like symptoms whenever you are at home: Dirty air filters and air ducts in your home heating/cooling system can fill your home with sickening mold and bacteria. Other causes may include adhesives and chemicals in furniture and rugs, and a lack of fresh air circulating into your home.

  8. Switches and plugs are hot; electric boxes sizzle; lights dim and breakers are trip: These are symptoms of a seriously overburdened electrical system. Switches and plugs that get hot when you use them; sizzles and buzzes in electric boxes; lights that dim when you turn on other appliances; and breakers and fuses that continually need to be reset or replaced are red flags saying you need to upgrade your electrical system. Unchecked, this problem could escalate into a fire hazard.

  9. You notice small holes in wood surfaces, mud tunnels along foundations and sawdust: Sounds like termites are taking over. These pests are a common problem, especially in southern states. Because termites do most of their damage where it cannot be seen - inside the wood - you should always be on the lookout for warning signs. Have your home inspected if you suspect termites are present.

  10. Small piles of sand appear around roof drains and gutters: When an asphalt composite (tar paper) roof starts to deteriorate, the little grains of sand stuck to the paper start to fall off. When enough grains have fallen off that you can see bare patches, it's time for a new roof.