How to Find and Repair Water Leaks – A Comprehensive Guide
From the annoying drip, drip, drip of a leaky faucet to the near-catastrophic damage of a pipe burst, water leaks and plumbing issues are almost guaranteed to make an appearance at some point in your life.
Some leaks are a simple fix. Others, not so much. If you’re an industrious homeowner, there are a handful of common water leaks you can tackle yourself. But the vast majority of water leaks should be handled by professionals.
Even a journeyman plumber has spent hundreds of hours in a classroom and thousands on the job. All that experience can save you thousands of dollars in repairs if you address water leaks as they arise.
Here you’re going to learn about some common water leaks around your home, how to find them and what you can do about them. You’ll also learn when it’s best to call your insurance company or local plumber and get professional help.
But first let’s talk about why water leaks are a big deal.
The Dangers of Undetected Water Leaks
One of the most common results of undetected water leaks in your home is mold. Under the right conditions, mold can begin to grow and spread in just a day or two.
Moisture from water leaks combined with humidity and lack of ventilation allow mold spores to germinate and start spreading.
And while household mold doesn’t carry the same health risks as substances like asbestos, they can cause allergic reactions in people sensitive to them or with asthma.
When water leaks occur in places we can’t see — above the ceiling, behind walls or beneath floors — they often have time to do some serious damage before making themselves known.
You might notice cracks or bubbles appear in your walls or a slow drip or water from the ceiling.
These are signs of water leaks and buildups in the structure of your home. If you don’t jump on these problems soon enough, the wood frame that supports your house could start rotting, leading to costly repairs and increasing the risk of disasters like ceiling or wall collapses.
According to the Alliance for Water Efficiency, the average home can lose anywhere from 2,000 to 20,000 gallons of water per year due to leaks.
High numbers like that might make you imagine a burst pipe spewing out water. But believe it or not, even a small, constant drip from a kitchen sink could add up to over a thousand gallons of wasted water in a single year.
And if you live in a place where you pay for every gallon of water you use, that adds up to a lot of dollars down the drain. So we understand leaks are bad. Let’s take a look at some of the common (and not-so- common) water leaks you might find around your home.
We’ve all dealt with the headache of a constantly running toilet. “Jiggle the handle,” they said. Lucky for you, toilet leaks are some of the easiest to fix. Here are some common causes of toilet leaks:
Flush Valve Flapper
The flush valve flapper is a rubber flap that sits above the flush valve at the bottom of the tank. It’s attached to the flusher with a chain. Over time, it can get worn out and lose its seal, causing an endless flow of water into the toilet bowl.
These leaks are hard to detect since they’re usually silent, but there’s a little insider trick you can use with just a little dye or food coloring:
Put a few drops in the toilet tank. Check the water in your toilet bowl 15 minutes later. If any of the color made it into the toilet bowl, you’ll know what the culprit is.
The fill valve is what replenishes your toilet’s tank water after you flush. If you’ve ever looked inside your toilet tank and seen water gushing out of an upright plastic valve, that’s a faulty fill valve.
Fill Valve Float
The fill valve float determines when the fill valve will stop filling the tank with water. If the float isn’t properly adjusted, the fill valve will keep adding water to the point where it begins to be released into the bowl via the flush valve.
What does that mean? A never-ending stream of water being wasted.
Shower and Bathtub Leak
Unlike toilet leaks, shower and bathtub leaks can be tricky to identify and locate. They can also lead to much more costly repairs if left alone for too long.
The big snag with detecting shower and bathtub leaks is they’re not always apparent. It’s almost impossible to get out of the shower without getting some water on the floor. But if you do start to notice a sizeable puddle forming around the tub, it’s definitely a red flag that something isn’t right.
And if the leak is making starts way into the floor, you might notice some discoloration on the ceiling below your bathroom (if it’s a second-floor bathroom or you have a basement).
