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34 Silent Signs That Your House is Failing

Your house can't talk, but it can give you hints of failure, if you pay attention. Learn what your house is trying to tell you with these silent signs.

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roof vent rust

Damaged Plumbing Vent Boots

Plumbing vent boots can be all plastic, plastic and metal, or even two-piece metal units. Check plastic bases for cracks and metal bases for broken seams. Then examine the rubber boot surrounding the pipe. That can be rotted away or torn, allowing water to work its way into the house along the pipe. With any of these problems, you should buy a new vent boot to replace the old one. But if the nails at the base are missing or pulled free and the boot is in good shape, replace them with the rubber-washered screws used for metal roofing systems. Learn more about replacing plumbing vent boots here.

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ceiling water stains

Ceiling Stains

If you have water stains that extend across ceilings or run down walls, the cause is probably a leaky roof. Tracking down the leak is the hard part; the roof leak repair is usually pretty easy. We’ll show you some simple tricks for finding and repairing most of the common types of leaky roofs. If you have a leaky roof, you’d better fix it immediately, even if it doesn’t bother you much or you’re getting a new roof next year. Even over a short time, small leaks can lead to big problems, such as mold, rotted framing and sheathing, destroyed insulation and damaged ceilings. Plus: 14 ways to cover a hideous ceiling.

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FH06FEB_ROOFLK_01Family Handyman

Shiners

If you can’t see any telltale flow marks and the ceiling stain is fairly small, look at the underside of the roof for “shiners.” A shiner is a nail that missed the framing member. Moisture that escapes into the cold attic from the rooms below often condenses on cold nails. Sometimes you can spot this if you climb up into your attic on a cold night. The nails will look white because they’re frosted. When the attic heats up a bit during the day, the frost melts and drips, then the nails frost up at night again and so on. The solution is to simply clip the nail with a side-cutting pliers. Be sure you know these 10 roof problems and what to do about them.

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damaged shingles

Damaged Shingles

A broken shingle is both ugly and a leak waiting to happen. But as long as you can find matching shingles (and you’re not afraid of heights), the repair is straightforward. Here’s how to do it.

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cleaning soffits

Dirty, Clogged Soffits

Attic ventilation is critical to the health of your house. It begins with soffit vents that inhale outside air—necessary to create an airflow that moves warm attic air out the roof vents. Once the air enters the soffit, it usually proceeds through an air chute or some other opening along the underside of the roof into the attic. The plastic air chutes (from home centers and building suppliers) in each rafter space keep the air path clear between the rafters and the roof sheathing. Clear soffits help to prevent moisture buildup and ultimately mold growth on your roof’s framing. Keeping soffits clean also has these benefits.

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rot along roof edge and side wall

Mold Where Roof and Exterior Wall Meet

Kick-out flashing is critical where a roof edge meets a sidewall. Without it, roof runoff flows down the wall and possibly into the wall. This is worst when there is a door or a window below and water can seep behind the trim. You might not notice it for years, but eventually rot will destroy sheathing and framing. In extreme cases, the stucco is the only thing holding up the wall! Don’t wait for that to happen to you. To see how to add kick-out flashing, read Use a Kick-Out Flashing to Stop Rot.

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rusted guttersFamily Handyman

Rusted Gutters

Gutter leaks usually start at rusty spots or seams that have opened up because of expansion and contraction. If your gutter is still basically sound, the easiest way to stop the leak is by covering the damaged area with roof and gutter repair tape (available at home centers and hardware stores). First remove rust with a wire brush and scrape out tar with a putty knife. Plus: Easy gutter repairs you can do yourself.

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damaged roof vent

Roof Vent Issues

Check for cracked housings on plastic roof vents and broken seams on metal ones. You might be tempted to throw caulk at the problem, but that solution won’t last long. There’s really no fix other than replacing the damaged vents. Also look for pulled or missing nails at the base’s bottom edge. Replace them with rubber-washered screws. In most cases, you can remove nails under the shingles on both sides of the vent to pull it free. There will be nails across the top of the vent too. Usually you can also work those loose without removing shingles. Screw the bottom in place with rubber-washered screws. Squeeze out a bead of caulk beneath the shingles on both sides of the vent to hold the shingles down and to add a water barrier. That’s much easier than renailing the shingles. Plus: Turbine vents vs. flat roof vents.

