34 Silent Signs That Your House is Failing

Updated: May 02, 2024

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 vents help regulate air pressure to the plumbing fixtures in your home and help gases escape. The plumbing vent boots are the piece that fits around the vent; its job is to keep water out, preventing leaks and protecting your roof. Vent boots can be all plastic, plastic and metal, or even two-piece metal units. These boots should last around 15 years, maybe as long as 30 years, but you should regularly inspect them for damage.

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.

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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.

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.

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A shiner is a nail that missed the framing member. Moisture that escapes into the attic from the rooms below often condenses on cold nails, which can cause a leak. 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.

You should inspect your attic regularly, which is a good change to try and spot shiners. When you do find one, the solution is to simply clip the nail with a side-cutting pliers.

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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), single repair is straightforward.

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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.

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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.

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rusted gutters
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Bulge in Washing Machine Hose?
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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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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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Kara Grubis/Shutterstock

Efflorescence on Chimney Brick

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.

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Melted Grommets on Water Heater

Exhaust from a gas hot 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.

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Decking Directly Under a Door

Decks 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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Water Meter Never Stops

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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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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Flexible aluminum dryer vent hose, removed for cleaning/repair/maintenance
Benjamin Clapp/Getty Images

Ripped Dryer Vent Hose

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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shutterstock_137667245 exterior home siding
Bonita R. Cheshier/Shutterstock

Damaged Siding

Damaged siding is ugly to look at, but it also presents other risks that could turn into more expensive problems for a homeowner. Water damage, mold, structural damage and more can result when you don’t take care of damaged siding. If you catch it early, it can be an easy and relatively cheap fix, but if you put it off, you’re asking for trouble.

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Cracked Chimney Liner

One time, heat and weather conditions can cause a chimney liner to crack. If it’s not addressed, it can cause serious problems. For starters, cracked chimney liners are a fire hazard. They also prevent the top gases like carbon monoxide from flowing properly up and out of the chimney, and when that happens, the harmful gases can wind up back in your home. Structural damage to your home is another risk from a cracked chimney liner. Remember, you should clean your chimney and have it inspected by a pro annually.

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Sagging Deck

Things like termites and moisture pose a risk to decks, not to mention poor construction. If you see a deck sagging like this one, or if you spot other problems like rotten or warped boards, etc., it’s important to repair your deck  before the structure literally collapses underneath your feet.

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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.

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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.

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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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Joist Hangers Into Stucco

There’s no ledger board with this deck and that should be cause for concern. This is not the right way to attach a deck to a house, and it can cause the deck to rot.

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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.

Photo: Via Structure Tech

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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.

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Fireplace fire

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 outlet
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Loose Outlets

The constant movement of loose electrical outlets can loosen the wires connected to the outlet and create dangerous arcing. Luckily, you can fix a loose outlet pretty easily.

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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.