7 Warning Signs of
a Home Moisture Problem [+ Possible Causes]

Worried that your home or a potential rental might have a moisture problem?

With all the hassle that these problems can cause, it’s no wonder! Who wants to spend time moving furniture, getting mold treated, or repairing wood flooring?

But knowing how to identify a moisture problem can go a long way to ease your concerns and help you feel informed as a homeowner or rental manager. You’ll be able to catch the problems before they swell into catastrophes.

In the following sections, you’ll find what you need to do just that:

Let’s start by looking at these 7 signs.

What to look for when identifying a moisture problem

When you’re identifying a moisture problem, you can look for some key indicators of the presence of water. Sometimes, they’ll be signs that are apparent to your senses, such as dampness, water droplets, or mold. But other times, the excess moisture may be deeper within the structure of the building.

In either case, keep an eye out for these specific things:

1. Damp spots and water stains

Water stains on a brick wallDamp spots could appear in many places—on the floor, walls, or ceilings.

Maybe it’s a wet spot on the carpet. Or a water stain that has caused discoloration on your wood floor.

These stains can also show up on ceilings and walls—something particularly common with leaks from upstairs bathrooms or damaged roofs.

New damp spots will likely be darker in color, while a dried stain could indicate an old issue that has been resolved.

Another good indicator of a problem in your wall or ceiling is if you notice peeling paint or wallpaper bubbling off the wall.

Hopefully, you can catch the moisture issue before those spots begin to mold.

2. Mold

Mold can grow in areas where moisture remains for some time. It usually has a fuzzy appearance and is black or green in color.

If you find mold, don’t waste time before getting it taken care of. Otherwise, you may be putting yourself or the occupants of the home at risk for health problems. Mold releases spores that can cause allergic reactions, particularly in sensitive individuals.

To help you deal with it, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides a list of resources for mold remediation and prevention.

3. Foggy windows

Have you noticed that your windows fog up or have little water droplets on the inside? The water is an indication of moisture from the inside that is condensing when it hits the cold surface of the window.

4. Musty smell

Ever walked into an older house, and well, it just smelled… old?

If you noticed that smell in your home—often caused by mildew or mold—you may want to check around for some of the other signs we’ve mentioned here.

5. Sudden pest infestation

Certain pests, such as ants, termites, or dust mites, can be attracted by water. If you suddenly end up with a pest infestation in your house, check to be sure that it isn’t related to moisture—after you’ve ruled out food.

6. Warping or squeaking

This sign is usually noticeable in flooring. In a hardwood floor, the boards may begin to turn upward from the edges—a problem called cupping.

Or unusual squeaking that lasts for more than a couple of weeks can indicate a moisture problem.

A moisture meter can help you confirm your suspicions.

7. An abnormally high moisture meter reading

Sometimes, signs of moisture problems are not as obvious—they may be within the walls or under the flooring. And that’s when a moisture meter comes in handy.

A moisture meter will give accurate readings for wood. Indoors, any moisture meter reading much above 10% is cause for concern, though you’ll want to determine the specific equilibrium moisture content for your region.

For other materials, such as carpet or drywall, a moisture meter won’t be able to give an exact reading, but it can still help detect moisture on a relative scale.

Here’s how.

Place the moisture meter in an area you know is dry; then, measure where you suspect the moisture is. If the number there is higher than in the dry area, you know you’re dealing with an excess amount of moisture.

With this method, you can then work backward to find the source of the moisture problem.

So what could be a source? Here are some possibilities.

What are common causes of moisture issues?

Yes, you’re seeing a damp spot or noticing mold. But that may not be the root of the issue. The following are some common sources of moisture that may be contributing to the problem you’ve detected.

Improper ventilation and high humidity

A rusty ventilation system that won't be able to ensure proper airflowIf a home doesn’t have proper air circulation and a way for moisture to escape, that moisture could be the culprit for the signs you’ve noticed.

Improper ventilation can happen in many different ways.

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) notes that changes in construction methods have resulted in homes that are well-sealed, but often improperly ventilated.

This can especially be a problem in a climate with high humidity levels if a home doesn’t have a proper air conditioning system or dehumidifier. Humidity higher than 60% can promote mold growth, so the American Society of Heating and Air Conditioning Engineers recommends keeping your home humidity levels at 30–60%.

Poor ventilation can also be an issue in small closets or rooms that tend to become steamy, such as the bathroom or the kitchen. If these rooms don’t have exhaust fans for good airflow, the moist air can contribute to a moisture issue.

In addition, appliances, such as clothes dryers, are sometimes installed without vents to the outside. As a result, moisture stays inside.

Water leaks

Water can leak from many different places, including:

  • Poorly sealed windows or chimneys
  • A leaky roof
  • Damaged water pipes
  • A malfunctioning indoor fire sprinkler system

Broken pipes or flooding

Ever been on vacation during the winter and had your pipes freeze and burst? Or experienced flooding for some other reason?

These sudden problems can have long-lasting effects if not dealt with quickly and properly.

For more information on water damage cleanup to prevent mold growth, the EPA offers guidelines for different types of surfaces.

Ground moisture coming up

Sometimes, water can come up from underneath the house and get into a crawl space or basement. It can eventually creep into the floors or walls through the subfloor if a proper vapor barrier is not in place.

This ground moisture can be due to many factors, such as:

  • Improper grading around the house
  • Landscaping that channels water toward the house rather than away
  • Gutters or downspouts that cause water to run down the side of the house
  • Cracks or sealant issues with the foundation
  • Sump pump problems 
  • Clogged or damaged drain pipes

The first step in solving a moisture problem is identifying the cause

Now that you know some of the signs to look for and the common causes of moisture problems, you are on the right track to solving your problem.

Mopping up water from a leak won’t be helpful if the leak continues. Similarly, if you don’t deal with the cause of the moisture problem, the symptoms can never be fully fixed.

So use the list on this page and take some time to identify the root problem. Once you’ve dealt with it, you can take care of the signs and know they won’t come back again.

When it comes to moisture detection, particularly on the floors or walls of a home, having the proper tools will go a long way. A moisture meter will give you accurate readings for your flooring and help detect moisture in other materials. Check out our shop for one that’ll suit your needs.