Smaller leaks might not leave that kind of evidence, but they can still cause damage to your home.
Drain and Valve Gaskets
A common source of leaks in showers and tubs are the gaskets in both the tub drain and the shower diverter valve (the switch that causes the water to come out of the shower head).
Grout and Caulk
If the seal around the base of your bathtub or shower is old and worn out, water could be getting into your floorboards every time you bathe. Even small leaks can lead to rotting wood and mold accumulation.
Faucet and Sink Leaks
Who hasn’t experienced the steady drip of a leaky faucet? This can be one of the more infuriating water leaks due to the constant dripping sound, which only seems to get louder in the wee hours of the night when you’re trying to get some sleep.
Some leaks around your sinks don’t give you that annoying reminder and might go undetected.
Here are some typical trouble areas:
Leaks From the Faucet
This is the most obvious leak to spot in your sinks. Sometimes the dripping water can be so infrequent that it goes unnoticed. You can always check for these leaks by drying the sink completely and putting some paper towel or a small bowl under the faucet.
If your faucet is dripping, you likely need to replace some components in the faucet itself. Older- style compression faucets have washers that tend to wear down over time. Most modern faucets, including Moen faucets, have a cartridge which can be replaced using just a few household tools.
Leaks From the Base
Sometimes faucets will leak from their base when they’re turned on. These leaks might not be apparent unless the water is turned all the way on.
Leaks from the base of a faucet are usually caused by a faulty o-ring, which is a simple home repair if you’re handy around the house.
Leaks Under the Sink
Leaks under the sink can be the hardest to repair and the most damaging. Look for tell-tale signs like water stains, mold or any dampness.
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Luckily, a lot of leaks below the sink are remedied by simply tightening the water supply or p- trap connections. If you can’t find the source of the leak or the job involves some major pipework, you’re better off calling a local pro.
Water Pipe Leaks
The bulk of your home’s plumbing network is hidden from plain sight beyond your walls, floors and ceilings.
Aging Plumbing Network
Things break down over time. The pipes in your home are no exception. If you live in an older home, natural wear and tear might lead to an eventual leak. Broken seals, corrosion and damaged pipe joints can all happen as your home’s infrastructure ages.
Sometimes natural elements are to blame for our water woes. That giant oak tree in your yard might be wreaking havoc underground, with ever-growing roots disturbing your underground pipe network.
Sudden changes in temperature can cause pipes to expand and contract, disturbing the seals around pipe joints.
High Water Pressure
That high-pressure shower might feel like a great way to start your day, but having too much water pressure can be a bad thing. High water pressure erodes pipes over time, which might end up leading to some costly repair bills. A good rule of thumb? Keep the pressure around 80 psi.
What Can You Do About Pipe Leaks?
While small projects like toilet and appliance leaks are easily tackled by the DIY’ers out there, pipe leaks are a serious business best left to professionals. A pro plumber will be able to locate the exact location of the leak and come up with the best plan of attack to get your water flowing smoothly again.
But what if you don’t have any obvious signs of a leak? How can you be sure that all your plumbing is working as it should?
Are You Losing Water?
Here’s a simple test you can do that will give you a good indication of whether or not you have a water leak.
First, go around your home and make sure all sinks, tubs and other water sources are turned off. If you have appliances like washing machines and refrigerators that use water, turn those off too.
Next, find your home’s water meter. Write down the reading on the meter. Give it a good 15-30 minutes and go back and read the meter again. Has the number gone up? If it has, you’ve probably got a leak somewhere.
It’s a good test to run every few months to make sure everything’s on the up and up. And it’ll help you pick up on all but the smallest of water leaks.
If you’re looking for pin-point, real-time accuracy, consider upgrading your home to a smart water system. Smart water security systems like Flo by Moen can detect water leaks as small as a drop per minute, identifying problems as soon as they arise.
Ever had to deal with water leaks? Have any plumbing hacks or tips? We’d love to hear from you!