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How to Detect a Plumbing Leak

As a home service company, one of the things we see from time to time is damage due to minor plumbing leaks throughout a home. At first, they aren’t much, just some leaking water that evaporates faster than it pools. Over time these leaks expand (especially when they’re part of high-pressure lines) or a high-humidity day makes it difficult for the water to evaporate, leading to increased humidity and mold. For most people, they aren’t even aware of a leak until it’s too late and the damage has already begun, requiring replacement of pipes, insulation, and flooring. It is possible to detect a leak in your home before it becomes a problem, but it takes a little bit of know-how and observation.

Signs of Water Leaks

Have you noticed:

  • A dripping sound anywhere?
  • Water stains on walls, floors, or the ceiling?
  • A musty, mildew smell anywhere?
  • Higher than normal water bills?
  • Water pooling or damp carpet corners?
  • Lower water pressure?

Of course, leaks can be caused by many things. A cracked foundation can lead to stressed pipes that loosen. Freezing temperatures can cause leaks in any number of sizes. Aging plumbing will eventually need to be replaced to prevent leaks and drips from appearing in connections and piping. But if you’ve noticed any of the issues above, then it’s likely that there is a leak somewhere in your plumbing system.

Identify the General location

There’s a simple test you can perform to find out whether the water is coming from the plumbing in your home. First, you’ll need to find your water meter. This meter measures how much water is flowing into your home and is typically found where the supply pipe runs into your property.

Go inside and turn off all faucets, spigots, feed lines, and water appliances. Nothing should be running and all your pipes should be silent. Once this is done, check the water meter. If it’s still running, you have a leak somewhere.

It should be noted here that, if the water meter isn’t running, then water damage is occurring from another location. Inspect HVAC and refrigeration units for excess condensation and look at washing appliances to see if they’re leaking. Otherwise, have your roof inspected for leaks that may be allowing rainwater to enter.

Next, shut off the main water valve to your home. It’s an essential part of home ownership to know where this shut-off valve is anyway so it’s a great opportunity to teach yourself if you weren’t aware before. Whenever a water main (or a fixture) breaks and starts pouring water into your home, the main shut-off valve should be your first trip. Once this is shut off, go check the water meter again. If it’s still moving then the leak is outside of your home (possibly seeping into the foundation). Look around the yard for wet spots or damp ground (differences in grass or plant growth are another good identifier for damaged plumbing). If the meter is no longer running (and it was previously) then the leak is inside your home.

Dealing with a Leak

Unfortunately, finding the specific source of a leak is difficult. Since water will always flow to the lowest point, the location where damage is occurring is unlikely to be near the source of the leak. If you can spot damage already, try to trace back the flow of water using a flashlight. If it’s buried in the walls, we recommend calling a professional to track the source of the leak. Thermal imagers and advanced sound detection devices are better for finding the source and will require less intrusion at the outset.