How to sense when there is big trouble brewing in your home

A home's sights, sounds and smells alert of impending issues

Key tips to remember

  • Use your senses — vision, hearing and smell — to detect signs of big trouble brewing in your home.
  • When in doubt, call a service professional to diagnose the problem.
  • Before trouble arises, be prepared with a home warranty plan.

Nothing can ruin a day faster than learning that a home repair or an appliance replacement is accompanied by a massive price tag.

Appliances break. Structural issues threaten integrity. Things taken for granted suddenly aren't so simple.

These costly budget busters seem to come out of nowhere. But the truth is, more often than not, there were warning signs of the impending disaster. Learning how to recognize those warning signs will not only save homeowners headaches, but they can also save homeowners a boatload of money in either repair or replacement costs.

How can a savvy homeowner spot small problems before they become large ones? Generally, there are three signs of big trouble brewing in your home — sights, sounds and smells.

By understanding how to use vision, hearing and sense of smell, homeowners can detect small problems before they grow out of control. And, at the risk of stating the obvious, please don't try to use taste to try to diagnose potential issues. Aside from being kind of gross, ingesting household items that weren't meant to be food can have a negative effect on your health and lifespan.


Unusual sights: one of three signs trouble is brewing in your home

Sometimes, you can walk into a room and immediately see a problem. When water is gushing onto the floor, it's obvious there's an issue with either a pipe or a connection. Not all signs slap homeowners in the face, though. Using your eyes to recognize these telltale signs can help homeowners avoid major problems with their appliances or the structure of their homes. Give your appliances a visual examination with these tips.

Problems to look for in appliances

Washing machine mishaps

When the basin takes a lot longer to fill or doesn't drain, that can often indicate an issue with an internal pump or, on a larger scale, something within the pipes. A basin that doesn't agitate or spin can indicate a bad belt or, worse, the transmission within the motor has broken. Fixing a transmission or motor can cost more than replacing the entire washing machine.

Misbehaving dryer

When clothes take a long time to dry, it can be a sign that there is an issue with the heating element. That can be an expensive fix. If the dryer isn't tumbling, it could be a loose or broken belt. The motor is always a concern here, too. If the dryer is leaving brown or black marks on clothes, check the rubber seal on the drum. It may be decaying and need to be replaced.

Laboring air conditioner

A dirty filter makes the unit work harder. This is an easy, inexpensive fix. Replace the filter. If the filter is clean, check to see that the condensation is draining properly. A blocked drain will ultimately cause the air conditioner to shut down.

Uncool refrigerator

Food that isn't as cold as it should be is a sure sign there's an issue. Look at the seal between the door and the unit to see whether it’s decaying, allowing the cold air to escape. Examine the coils in the back to see if they need to be cleaned. The fridge is at the heart of the kitchen. The cost of replacing a fridge that dies is more than the price tag for a new unit. Factor in the cost of replacing all the food, too.

Dirty dishwasher

Dishes that don't come clean after a cycle are most obvious signal that something’s amiss. That can be a water flow or water temperature problem. Or the unit simply isn't running at all — even when it appears to be turned on. Otherwise, check for rust around the base of the dishwasher, which could indicate a leak. Ensure the latch on the dishwasher door is securing properly. A loose latch can keep the appliance from engaging.

Not-so-hot (or too hot) oven

When you see that food isn't cooking properly, first ensure the oven is clean. Built-up residue within the oven can interfere with its internal thermostat. Malfunctioning displays or clocks often indicate an electrical issue. Undercooked or overcooked food could be caused by a thermostat or something electrical. Be aware that an electrical issue within can develop into a much larger problem very quickly, becoming a fire hazard.


Structural problems to keep an eye on

Spots and stains

Discoloration on walls or carpets can be an early indicator of a water leak or mold. Neither of those scenarios is good. Better get it checked out by a pro.

Bumpy or tilted floors

Uneven floors are a hazard, especially for the elderly. Bumps within the floor can indicate a house that isn't settling evenly or, potentially, an underground leak.

Stuck doors and windows

Similar to uneven floors, doors and windows that don't close or won't open indicate the home is settling unevenly. For the same reason, beware of cracks that in concrete or plaster that are growing.

Holey wood

Small holes in wooden surfaces are frequently a sign of a dreaded termite infestation. Also look for small piles of material resembling sawdust. Don't hesitate to call a termite inspector. If left unchecked, termites do calamitous damage.

Malfunctioning electricity

Hot light switches and electrical outlets are signs of an overloaded electrical system. This is more common in older houses. Replacing breaker boxes can be expensive, but neglecting these issues can lead to a devastating fire.

Out-of-control bills

Energy or water bills that are suddenly significantly higher can be a sign that one or more appliances is operating improperly. Cleaning major appliances properly is a good start to solving the problem. Markedly higher water bills indicate a leak — a problem that will almost certainly worsen over time.


Weird sounds are the second sign that trouble is brewing in your home

Unseen or hard-to-view problems can still be diagnosed if you know what to listen for. Often, abnormal sounds will be the first clue there's a problem with an appliance or elsewhere within your house.

