Plumbing Leak Detection

Some water leaks are obvious, some are downright impossible for a homeowner or property manager to find.  You might not even be sure you have a leak.  But if you do, you’ll run into a lot more than just a higher water bill.  Plumbing problems inside walls or under the floor can cause thousands of dollars in water damage before that destruction even becomes visible.  So it’s a wise investment to call in a professional leak detection service to find the source.

Leaks only get worse over time, and sometimes are merely a prelude to a sudden major failure.  That’s especially true from homes over 25 years old.  It’s easy to find a dripping faucet or fault in exposed plumbing, not so for hidden leaks.  Small leaks may have no visible symptoms and are likely to have been going on for a while.  But taking immediate action when you suspect a problem still keeps building repair costs to a minimum.  Even with a big problem water can flow quite a distance before becoming visible, making it difficult to find the source.

With today’s electronic leak detection instruments there’s no need for a plumber to make several holes in your floors or walls to zero-in on the source.  Detection and location by an expert is reliable, fast, and accurate.  You’ll have peace of mind with the mystery solved — the problem’s either fixed or you’re absolutely sure there wasn’t actually a problem.

Signs That Can Indicate You Have a Leak

It’s always good idea to keep an eye out on faucets (including outdoor hose faucets), tubs, and showers.  You’ll most likely notice a dripping faucet or shower right away, but don’t forget to check outside hose faucets from time to time.  The same goes for valves and fittings around the water heater (especially the pressure-relief valve) and washing machine.  Water pressure makes supply line problems more discernible, but you should also check under sinks and inside cabinets for drips, dampness, or discoloration from drain leaks.  Likewise, keep an eye out for sprinkler system, sewer and water main leaks outdoors.

There are many indications that you might have a hidden plumbing leak, including

  • your hot water heater or a toilet running frequently,
  • discoloration or other signs of water damage,
  • damp or warm areas,
  • mold and mildew indoors,
  • sewage odors indoors or out, and
  • damp or unusually green areas outdoors.

But quite often the only warning you’ll have of progressive water damage is an increase in your water bill, so be sure to check the usage (gallons or cubic feet) on each month’s utility bill.

Hidden Leaks

To determine if you have a leak hidden under a concrete floor slab, within a wall, under the lawn, or pretty much anywhere else you can take a water meter reading yourself.  Turn off the water to all fixtures and appliances then take a look at the meter.  If a small dial or line is spinning you have a substantial problem and may want to use the shutoff valve.  If not, wait a few hours and see if the meter reading has changed.  You can find instructions for your particular meter from you utility company’s website.

Electronic Leak Detection

Most plumbers can perform a more sensitive pressure check for leaks.  But non-destructively locating problems inside the house and outside your house requires electronic leak detection instruments and no small amount of expertise and experience.

A professional leak detection service will quickly find the source’s location using one or more of the following technologies.

  • Acoustic After draining, pipes are pressurized with a safe gas such as nitrogen or carbon dioxide.  Escaping gas creates a high-pitched sound that is picked up by special ultrasonic microphones.
  • Moisture Meters detect nearby dampness by measuring differences in thermal or electrical conductivity.  They’re especially useful for underground water leaks.
  • Pipe Tracing A low-power radio transmitter can be connected to metal plumbing so that a receiver can find the strongest signal emitted by the pipe to trace its location.
  • Thermal Imaging Water is a great heat conductor, so damp materials transfer heat better than dry ones.  That leads to slight temperature differences that can be detected by sensitive thermal imaging cameras since objects at different temperatures emit different amounts of IR (infrared) light.