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How To Find a Water Leak

Water is essential in a home. We use it to drink, cook, bathe, wash our clothes and dishes and water our yards. Unfortunately, things go wrong sometimes: Pipes crack or break, and water leaks out where it shouldn’t. Sometimes water leaks are obvious, but not always. It’s important to know how to find water leaks because, occasionally, they stay hidden for days or even weeks at a time.

For some people, the first sign of a hidden water leak is when they receive an astronomically high water bill and wonder how it got so high. Water usage and bills often fluctuate month to month, especially in the summer. Most people use more water when it’s hot outside, both to bathe on sweaty days and to keep the yard green. But sometimes, it’s a shock when the utility bill arrives, and they find out they unknowingly used far more water than usual.

A high water bill could be the first sign of a hidden water leak somewhere on the property. It might even be coming from someplace underground or within your home’s foundation. Here are some possible signs of a water leak somewhere in your home or yard:

  • Unusually high water bills and reported water usage
  • Low water pressure in your shower or sinks
  • A damp, dank or musty smell in a room or inside a cabinet that doesn’t go away
  • A ceiling that sags or has dark or discolored spots
  • Paint or wallpaper that is bubbling or blistering
  • Warped or stained flooring, or flooring that feels soft underfoot
  • Puddles inside kitchen or bathroom cabinets, or damp, warped, bloated or mushy particle board
  • Funny noises coming from the plumbing, like a rattling or vibrating sound
  • Visibly dripping faucets or pipes

How to Read Your Water Meter to See if There’s a Leak

Every homeowner can take steps to find a water leak on their property. The first step is to check your water meter. Turn off all faucets in and around the home along with all appliances that use water, like the dishwasher and clothes washing machine. You should turn off all hoses, sprinklers and outdoor water features like fountains too.

Once everything is off, go outside to your home’s water meter. It is likely located in the ground near the street, underneath a heavy, metal lid. You might be able to pry up the lid with a screwdriver. If that doesn’t work, you can buy a special tool from the hardware store to pry it open.

When you get the lid off, take a look at your water meter inside. Newer water meters display digital numbers, much like a newer car’s odometer. Older meters look more like a clock’s face, with a red sweep hand that moves among the numbers on the dial. These meters also have numbers that look like an older car odometer.

When all the water on your property is off, nothing on the water meter should move. The sweep hand should be still, and the numbers should not change. Water is flowing somewhere if the numbers change or the sweep hand moves.

If you aren’t sure whether the meter’s numbers are changing, write them down and then check back in thirty minutes to an hour. Once you have made sure that all faucets and water-using appliances on your property are still turned off and the meter’s numbers have changed, this likely indicates a leak.

Water leaking onto the floor

When It’s Time to Contact a Plumber for a Water Leak

If you’re pretty sure there is a leak somewhere; it’s time to contact a plumber. It’s also a good idea to contact your local water company to send out a technician who can locate the leak.

You can still try to find the leak on your own by looking for the typical signs of a water leak in and around your house. Or you can also try putting a few drops of food coloring into the water tanks of all the toilets in your home. If the water in the bowl turns the same color after a few minutes, it means there is a leak in the tank.

Certain types of water leaks are easy enough for handy DIY homeowners to fix. If the toilet tank food coloring test reveals a leak, for example, it’s not too complicated to install a new flapper to fix the issue. Leaky pipes under the sink can also be simple to fix. Tightening or replacing them may do the trick. Installing new caulk or plumber’s tape might also help.

Other types of leaks are too complicated for most homeowners to fix on their own or even to diagnose. If there’s a broken pipe located underground or within the foundation, that’s definitely a job for a plumbing professional to handle. Swimming pools and outdoor water features can also develop leaks that need to be fixed by a professional. Furthermore, a water heater leak will need to be addressed by a pro.

If you contact a plumber, you should let them know about any signs you’ve noticed that indicate a water leak. This information will help them in their inspection. A professional plumber will be able to find exactly where the leak is coming from, whether it’s indoors or someplace outside. Once they know where the leak is coming from, they can determine how to fix it.

How to Fix a Water Leak in a Concrete Foundation

A leak within your home’s foundation is a serious issue that should be addressed as soon as possible. Contact a licensed, reputable plumbing professional who will know how to fix a water leak in a concrete foundation. This is definitely not a job for DIY homeowners to tackle themselves.

Some foundation leakage issues are caused by external elements like gutters that aren’t working well enough to keep water away from the home. The foundation might need better waterproofing, or you may need a drain to guide excess water away from the house.

Other foundation water leaks are a more complicated problem because they involve broken pipes within the concrete slab, known as a slab leak. They might also involve water damage to the slab itself, which will also need to be fixed.

This type of leak can be hard to detect, especially if you aren’t paying attention to your monthly water bills and usage. It’s a more common problem in older homes since pipes can degrade and get damaged over time. But even newer homes can experience broken pipes in the foundation that create leaks.

Once the plumber has opened up the area, they will replace the faulty pipes. Then, they will pour new concrete into the opening to close it up. Slab leak detection and repair is a complicated and potentially expensive job. It’s a good idea to hire a licensed and reputable professional to ensure that the job will be done correctly and as efficiently as possible.

High Water Bill, No Leak: What to Do if This Happens to You

Sometimes, a homeowner receives a high water bill, but they can’t find a leak in their home or yard. This is rare, but it does happen now and again. Here’s what to do if it happens to you.

First, it’s important to make sure that there is no leak anywhere in the system of water pipes running through your home or yard. The best way to do this is to hire a plumbing professional. A pro has specialized equipment to run tests that can rule out hidden leaks in hard-to-find places.

If there are truly no leaks—not even a running toilet or a drippy faucet—it’s time to take a look at your water usage. Homes with water softeners use more water than homes with hard water. Sometimes, water softeners malfunction and run continuously. This uses a lot of water, leading to high water bills.

Over-watering your yard can be another culprit of high water bills. The heat of summer can damage your lawn and landscaping. Still, make sure you aren’t going overboard in how much you water your parched yard.

Even having lots of guests can lead to unusually high water bills. For example, when more people are showering or flushing toilets in the home, extra water usage increases. Another cause of high water bills is leaving a faucet or two running in winter to protect your pipes from freezing. Even a steady drip adds up over the course of several days.

If you have a high water bill, no leaks and no idea what’s going on, it’s time to call your water company first, and then a good plumber. The water company can review your bill to see if they made an error. If the high bill isn’t an error, a plumbing professional can help you determine why your water usage is so high.

ABC Can Help You Lower Your Water Bill

When you suspect you may have a plumbing problem, don’t wait to call a professional. In mere minutes, a water leak can cause thousands of dollars in damage, sometimes making your home unlivable. When you have a plumbing problem, like a water leak, count on the licensed, experienced professionals at ABC Home & Commercial Services to take care of the issue so that you can get back to enjoying your home.

Tom Riggs

Tom Riggs is the Division Manager for Mechanical Services, overseeing sales and operations for HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical, Appliance Repair and Water Quality for all ABC Austin branches. He joined ABC in 2014. Before ABC, he was an HVAC Service Technician, HVAC Comfort Advisor/Sales and Operations Manager. Tom attended Universal Technical Institute. He's an avid outdoorsman and enjoys country living with his wife and two sons.

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