Troublesome appliance sounds

Chiming alarms

Most modern appliances come with audible alarms that inform owners of a problem within the unit. Often you'll have to refer to the manual that came with the appliance to learn why the alarm is beeping, buzzing or chirping. Don't have the manual? Not a big problem. These days most appliance manuals can be found online.

Whirring washer

A washing machine making this sound may need a new belt or a new transmission. A squeaking machine can be experiencing the same problem. A machine that constantly has the sound of water running is likely experiencing a leak.

Distressed dryer

A dryer making a constant loud banging sound could simply need to be leveled. Check the adjustable feet on the bottom of the unit. Of course, there could also be an internal problem with the drum and motor. That gets expensive.

Loud air

A buzzing noise in the air conditioner isn't easy to fix because it's usually an electrical issue. A loud clanking sound often means something has fallen into or is loose within the outdoor unit.

Humming refrigerator

A high pitched tone emitted from the fridge tells an owner that the unit is working in overdrive. That's not good. Try cleaning the coils, but most often a service call is required.

Structural warning sounds from your home

Creaking home: Especially in newer homes, creaking wood is unduly stressed wood. Termites eating away at the wood's support can make it creak. Also, a faint scratching-type sound within the walls can be the sound of termites munching. They can be ravenous. Roof rattling: If the roof is making noise, well that's not good. Windy days can cause shingles or tiles to rattle. That movement produces space between the tiles or shingles, which leads to leaks. Running water: The sound of running or dripping water at times when faucets are turned off and appliances aren't running is a big red flag. It could mean a leak or break in a pipe within a wall. It could also be an issue with the water hookup to the house. Act quickly. Small drips escalate to cause big damage.


Strange smells: the last of the three signs big trouble is brewing in your home

When the house doesn't smell right, that usually means something is wrong. We're not talking about the stink that can occur when the trash is overflowing. Getting rid of that smell is simple enough: Either take out the trash or cook some bacon. Other odd smells are caused by issues that aren't as easy to solve because the cause of the smell is far more serious.

Appliance smells to pay attention to

Hot appliances that smell like they’re burning

A burning odor coming from a washing machine, clothes dryer or dishwasher frequently indicates electrical problems and should be examined immediately. With the dryer, ventilation could also be the problem. Check the lint trap to ensure the outdoor vent isn't blocked. That vent should be checked and cleaned at least a couple of times per year.

Moist appliances that smell moldy

Bacteria, mold and mildew within appliances can make rooms — or, in the case of the air conditioner, the entire house — smell like a wet cat. In appliances such as the dishwasher and washing machine, check the drain for obstructions. If the drain is clear, the appliance's pump may need to be replaced. A more obnoxious rotten-egg-like odor could be coming from a dead animal or decaying vegetation that's in or near your A/C system.

A funky fridge

If your fridge doesn't smell fresh, check first for spoiled food. Pay particular attention to the vegetable drawers. Throwing away the offending items and cleaning the drawer or shelf should remove the odor. If food spoilage is a constant problem, the coils may need cleaning, or the thermostat (or, worse, the entire cooling system) could be on the fritz. Time to call a specialist.

Smells that indicate a home structural issue

Mildew scents

A dank smell throughout the house is a sign that mold or bacteria may have infiltrated the air conditioning system. A service call to clean the interior and exterior portions of the unit is generally in order. If the air conditioning unit isn't the problem, check the walls, ceilings and floor for signs of mold.

Strange burning smells

This can be one of the most unnerving experiences a homeowner can have. Attempt to isolate the source of the odor by checking appliances. If the problem isn't an appliance, it could be somewhere within the home's wiring. Check the breaker box. Don't be afraid to call for help. A house fire can devastate property and claim lives.

Sewage odors

This is one of the worst smells of all. It's just gross. Clogs in the sewage system can cause pipes to back up. If sinks are also draining slowly, it's time to call a plumber.



Interpreting the little signs within your house to diagnose potentially big problems before they grow out of control can save homeowners headaches and money. To effectively recognize issues brewing in your house, utilize the senses you were born with.

Strange sights within the home can be a warning sign of structural problems. When appliances like washing machines, dishwashers and air conditioners start making weird noises, it's usually a sign that something is wrong with that appliance. Knowing what to make of the odd smells within a house can help diagnose a much larger issue within the residence.

When unusual sights, sounds or smells emerge, homeowners should trust their gut. Those not mechanically inclined shouldn't hesitate to contact the proper service professional.

Of course, whether you do it yourself or call a repairman, fixing such problems can be expensive, potentially busting the family budget for months or even years to come. Homeowners can protect themselves from some of those unexpected costs with home warranties like the ones offered by Cinch Home Services.

Some plans cover appliance repair and replacement, while others are geared toward built-in systems, such as heaters and air conditioners. The most comprehensive option is the Complete Home plan, which covers both. Homeowners choose the warranty that best fits their needs. With the proper coverage, what could have been costly, unexpected repairs don't break the bank. Get a quote today!

Stay safe, and happy homeownership!

The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.

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