Broken pipes, leaks, running toilets, mould—you name it, plumbing problems can go from a minor fixer-upper to a major problem before you even realise it. Especially as a tenant in an apartment, it can be difficult to recognize that you have a drainage problem, and it can be even more difficult to figure out whose responsibility it is to fix it! You can surely troubleshoot minor plumbing issues yourself, but for larger issues, especially resulting from the maintenance of your apartment’s exterior, it’s best to call in the landlord. Even if everything in your house seems to be shipshape, keep an eye out for these subtle signs that your apartment has a drainage problem.
1. Mould and Water Stains
Mould is a common frustration for tenants and homeowners alike. It’s unsightly, unhealthy, and can continue to spread if not properly cleaned up. While mould is at times the product of humidity, if you notice large patches of mould on your walls or ceiling, sometimes accompanied by water stains, it may be a sign of drainage issues. Even if you don’t have an active leak, water may be collecting behind the walls, wrecking all sorts of havoc. Ill-functioning gutters are a common suspect for mould on the outside facing walls of the apartment. Leaky pipes can cause mould or water stains elsewhere. Assuming the mould is the result of plumbing issues or a leak from the outside of your apartment, your landlord may be responsible for making the necessary repairs. Bubbling or peeling paint may also be a sign of water damage.
2. Green or Sunken Patches in the Yard
Drainage pipes on a house’s exterior are continually exposed to the elements and may break from the wear and tear. A dysfunctional drainage pipe carrying rainwater can dump gallons into the lawn and, if close enough to the side of the building, cause foundational damage. If your outdoor drainage pipes are underground, the only way to spot a leak is by checking for sunken spots or particularly fast-growing patches of grass. If you’ve got a swamp popping up in the middle of the yard, you’ll probably find a leaking pipe underneath. Investing in an underground drainage system that’s of high quality can ensure that wastewater is carried safely away from your house and doesn’t end up leaking on the way.
3. Sewage Smells
Plumbing that works properly will carry wastewater safely away from your home, keeping out those nasty sewage smells. The smell of sewage is a sure-fire sign that something is not doing its job properly. Vents, which typically carry sewage smells out of the house, can be the source of the odour if they’re cracked. If the smell seems to be coming from a sink drain, examine that drain’s trap. It may need to be unclogged or refilled with water to keep out nasty smells.
4. Mineral Deposits and Discoloured Pipes
Some leaks may be too small to notice initially but may expand with changes in temperatures. Freezing pipes are particularly at risk, so keep an eye on pipes near the exterior of your home if you live in a colder climate. One way to spot small leaks is mineral deposits and discolouration. As water flows and evaporates, it may leave behind heavy minerals. These minerals build up over time or cause rust, especially around pipe joints. As many pipes are pressurized, you’ll want to address this problem before water starts spewing everywhere.
Your showerhead can also collect mineral deposits and end up getting clogged. Fortunately, soaking it in vinegar overnight is a quick and easy way to clean it out.
5. Low Water Pressure
Water pressure can be quite variable, depending upon the location of your house or apartment and the quality of your pipes. If one faucet has extremely low water pressure, there may be an issue with its aerator. If all your faucets are experiencing the same issue, however, it’s likely a much bigger problem, especially if it’s in conjunction with one of the other warning signs mentioned here. You may have an issue with your water main or supply pipe, and a considerable amount of water may be ending up where it’s not supposed to be.
Similarly, if you experience sudden changes in water supply in cold weather, your pipes may not be well protected. If the exterior pipes freeze during the winter, the expansion and contraction caused by the water inside may cause the pipes to buckle and eventually burst.
6. High Water Bill
Another sign of a major leak or other drainage problems is a sudden increase in your water bill. A continual drip of a faucet or pipe joint can waste gallons of water, while a running toilet is like leaving your garden hose on continuously. Modern faucets are relatively inexpensive and easy to install. A running toilet or a leaky pipe may be a reason to call in a plumber. Paying an expert to fix your leak will save you buckets of water (and money!) down the road.
7. Changes in the Colour of Water
Few things are as shocking as turning on your faucet and getting cloudy, dirty, or foul-smelling water. Depending on the colour of the water in question, you may be dealing with one of several issues. Cloudy water typically means air in the pipes. Brown or yellow water is usually caused by rust, as is green water if your pipes are copper. A rush of rusty water can happen when the fire department flushes the fire hydrants in your area, but a continual flow means that your pipes are ageing or compromised. Consider having ageing pipes replaced as soon as possible.
8. Loose Pipes and Toilet
If you spot any loose pipes around the house, these can be tightened with the proper wrench. A wobbly toilet may not be properly secured to the floor. If your toilet is still wobbly after tightening the bolts fastening it to the ground, check that the rubber seal has not worn away. This may cause water to leak from your toilet into your floor.
There are many sources of potential drainage issues in every house and apartment, and they may be difficult to stop before they get out of control. However, with these key tips, you can ensure that your pipes and drains are working properly and fix any issues as they pop up.
Do you have housing disrepair issues that have been reported multiple times but the landlord has not undertaken the work?
This article is provided as a guide. Any information should be used for research purposes and not as the base for taking legal action. The Tenants' Voice does not provide legal advice and our content does not constitute a client-solicitor relationship.
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