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loose flashing

Loose Step Flashing

Step flashing is used along walls that intersect the roof. Each short section of flashing channels water over the shingle downhill from it. But if the flashing rusts through, or a piece comes loose, water will run right behind it, and into the house it goes. Learn how to install step flashing here.

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mold on exterior walls

Mold on Exterior Walls

If mold is growing on an exterior wall, there could be a leak in the roof. Measure from the moldy area to a reference point like a door, then find the spot on the other side of the wall or ceiling. Look for ground sloping toward the house and down-spouts emptying next to the wall. If you have a serious mold problem, you need to take care of it ASAP.

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holes in roof

Holes Drilled on Purpose

Tiny holes in shingles are sneaky because they can cause rot and other damage for years before you notice the obvious signs of a leak. You might find holes left over from satellite dish or antenna mounting brackets or just about anything. And exposed, misplaced roofing nails should be pulled and the holes patched. Small holes are simple to fix, but the fix isn’t to inject caulk in the hole. You’ll fix this one with flashing.

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gutter apron

Missing Gutter Apron

When water flows off the edge of your roof, some of it clings to the underside of the shingles and dribbles toward the fascia. If you have gutters but no gutter apron to stop the water, it will wick behind the gutter. Eventually the fascia, soffits and even the roof sheathing will rot. You may see water stains below the gutter on the fascia and soffit. This is a sure sign that the gutter apron is missing. Need to completely replace your gutters? Here’s a step-by-step guide.

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rusted flashing around chimney

Rusted Chimney Flashing

All kinds of bad things can happen around brick chimneys. Flashing around chimneys can rust through if it’s galvanized steel, especially at the 90-degree bend at the bottom. A quick but fairly long-term fix is to simply slip new flashing under the old rusted stuff. That way any water that seeps through will be diverted. Learn about proper chimney maintenance here.

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hail damage

Hail Damage

When a large hailstone hits an asphalt shingle, it can tear or even puncture the shingle. But usually, it just knocks granules off the surface. When a shingle loses its protective layer of granules, UV rays from the sun begin to destroy it. More granules fall off around the damaged spot and the bruise grows. Learn how to remove roof shingles here.

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Bulge in Washing Machine Hose?Family Handyman

Bulge in Washing Machine Hose?

What it means: The hose is ready to burst.
A bulging washing machine hose is an emergency. It may burst next year, next week or right now. But it will fail and it won't just leak—it will gush. In just a few minutes, it can do thousands of dollars in damage.

Plus: The Top 10 DIY Appliance Repairs

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Family Handyman

Stain Around Bathroom Fan

What it means: Condensation is forming inside the duct. The stain could be caused by a roof leak but condensation inside the duct is the most likely cause, says Reuben Saltzman, a home inspector with Structure Tech. If you live in a cold climate, there’s a good chance that the warm, moist air from the bathroom is condensing inside the duct and the water is seeping back down into the fan housing. It’s soaking the drywall around the fan and may be ruining your fan motor or even the framing components in your attic.

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Efflorescence on Chimney Brick?Kara Grubis/Shutterstock

Efflorescence on Chimney Brick?

What it means: Too much moisture inside the chimney Efflorescence is the white material that appears on brick. It occurs when moisture moves through masonry. That moisture picks up minerals and leaves them behind in the form of tiny crystals. The minerals themselves do no harm, and a small amount of efflorescence is common. But heavy efflorescence on your chimney is a cause for concern. It's a sign of moisture inside the chimney—and when that moisture freezes, it can slowly wreck the chimney from the inside out. Even more alarming, your flue liner could be cracked or broken, and deadly combustion gases from your furnace, fireplace or water heater may be leaking into your home. Plus: Secret Cleaning Tips From the Pros

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Melted Grommets on Water Heater?Family Handyman

Melted Grommets on Water Heater?

What it means: Deadly gases may be entering your home Exhaust from a gas water heater is supposed to flow through a duct and out of the house. But sometimes, exhaust doesn't flow up and out. Instead, it "backdrafts," spilling deadly carbon monoxide into the air you breathe. One sign of backdrafting is damaged plastic grommets on top of the water heater, melted by the hot exhaust. This shows that your water heater has backdrafted badly on at least one occasion—and you must take action. Plus: Appliance Care and Maintenance Tips to Make Appliances Last

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Decking Directly Under the Door?Family Handyman

Decking Directly Under the Door?

