Water Damage Risks Below the Kitchen Sink
The kitchen is often seen as one of the most important and social rooms in a home. It’s where families come together for meals, dedicated cooks make food with nutrition, passion, and love in mind, and where a lot of entertaining is born as well. Despite all the great aspects of a kitchen and its role in the life of you and your family, it can, in fact, harbor a dark secret: mold growth. The kitchen sink area, in particular, is prone to water intrusion, water damage, and mold growth – with much happening out of sight and out of mind. However, just because you do not notice or see water damage or mold growth does not mean you and your family won’t feel its ill health effects.
The good news is that almost all water intrusion and damage below the kitchen sink area can be prevented, the risk reduced, or the risk of mold growth reduced at a bare minimum. There are several ways in which homeowners can accomplish this, many of which stem from the pathways or vectors that water takes to infiltrate the area below the kitchen sink in the first place.
To that end, we’re going to walk you through water intrusion and water damage in the kitchen sink area – where it comes from, what causes it, and similar. Then we can discuss what preventative and monitoring or maintenance steps can be taken by home owners to prevent water intrusion, monitor for problems, and remediate any leaks, spills, or water damage that may occur. In extreme cases, an existing mold problem may already be present below your kitchen sink, so we’ll also touch on the value of mold inspection to arrive at a definitive conclusion on the hidden threat that may be lurking beneath your sink.
What is Water Intrusion?
Water intrusion is a blanket term used to describe water leaking, flowing, falling, pooling, or otherwise getting into areas where it doesn’t belong. This can include water from outside sources seeping inside, such as from flooding, rain, and so on. It can also include water from inside going where it doesn’t belong, such as from leaking plumbing, plumbing problems, and many other sources, as we’ll discuss in more detail below. The commonality is water intruding or invading into a space where it is not intended to go – outside of pipes, plumbing fixtures, or the outdoors.
Some water intrusion is obvious, and a one-time event, such as from hurricane-induced storm surge resulting in local flooding. These kind of events are usually known or obvious to homeowners, and therefore much easier to identify, meaning most homeowners seek remediation for these problems. Much of the kind of water intrusion that occurs, especially in the kitchen sink area, is slower, less obvious, and more pernicious. It tends to happen slowly over time, with damage accumulating, and without such obvious triggering events. As a result, this kind of water intrusion is typically more dangerous, since the damage can be present without a homeowner or family being aware, while mold growth occurs “behind the scenes”.
Sources of Water Intrusion and Leaks in the Kitchen Sink Area
There are numerous ways for water intrusion to occur in and below the kitchen sink area:
- Broken, defective, or degraded seals on plumbing joints, which can also include seals on garbage disposals and similar integrated appliances that are often located under the kitchen sink area
- Leaky bottles of cleaner or detergents, house cleaning chemicals, and similar, which are often stored by many people below the sink
- Condensation accumulating on uninsulated pipes and pooling under the sink area
- Loose pipe clamps allowing drain hoses from dishwashers, sinks, or garbage disposals to leak
- Broken, defective, or damaged hoses or pipes themselves which can cause water leaks
- Insufficient, degraded, or missing caulk or other water seals between the sink and the countertop or surface in which it is placed, allowing for water splashes or leaks from normal use of the sink in daily life
- Overflows from use of the sink
- Poor construction or materials choice, allowing water splashes and overflows to run down through wooden or similar cabinetry materials such as at corners or joints
- Water leaks inwards from the outdoors at windows typically positioned over sinks, either though being left open, improper or degraded seals or weather stripping, or similar
- Water leaks inwards from pipe taps that are often present to go to the outside of the home
- Spilled water or other liquids made in daily use of the sink or under-sink area
- Home flooding events from weather or man-made disasters
- Home flooding events from appliances like a dishwasher, washer/dryer, toilet, sink, bath tub, or similar
This list is by no means comprehensive, as there are ultimately thousands of ways in which water or other liquids can intrude below a kitchen sink area and cause damage. These are just some of the most common pathways that typically are the root cause for a lot of the water damage that is seen in the kitchen sink and associated cabinetry or fixtures.
What Happens Below the Sink?
Once water does find its way below the sink, in whatever form, frequency, or rate that may take, how does it cause damage or create mold growth? That depends somewhat on what materials are present. Some materials are more prone to direct water damage than others, such as softer or more absorbent materials (like drywall), and may become weakened or show other visible signs of water intrusion. In most cases, however, the vast majority of homes have kitchen sinks set into a wood-based cabinetry piece. This wood is usually some form of fiberboard, and/or may be mixed with hard or soft wood, with some kind of finish, coating, paint, or other water-resistant or repellent top on the flat surface below the sink. Often, the sides, back, and bottom of this kind of construction is unfinished and unsealed. These materials readily absorb water, and may bend, warp, and flex over time.
