A Cost-free Problem? Far From It
It’s a pretty staggering figure, but research shows a typical home loses anywhere from 2,000 to 20,000 gallons of water each year because of leaks. It’s a common argument that you pay for the water you use, and thus those leaks could get expensive. But in fact most water meters won’t register water usage unless the leak is at least one pint each minute (360 gallons a day).
So perhaps you may think: “I’ve got a leak but it isn’t costing me anything because it isn’t big enough.” If only that were true. If you saw a big rise in your utility bill, you’d probably find the leak and get it fixed. As it is, by the time you know it’s there, the cost of the damage can be enormous. Leaks are something you need to take very seriously.
If puddles form and don’t go away, chances are there’s a leak in a pipe or fitting. Water on the floor is unsightly and may be irritating, but if you leave it untouched, mold will form. It smells terrible, and will endanger the health of those who live there. The floor may become discolored, and may eventually rot. Leave it long enough and there’s a floor to replace. The presence of mold doesn’t guarantee that you have a leak, but it does indicate a water problem of some sort.
It Can Only Get Worse
When you ignore a leak, it does not go away; it gets worse. Troubles caused by leaks may start small and grow to ogre-like proportions. You can face a hefty bill for remodeling your home. The damage caused by leaks may begin on the surface, but it doesn’t stay there.
Paint flakes and walls become discolored. The water enters the structure of the building – and it won’t stop there. If you leave it long enough, you’re going to have to repair or replace closets and redecorate rooms. The flooring and the drywall become damp. Eventually, they become soaked and start to crumble. The same happens to insulation. Electrical installations become compromised.
Kinds of Leaks
Leaks are not “normal” but they are frequent. Far more homes, factories and office buildings have them than we might think. Anyone can see a dripping faucet, or water oozing slowly from the pipes attached to a radiator. But toilet flapper valves can leak water for years before anyone notices. Leaks that are every bit as bad and often worse are those that appear in the water supply line leading into the building, or in the roof.
Toilet leaks are silent and invisible – the water goes directly into the sewer line. Research suggests that between a fifth and a third of all residential toilets have at least some level of leakage. You can check yours right now by looking at the water level in the toilet tank. It should be at least one inch below the overflow tube. If it’s higher than that, then you know that some water is leaking into the overflow tube and disappearing down the drain. It could be that the water level adjustment is simply too high; it could be that the float is damaged so the refill valve will not close; it could be the refill valve itself is old and needs to be replaced.
Something else you can do is put dye tablets in the water in the tank, which will turn dark blue. If that dark blue water appears shortly afterwards in the bowl, the flapper valve is leaking. (The flapper is what holds the water in the tank until the flush is activated. The flapper valve should create a watertight seal but over time that seal can be damaged).
Supply Line Leaks
The supply line is usually buried. Take a look at your water meter. If there’s water in it, you may have an underground leak and the water has travelled outside the pipe and back to the meter. Also check if you notice that the soil is always damp in the region of the meter box or the area under which the pipe is laid. Don’t assume that because it’s outside the building it’s someone else’s problem; leaks between the meter and the house are usually the homeowner’s responsibility. (If the leak is between the main and the meter, that is for the water utility to fix and they should be contacted as soon as you realize what’s happening. Don’t try to fix a leak there yourself).
A leak in the supply line needs to be dealt with the moment you know it exists. Because those leaks are under pressure, they can be large and the structural damage to the home can be serious. Please don’t assume that your insurance will cover it because it almost certainly won’t.
Roof leaks can have a variety of causes: bad construction; storm damage; or old age are a few. The results can be disastrous and they should be dealt with the moment you understand that a leak is present. Once it allows water into the attic, it will work its way down to the basement, wreaking havoc every inch it travels. Any sign of bubbling or change of color in ceiling paint in an upstairs room is a warning sign. And if it does that to the paint, just imagine what it might be doing to light fittings and electric wiring. If a leak is present, you can also be pretty sure that mold and mildew are developing. They can get into the HVAC system (if you have one) and spread to the rest of the house, damaging carpets, furniture and clothing. They can also be a serious health risk. Rafters, joists, wall framing – all are going to deteriorate and, if the leak is left long enough, they will rot.
How To Check
In this blog, we’ve given some quick check methods for finding leaks. But without an advanced knowledge of your plumbing infrastructure, you may not be able to detect a leak on your own. Checking your meter will give a clearer picture of whether leaks exist, but won’t necessarily tell you where they are. If you believe you have one or are unsure, you should contact a plumbing professional with the experience and training for finding and repairing leaks. A leak needs to be dealt with the moment you suspect it might exist. Leaving this challenge to an amateur plumber is extremely risky; investing in the services of a professional who can accurately assess the damage to your home or office and minimize it is money well spent.