El Niño Files: Do-it-Yourself Repairs for Minor Leaks


Though it seems as though the hype around El Niño has been overblown, advisories are still predicting periods of heavy precipitation and “storminess” for February through March, and likely even into April or May—even for Southern California. Therefore, there are still possibilities that homes in Southern California can receive damage, especially if there are undetected problems in the structure. And while you may not see drastic damage such as flooding, small bits of moisture penetration can be disasters waiting to happen and should be treated right away.

Here are some tips for minor repairs that you can do yourself. However, if you aren’t as experienced or discover you have more damage to your home than you realized, it is always helpful to at least consult with an experienced (and licensed) professional.

For minor water damage repairs to your wall:

If you have leaking from a window, repairs may be minimal.

Shut off the power at your breaker box and then remove the outlet.

Remove the baseboards first by cutting the molding from the wall with a utility knife. Then pull away using a hammer and chisel.

Remove any damaged drywall and moldy or damaged insulation. Your window may likely be rotted; find the location of the gap that allowed for the water to seep.

Prepare a plywood board to replace the existing wood, measuring and cutting it to size. Paint the board with waterproofing sealant, and then cover with a layer of cheesecloth (cut the cheesecloth at 45-degree angles at the corners to allow overlap). Make sure the board dries completely.

Also, when you find the weakness in your window, use your sealant to paint that area underneath the window. You want to make sure you have a waterproof seal, so apply it liberally.

Moving to the outside, clean the windowsill and ensure the weep holes are free of debris. Then apply a bead of caulk to the crack or hole, and using your finger, spread the caulk along the seam to ensure cohesion.

Afterward, once the plywood board has completely dried, put it in place to close up the gap, then use two small blocks to brace the board in place. You can then anchor the board to the existing studs in the window frame.

Replace any damaged outlets, and then install your new insulation. Using a strip of tape on the floor, mark off where the window studs are—this will help you find the studs when putting up the drywall.

Then you’re ready for drywall—make sure the paper side faces into the living area. Nail the drywall to the studs, and then apply your drywall mud along the seams. Add a strip of drywall tape to the seam and then cover with more mud. Let it dry, and then sand flat. Repeat the mud application if necessary.

Then you can replace your baseboard, nailing it in place with tacks and a tack hammer. Fill the holes with putty, let dry, sand. Then you’re ready for primer and paint.

A mold invasion can do more damage than the initial storm. It’s important to detect any mold, which can start to bloom 24-48 hours after exposure, and don’t put off cleaning it up. Again, if the flooding is serious, you will have to open up the walls and replace drywall and insulation.

So whether or not El Niño ever does upgrade to Godzilla status, it is important to be prepared, even for sudden brief flashes of rain, which can cause flooding and damage. While there is no foolproof method of protecting your home, having a plan in place in case of an emergency can save you time and money in the long run.

At Murfey Construction, we’re happy to go over El Niño preparation with you, as well as any other needs for your home, and if repairs are more than you can handle on your own, please visit us at