Leaking water can start as damage to ceilings and walls. If left untreated, mold and mildew will grow. Mold and mildew can spread through the structure of the property, through the HVAC system, and then to carpets and even furniture. It can be toxic and can lead to health problems like nasal congestion, rhinitis, and asthma.

Property owners and managers can also expect to see higher utility bills, as water entering the home usually means that heat is escaping. On top of that, water can saturate the insulation of the property, significantly reducing its effectiveness.

Over the long term, water damage leads to damaged rafters, ceiling joists, wall framing, wood deterioration, and more. The longer it’s left untreated, the more expensive the repairs become.

Other side effects of water damage include fire hazards, as a leaky roof could pose a threat from shorted wires, and slip and fall hazards, as puddles form on the floor. The good news is that these issues are easily prevented with a simple 5-point check of your property:

1. CHECK THE ROOF FOR LEAKS

A typical roof lasts 20 to 25 years so while you should check your roof no matter what age, if the roof is reaching the end of its life, this should be one of your top priorities heading into the winter.

Here’s what to look for when checking your roof:

Damage to walls and ceilings
Look for bubbling or damage to the paint on the ceiling, nearby walls, and ceiling mounted lights and fans.

Damaged or missing shingles
Look for shingles that are curled or buckling. If you notice curling or that shingles are losing their granules they could be past their life expectancy.

Look for valleys
As shingles start to fall apart, valleys form on the roof. These are the most important areas to attend to as snow and water naturally flow to valleys and if the roof is compromised in that area, water will get into the property.

Check chimney flashing
Chimney flashing prevents water from entering at the point where the chimney and the roof meet and leaks can often occur in this area. Failed flashing can be cemented or patched, but leaking in the area can also be a sign that the roof needs to be replaced.

Check your gutters
If the gutters are filled with shingle granules, your roof may be at the end of its life cycle. You should also make sure that gutters are clear of leaves and debris so that melting snow is properly drained from the roof.

Check the attic
A sure sign that you will get leaking during the winter is if you can see daylight in the attic. While you’re there, check the insulation for moisture.

Finally, the real threat during the winter is what is known as ice damming. This is when ice forms on the edge of the roof and prevents melting snow from draining off the roof. The backed up water will end up on the inside of your property if the roof is not well maintained and the consequences can be severe. Make sure to schedule a regular check of the roof during the winter. Look for ice damming and clear excessive build ups of ice and snow.

2. Survey the Property

This is important for two reasons. First, unsealed windows and doors can allow water into the property that leads to water damage. Second, a properly sealed window or door will save you 10 to 15 percent on your energy bill.

To check sealing, simply feel for a draft around windows and doors. Move your hand around the frame, feel for a soft breeze. A more technical approach is to use an infrared thermometer, which can measure ambient air temperatures. In areas where heat is escaping the property, the thermometer will register a colder temperature. Finally, you can call in professionals to conduct a “blower-door” test, which uses a specialized fan to assess the air tightness of your property and detect air leaks.

If you find leaks, you can use weather stripping, exterior-grade caulking and door sweeps to prevent heat from escaping and to prevent water from entering.

3. CHECK THE FOUNDATION OF THE PROPERTY FOR CRACKS

There are three types of foundation cracks: step, vertical, and horizontal. For the purposes of keeping water out of the basement, you’ll want to focus on step cracks, which are horizontal and vertical cracks meeting between cinderblocks or bricks (it looks like a step). This type of crack allows water to get to the basement.

If you notice cracks, it is best to call a professional. Foundation issues can be serious and you’ll want the advice of a pro to know if it can be fixed with an epoxy injection or expandable foam or if you’ll have to excavate and waterproof.

4. SHUT OFF OUTDOOR PLUMBING

One of the most common reasons for winter water damage is pipes freezing and subsequently bursting. Water expands up to 10% when it freezes, so if a water pipe is already full when the temperature hits below zero, there is no room for expansion and something’s got to give… and that is usually the pipe.

Outdoor faucets are especially prone to freezing as they are vulnerable to the cold. Make sure that you detach garden hoses at the end of the season, close the inside shut-off valve that controls water flow to the outdoor faucets and drain the line by opening the faucets. Be sure to check pipes at the end of the winter as well, sometimes pipes don’t show their leaks until full water pressure is applied (when the valve is turned back on).

Finally, as an added measure of safety, you can consider insulating your pipes. It is relatively inexpensive and can help protect plumbing and valves from the extreme cold.

5. CHECK GRADING OF PROPERTY

Lastly, check the grading of your property. To ensure proper drainage, the ground around your home should slope approximately 6 inches downhill away from the house over the first ten feet.

This will ensure that as the snow melts in the spring, the water moves away from the property and not into your home. Think of this when clearing snow as well – move the snow away from your home, not closer to it.

Water damage can lead to very expensive issues in the long term, from structural issues to health issues caused by toxic mold. Prevention is always your best strategy so be sure to take some time to inspect your properties before the winter comes. Some issues you may be able to solve by yourself, and others you’ll want to consult professionals, like The Concord Group who are a one-stop shop for water damage repair, mold removal, carpet cleaning, and even home renovations in cases of serious damage.