Far more worrisome is if these materials absorb water or create an environment of high humidity, warm temperatures, and low airflow. This is quite typical in the cabinetry below a kitchen sink. A water-repellent or water-proof top coat on the bottom of the cabinetry can worsen the potential for these problems, as water absorbed from the sides, back, or rear of the cabinetry can then migrate to the bottom, and become effectively trapped. Even without water being trapped, the limited airflow and often fully-enclosed nature of these spaces mean they become a breeding ground for mold growth.
Mold is all around us, as spores in the air, but doesn’t take hold and start creating colonies that reproduce unless conditions are right. Those conditions include a temperature on the higher side of normal room temperature, humidity levels above 50%, and poor airflow, so that the spores are not disturbed. The under-sink area in a kitchen, which has suffered some form of water intrusion, and may still be suffering water intrusion, checks off all of these boxes, and is therefore very prone to mold growth.
We’ve written extensively on the health hazards associated with that mold growth, and won’t belabor the point here. However, once mold takes hold, it can spread significantly throughout your home, and does not necessarily remain confined to the kitchen sink area. It can cause serious health problems for those who live in the home, create an unpleasant odor, and may even contaminate food and other materials in the home. Primarily for health reasons, it’s necessary to address these mold problems when they do occur. But, as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s much more cost-effective and reasonable to avoid water intrusion and mold growth in the first place.
Preventing Water Intrusion
Since many of the reasons for water intrusion under the kitchen sink stem from preventable maintenance issues, there are a lot of ways to prevent this intrusion – at least from everyday activities – often with nothing more than a DIY spirit and trip to the hardware store. Other prevention methods may require a professional, such as a plumber, handyman, or general contractor. Examples include:
- Ensuring sufficient seals, caulk, and other water barriers exist around the sink and top countertop area, and around any pipes, joints, and similar present below the sink area.
- Carefully utilizing the detergents or other liquids that you may keep below the sink, and cleaning up any spills promptly after they occur.
- Never overfilling the sink, or filling it more than around halfway, to try to minimize the risk of overflow or splashing that can result in water intrusion.
- Insulating pipes as appropriate to help prevent condensation from occurring.
- Tightening any loose clamps, pipes, and other fixtures as appropriate to prevent leaks.
- Replacing any damaged or degraded hoses, pipes, joints, seals, and other fixtures that may exist under the sink if damage is noticed.
- Periodically opening up the cabinetry under the sink and allowing airflow (with a fan if necessary) for a few hours to help reduce any high humidity levels from developing.
- Use a plastic tub or bin to hold your detergents or other cleaners under the sink. This way, if the bottles leak, or you have a spill, it will be contained. It also helps to rule these out as a source of potential water intrusion if it does occur.
Monitoring for Problems
There are also some routine monitoring activities that should be undertaken to help prevent water intrusion, damage, and mold growth.
- Periodic visual inspection of pipes for water, either from leaks or condensation.
- The “sniff test”, keeping your nose on the lookout for mold or mildew by the odor it sometimes gives off.
- Checking hose clamps, hoses, and similar to ensure they are still tight, and re-tightening them if necessary. This can include elements of the garbage disposal, dishwasher, and sink itself.
- Identifying and rectifying any unexplained puddles or dampness that is found below the kitchen sink area as soon as it is found.
Mold Inspections and Remediation for Existing or Developing Mold Problems
If a water leak or water intrusion is found or suspected, and/or water damage or mold problems are suspected, then it’s best not to mess around and risk your family’s health. Instead, you should seek out a professional mold inspection from a qualified mold inspection firm. These experts can help to not only confirm any water damage or mold growth, but help you to find the root cause of the problem, and the extent to which it may have spread. They can test to see if the mold is particularly dangerous, and help provide information to guide the remediation process. Then, you can seek out a mold cleanup or mold remediation firm, or attempt DIY cleanup if the problem is small or isolated. Any further remediation, such as replacing wood, fixtures, pipes, and so on, can also be coordinated, either through the mold remediation company or your choice of general contractors.
Professional Mold Inspections from FunGuy Inspections
In the greater Los Angeles area, one of those professional mold inspection firms that you can rely upon is FunGuy Inspections. FunGuy Inspections is reliable, professional, and affordable, with extensive experience in residential and commercial settings. They can help identify any water intrusion or mold growth you may have, under the kitchen sink or anywhere in your home, office, or other structures.
FunGuy Inspections use the latest equipment, methods, and their considerable expertise to assess any water intrusion, mold growth, and root causes. They can also swab for mold samples and send them to the lab, to determine what kind of mold is present. This helps determine the health risks, and can provide remediation companies with the intelligence they need to choose the best methods of remediation.
Don’t let your kitchen sink area be turned into a breeding ground for mold, or suffer water damage that can compromise its structure or function. Don’t let your family’s health be put at risk by toxic mold growing under the sink. Take precautionary and preventative steps to stop water intrusion under the kitchen sink, and seek out professional help, such as the team at FunGuy Inspections, when water intrusion or mold growth is suspected.