To continue with the “Chasing Water Leaks” theme for March, Part II of this article is directed at the real hard to find category. By now you should have fixed any leaks associated with faucets, toilets, and any other water delivery devices (dishwashers, ice makers, lawn sprinklers, etc.). If not, make sure and read the posts on Chasing Water Leaks Part I and lawn sprinklers and resolve those issues first before going any further. This Part II inspection will help you discover leaks that may be in the ground, in a wall or very small leaks that can go unnoticed in or around the house. Even if you decide not to do any of the work, isolating the leak for the plumber will save you significant $$’s.
Leak Isolation Group II (main lines and concealed leaks)
- Main water line: Typically houses have a service cut-off immediately before the water service enters the house. Turn off the service cut-off and re-inspect the water meter low flow gauges to see if the meter is still running or not. If the meter still runs, walk the path of the water line looking for dark green grass (in the summer) or wet spots. TIP: Use caution in operating this cut-off if it has not been operated for a year or so, do not force it. You can still walk-out the path without using the cut off. Obviously, if you find something here it will need to be fixed before you can complete the inspection. Finding the leak here may conclude your inspection. Considered rare, finding a leak here can typically be associated with recent digging.
- At this point, the leak you are searching for is probably very small. You will be looking for traces of water, in the form of moisture or mold. You may just find slight discoloration or the surface may be cold to touch compared to the rest of the surface. Inspect baseboards and walls near or around where water pipes enter the house. Make sure and look on both sides of a wall that may have water pipes in them. Look for moisture on the walls and floors surrounding all the water fixtures. You may also find distortion on the wall or floor surface as water will cause the building materials to expand. If you find solid evidence, you may have to open the wall to get to it to expose the pipes, but before you do, try to isolate the problem further by following the Foundation methods. (TIP: Experiencing foundation movement could have been the cause of a leaky pipes in a wall.) If you were unable to locate the leak based on the previous inspection you may eventually require a professional but before you call them try these inspection methods for further isolation.
Pier & Beam Foundations: Houses with pier and beam foundations usually have a crawl space with an access hole. Possibly in a closet or outside around the foundation. If you are claustrophobic, don’t like bugs spiders and crawling things, you want to stop here and call a professional. If you choose to continue, take a good flashlight and crawl in.
- Start at the end of the house where the water line enters the house and crawl the path of the pipes. Look for puddles, wet soil and wet pipes. If you suspect a leak in the wall , look up at the floor boards and all locations where the pipes enter the house above you. Moisture, dampness, mold is the give away. If it has been leaking for an extended period of time, you may find rotten wood. If the pipe is leaking within the wall, you will probably see water trickling down the pipe to the ground.
- If you find water or water damage around the large drain pipes under the toilets, shower, tub or sinks, this will have to be addressed, but is not the cause of water loss through the meter.
Slab Foundations: With slab foundations; walk the perimeter of the house.
- Look for damp areas or pools of water
- Look for damp conditions or green moss on the concrete and brick. This would not be associated with any gutter downspouts or roof run offs.
- At this point, if you haven’t found it, you may have a leak in an interior wall or under the foundation. If you have had recent foundation movement or foundation repairs, this would increase the chances of this type of leak.
- Calling in a professional may be your only choice because it may require specialized test gear designed to measure for small amounts of water. When you are interviewing a plumber over the phone, insure they are equipped for this type of diagnostics. Otherwise they will come out and do pretty much the same things you did, then call another plumber (as a sub-contractor) to perform the tests and charge you for both his time and the other plumber.
Key Inspection Points and Action Items:
- Use the water mter to determine if any water leaks exist.
- Inspect in, around, and underneath the house.
- Once the leak(s) have been isolated, repair them or call a professional.