What it means: Rot could be wrecking your house.
Decks that are built right up to the bottom of a door often mean trouble. Rainwater splashes off the deck up onto the door. That much water is hard to keep out. Even if the flashing holds up, water may eventually find its way through the door components. This can ruin the siding, door and interior flooring, or worse, destroy the rim joist and other framing components both inside and outside your home.

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The Water Meter Never Stops?Family Handyman

The Water Meter Never Stops?

What it means: You've got a leak.
If all the faucets and plumbing fixtures in your house are turned off and the low-flow indicator on your water meter continues to measure running water, you're wasting water and money.

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kitchenStructure Tech

Greasy Kitchen Stuff

We understand that venting the range hood into a wall cabinet saved a lot of labor, but we admit that we’re puzzled by the louvers.

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Ho boy!Structure Tech

Ho boy!

Vinyl dryer vent hose is such a bad idea on so many levels. So a smooth metal dryer vent is the best solution, hands down.

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I'm mellllttttingCourtesy of Structure Tech

I'm melllltttting

Little Johnny got a magnifying glass for his birthday and set out to harness the power of the sun and melt the neighbor's house. Obviously, this house is in need of some siding replacement!

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Liberty BellStructure Tech

Liberty Bell

It's cracked like the Liberty Bell. But this cracked chimney liner needs to be repaired to prevent a chimney fire.

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Honey, let's have a block party?Photo: Courtesy of Structure Tech

Honey, let's have a block party?

Yep, let's have over a couple of dozen neighbors for a really fun evening. Or tear off this disaster waiting to happen and build a deck properly.

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Structure Tech

Beam Splice Not Over Post at Deck

Somebody’s tape measure must’ve been off when they put together this deck. Looks pretty unsafe considering the splice is only sitting on a sliver of the post. Most building codes require at least one inch of bearing wherever a beam is supported by a post. Fall in love with outdoor amenities like one of these gorgeous outdoor bars.

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Structure Tech

Covered Basement Window

We’ve seen floor registers covered, now check out the opposite. That’s right, someone covered a window with drywall in the basement. OK. Make sure to check out these 25 tips on converting a basement into a living space before covering up windows.

Photo: Via Structure Tech

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Structure Tech

Fresh Paint

A fresh coat of paint can be like slapping lipstick on a pig, so to speak. A coat of paint didn’t completely cover up the deficiencies in this deck.

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Structure Tech

Joist Hangers Into Stucco

There’s no ledger board with this deck and that should be cause for concern. There is nothing right about this. Here’s the correct way to attach a deck to a house.

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Structure Tech

Kinked A/C Refrigerant Line

A huge kink in an A/C refrigerant line is the start of a big problem eventually. Not only did the installer create the kink, he hid it behind the insulation rather than fixing it. Plus the line needs to be sealed with putty to keep out critters. Follow these 21 ideas to keep your AC running.

Photo: Via Structure Tech

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Family Handyman

Having a Dirty Stove While You Cook

If your stove is covered with grease and other flammable grime, a small kitchen fire can get out of hand quickly. Clean and clear the area around the stove before turning on the heat. (Learn how to keep your kitchen health-inspector approved in less than 5 minutes.)

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Fireplace fireAnastasios71/Shutterstock

Fireplace Safety

Your home’s chimney should be swept at least once a year, according to the National Fire Protection Association. This fire safety measure will help remove soot and debris which could become a fire hazard. And when using the fireplace, keep any flammable materials, such as blankets, curtains and rugs away from the fireplace and never leave children unattended near a working fireplace.

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GFCI outletFamily Handyman

Loose Outlets

The constant movement of loose electrical outlets can loosen the wires connected to the outlet and create dangerous arcing. Luckily, the fix is simple, check it out here.

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mid-century modern hanging lightPhoto: Courtesy of Shades of Light

Exposed Lightbulbs

Those closet lights that don’t have an enclosure around them pose a fire and safety risk in the home. According to Buell Inspections, under normal circumstances a 60-watt light bulb will not get hotter than 175 degrees Fahrenheit but under some conditions it could reach close to between 290-500 degrees, high enough to ignite things likes table tennis balls, which begin to melt around 130-150 degrees, according to Nittaku, a table tennis equipment manufacturer.

Find out how to pick LED lights that will help you save on energy costs.