Plumbing leaks are a common fact of life. So common that you can find lots of details on finding the source and following through with plumbing repairs on the web. They’re also a leading cause of water damage, even more than winter storms. So here we’re going to take a look at the big picture.
The Problem With Leaks
Even as an increasingly scarce resource here in Southern California, water is still pretty cheap. Water leaks are a serious plumbing problem because of the damage they can do. Water damage runs the gamut from minor mold issues and water stains on the ceiling all the way to structural damage from rotting wood. Plumbing repairs are less expensive than wall and floor repairs. And building repairs are less expensive than mold remediation. Whether you encounter dampness, water dripping, sprays, or gushers it’s important to pay attention. That includes keeping an eye out for the need to repair hidden plumbing leaks.
Do I Have a Leak? How to Find Out
Some issues are simple and visible, such as water dripping from a faucet. Others only leave clues and you have to find the source. Here are a few places and symptoms to check.
- Shower doors are perhaps the most common bathroom problem. It may seem minor, but you’re likely to eventually have water damage in the form of loose tiles or vinyl, and even wood rotting underneath.
- Tub and shower leaks can come from the seal around the drain, leading to damage that can grow to major proportions since it’s hidden. Securely plugging the drain, adding some water, and waiting to see if there’s any losses checks that out.
- Tiles can develop leaks, and single-piece fiberglass shower stalls need to be properly caulked around the top and edges. Be on the lookout for peeling, flaking, or chalky paint as an indicator.
- Toilets leaking around the flange where they join the sewer pipe at the floor are also a common cause of leaks and eventually severe damage to the flooring and sub-floor (including joists and ceilings underneath). If the tank keeps refilling on its own that could be a flange leak or a leak between the tank and the bowl. If the whole toilet rocks there’s probably a badly damaged flange seal.
Kitchen Sinks and Bathroom Sinks
Besides a leaky faucet that rarely causes any harm other than wasted water your laundry room, bathroom, and kitchen sinks can have problems with the seal between the sink and counter top. It’s also common for drain fittings, such as on the u-trap, to become loose. Fittings, shutoff valves, and even pipes can become problems as they get older.
These sorts of issues are less likely to be noticed until there’s been damage to cabinets, flooring, and ceilings below. So check under the sink from time to time, looking for stains or dampness. If you find water drying everything out, waiting a while, then feeling around is a good way to track down the culprit.
Laundry Rooms and Garages
A hot water heater can develop problems at several locations. If you see water in the pan underneath or mold nearby, it’s likely you have a leaking water heater. The drain and pressure relief valves are often the source. But the pressure relief valve may simply be doing its job and is indicating a thermostat, water pressure, or other issue of concern. Inlet and outlet valves, usually located above the water heater, are also common locations. A leaking tank is often diagnosed by a process of elimination. But unfortunately corrosion can lead to a burst tank at any time, with big-time water damage restoration needs.
Ruptured washing machine hoses are actually one of the leading causes of water damage insurance claims. So upgrade your hoses to the steel-clad type, then replace them every 5 years or so.
Hidden plumbing inside walls, above the ceiling, and below flooring (even below a cement floor) can be very tricky to track down. You can check if there’s a leak anywhere by reading your water meter, waiting about 2 hours, then checking if there’s any change in reading. But there’s still the difficulty of finding the location. Even if you have clues such as water stains, mold, dampness, or warm areas they can be far from the actual source as water can flow quite a distance before surfacing as a problem spot. Fortunately plumbers with sensitive electronic instruments can non-destructively pinpoint the right location.
Since problems can occur under the sink or inside a wall it’s important to always be on the active lookout for signs such as: dampness, discoloration (including stains on the ceiling), jumps in your water bill, musty or moldy smells, peeling or bubbling paint, rust, warped wood, and soft spots on the floor. In brief, anything unusual! It pays to take the time and actively look around several times each year.
Hopefully this has helped you learn how to find the source of various leaks before they develop into big problems.