How to Locate and Diagnose Leaking Pipes
Do I have a freshwater leak or is it the drain leaking?
First, it has to be determined if the leak is a drain leak or a freshwater leak, meaning a leak caused by a hot or cold water supply feed. If there is water pouring out from the ground or from under a driveway, this is most likely due to a fresh water leak. Checking the water meter to see if it is indicating water flowing will quickly tell you if this is the case. If a water stain randomly appears on a ceiling that is dark in color but not necessarily dripping, this is likely to be a cause of a drain or even a roof leak.
Freshwater leaks will often be quickly noticeable and will not cause mold stains immediately. They will also not start and stop dripping because they are under constant water pressure but instead will typically continuously leak until the water is shut off. Mold takes a long while to develop with fresh water leaks unless they go unnoticed and not repaired. Drain leaks have more bacteria in them so they will form mold more quickly but may not drip very often or ever due to the fact they do not leak unless the offending drain is used.
How to mitigate a drain leak
With a drain leak, sometimes the water can dry up before it leaks enough to come through a ceiling or wall. Even when a drain pipe leaks, it may not be a large leak depending on what is broken and causing the leak. Once it is determined if the leak is drain or fresh water, corrective action can be taken. If your ceiling has a bubble forming due to a leak and water dripping out, put a bucket or trash can below the spot. Then take a small screwdriver or similar tool and poke a hole to allow the water to drain out so it does not cause more damage.
How to stop a freshwater leak until a plumber can fix
If it is a freshwater leak, turn off the main supply valve feeding the property to stop the leak until a licensed plumber can repair the issue. If you have city water supply and are unable to turn off the water or don’t know how contact the utility department and they will shut off the water in the event of an emergency. If it is a drain leak, determine what bathroom or plumbing fixture is closest to the wet area, and cease using the fixture until it can be properly repaired. Most of the time, if a water leak (fresh water or drain) is coming from between floors, the ceiling will need to be cut open to access the plumbing.
Another common call for a leak is due to a high water bill. If a water bill is unusually high for a month or more, the water department will send a notice indicating there may be a leak. There are many leaks that can go unnoticed such as a running toilet tank valve or a defective reverse osmosis system. If you aren’t sure if the water bill is high due to a miscalculation by the water department or an actual leak, there are a couple tests you can perform on your own to determine the cause.
How to know how much freshwater is leaking
One way is to check what the reading is on your water meter before going to work or leaving the house for a few hours. Make sure nothing is on within the home, including an ice maker in the refrigerator or irrigation system. When you get back home, check to see if the meter reading is the same or higher. The results will tell you if you do, in fact, have a leak, or are using more water than normal, or the water department has miscalculated the meter reading.
How to test which of your toilets is leaking
To test to see if a toilet is slowly leaking internally, get some red, green, or blue food coloring and put a few drops into each of the toilet tanks in the home. Do not flush the toilet. Wait ten minutes and check to see if any of the discolored water appears in the toilet bowl. If the water in the bowl does become discolored, it is due to some internal leak within the tank. Depending on the model of toilet, this can be due to a few different things and a licensed plumber should be able to accurately diagnose it. If you do not have any food coloring, try marking the inside of the tank where the water line is and wait a few minutes without flushing the toilet. If you see the water level inside the tank lower than your mark after a few minutes, there is a small leak.
How to know if your sprinkler system is leaking
If you find nothing obviously leaking, including toilets, hose spigots, reverse osmosis systems, or any faucet, then the leak may be coming from an irrigation system pipes, if you have one for your lawn. To determine if this is the case, turn off the irrigation system at the main valve that controls it which may be next to the house or near the water meter and check to see if the water meter stops moving. If you are unsure as to how to do this, call us and we can help to determine the issue and to diagnose the problem. As a side note, a leak on an irrigation system needs to be fixed by an irrigation company. The zone valves for the irrigation system are a common cause of a hidden leak due to not shutting off 100% when not in use. If none of these tests determine the cause, call us and we can accurately diagnose the issue because there are more than these few things that can cause a high water bill. These are just the most common.
How to determine if you have a slab leak
What about leak coming from under the slab? A common question we get is, “Why is there water coming out from the wall at the floor?” Many homes in Texas have their main hot and cold water lines located under the slab of the home. This is done during the construction of the home prior to pouring the slab. One reason this is a common method for installing the water lines is that they will be better protected against potential freezes but the main reason is simple economics. It is less expensive on the material and installation side to install the water lines below a slab. Commonly, the type of pipe in this situation is copper or PEX. This type of leak is more involved to locate and repair. The water lines have all the connections (tees, elbows, etc) above the slab in what are called manifolds and there are solid pipes under the slab between each manifold. Most manifolds in this type of system are located near or behind plumbing fixtures.
First, we have to determine which pipe is actually leaking which can sometimes require specialized equipment because it is not always obvious. The next step is to determine what fixture the leaking pipe was feeding. There are a few methods to determine this and that is why this process is multi-step and a process of elimination. Once the leaking pipe has been determined and located, then it must be re-routed. Most of the time, we do not tunnel under a home or break up the slab to make a repair on a leaking sub-slab water line. The most economical and least invasive method is to re-route the water line above the slab, either in the attic or walls. The location of the fixture and design of the home will determine the best solution.
When it comes to Sewer and Drain problems, we are the experts!