How to Detect a Water Leak Underground


How to Detect a Water Leak Underground


by James Caviness

An underground water leak can be a bad situation for any property owner that only gets worse the longer it is ignored. Underground water leaks are not only issues for the utilities and homes impacted but also the surrounding environment and can even have significant financial impacts if not located in time. Have you ever wanted an enormous sinkhole in your backyard? A broken water pipe may get you there in a hurry!

This article will serve as a resource to better understand why underground water leaks can be such a concern, some signs that you may have a water leak, as well as review the tools needed to locate an underground leak before more damage is done to your home and your wallet.

Water leaks can be a huge problem, and they can often be difficult to find. If you're having trouble locating a water leak in your yard or garden, there are plenty of ways to check the area for water loss from leakage. 

To find a water leak underground:

  1. Check your water meter for any unusual activity
  2. Look for Cracked Pavement and Foundations
  3. Look for wet or soggy spots on the ground, especially near pipes or other water fixtures
  4. Check your irrigation system for any leaks
  5. Use a metal detector or water leak detector
  6. Look into a professional water leak detection service
  7. Irregular Lawn Growth or Sinkholes
  8. Decreased Water Pressure or Air or Dirt in Water

Leaks can often be difficult to find, but with a little detective work, you should be able to track down the source of your leak in no time. If all else fails, call a professional water leak location detection service for assistance. Let's look in-depth at the steps you can date to find a water leak underground.

1. Check Your Water Bill and Meter for any Unusual Activity

One way to investigate whether or not you may have an underground water leak is to take a closer look at your water bill. If you are paying more than you normally would for water (without having the in-laws staying for a month or several kids home from college), it is possible that you may have an underground water leak. Some homes that have municipal water will have a meter, which can help show more clearly if this is, in fact, happening. If you suspect that you are drawing more water than you are actually using, it may be leaking underground. A way of detecting an underground water leak without a meter or water bill would be an extended drop in water pressure when you are not running any major appliances.

If the meter is running faster than normal, you may have a leak somewhere on your property. Check the meter again after you have turned off all the water fixtures in your house. If it's still running, you know there's a leak somewhere on your property.

You can also check for water leaks by reading your water meter. Most meters have a small red triangle on the face of the dial. When no water is being used, this triangle should be in the 12 o'clock position. Turn off all water use in your home and check the meter; If the triangle is moving, even a little bit, you have a water leak.

If you're having trouble reading your meter, or if it's in an inaccessible location, call your local water department for assistance. They should be able to help you read your meter and check for any leaks.

2. Look for Cracked Pavement and Foundations

Taking a step outside of the home, there are other signs that a pipe may be broken. Many utilities are located just inches under our feet, and water lines are no different. An unusual bulge in a sidewalk or cracked pavement could be the result of an underground water leak. In this case, the broken, warped, or clogged water line will leak, causing irregularities under the pavement, and causing the ground to warp. For a homeowner, this could mean replacing expensive driveways or walkways, and for municipalities, it could mean serious construction if not remedied. At best, you will likely have a large hole in your lawn if you cannot locate the leak properly.

3. Look for wet or soggy spots on the ground, especially near pipes or other water fixtures

Look for wet or soggy spots on the ground, especially near pipes or other water fixtures. There is a possibility that if you notice that the ground is wet, it could mean that you have a leak in your house. You can check the following places for leaks in your home:

  • In and around a water heater
  • Basement floors
  • Check visible PVC pipe in your home
  • Basement plumbing (toilet leaks, sink plumbing)
  • Around your foundation

If you have water spots on your basement floor, you likely have a slab leak. A slab leak is a water leak that occurs under your home's concrete slab foundation.

If you find a wet spot, try to determine the size and shape of the area. This can help you locate the source of the concealed leak. If you're unable to find the source of the hidden water leak, call a plumber for assistance.

4. Check your irrigation system for any leaks

Leaks can also occur in your irrigation system. If you have underground pipes for an irrigation system, it's important to check it for leaks regularly. Having a tiny leak can impact your water usage and waste a lot of water. A high water bill and expensive repairs are two of the most frustrating things you can discover.

To check for irrigation system leaks:

  1. Turn the valve on your irrigation system and watch the sprinklers. 
  2. Check the ground around the sprinklers for wet or soggy spots.
  3. If you see any leaks, repair them immediately.

It's also a good idea to check your irrigation system for leaks before the start of each season.

Having a water leak indicator is a great way to find leaks in your home's plumbing system. You can easily locate leaks, and you can avoid extensive water damage by doing so. 

Water leak indicators are available at most hardware stores. If you think you may have a water leak, it is important to address the issue as soon as possible. They're capable of underground leak detection and can detect a leak before it becomes a costly emergency.

5. Use a metal detector or water leak detector

If you suspect that your leak is underground, you can use a metal detector to help you find the location of the metal pipes potentially leaking underground. Metal detectors work by detecting the presence of metal objects buried in the ground. A water leak detector or locator will detect the source of the leak in the pipe.

Using a metal detector to find a leaking pipe can be a slow and tedious process, but it can be helpful in pinpointing the location of a water leak. Detecting plumbing leaks affecting water supply can save money and water by stopping leaks. Plumbing problems can be difficult to find because buried pipes aren't visible. In some cases, homeowners or landscapers will accidentally break a water pipe while digging in an area where they think there is no pipe. 

If you are looking for a more comprehensive and affordable water leak detection system, consider using a metal detector. Metal detectors can be used to find leaks in both your home's plumbing system and your business' water lines. 

There are a variety of causes of septic tank leaks, such as clogged pipes, cracked tanks, faulty pumps, damaged piping, and broken valves.

6. Look into a professional water leak detection service 

If you're still having trouble finding the source of your water leak, call a professional plumber for assistance. The plumbing services will be able to use special equipment to find the leak and repair it quickly and efficiently. They can also perform preventative drain cleaning and other services to help maintain your water distribution system.

Leak detection services can be expensive, but they're often worth the cost. A professional plumber with a leak detector will be able to find even the smallest leak and repair it quickly and efficiently. An acoustic leak detection system is a device that detects leaks in pipes using sound waves to find a hidden leak in pipe material. Acoustic water leak detection systems use sensors to detect sounds created when water passes through cracks in pipes.

7. Irregular Lawn Growth or Sinkholes

The environment can tell us quite a bit about our homes, and in the case of an underground water leak, that is no different. One subtle sign of a leak may be increased vegetation in areas that may not be getting any extra attention. Similar to the grass around a downspout from a gutter, grass or plants above a leaky pipe may get more water to their roots and grow faster. For those with a well-manicured lawn or garden, this could be a warning sign.

In many parts of the United States, the ground conditions may create even more of an impact than just a cracked driveway. Areas that are very close to sea level or saturated with water after a storm can become unstable, and an underground water leak can create a tremendous environmental hazard. Underground water leaks have been attributed to enormous sinkholes in some of these areas after underground soil and water conditions erode dramatically, and the surface becomes unstable. This can happen in a backyard, under a major roadway, or at home if the underground water leak is not properly located and fixed. These are some of the worst cases, but it has happened, and in some parts of the country, it happens more frequently.

8. Decreased Water Pressure or Air or Dirt in Water

You may not need to wake up to a huge sinkhole in your front yard to know you have an issue; irregular plumbing can be a sign of an underground water leak. A broken pipe underground can cause dirt, sediment, and air to make their way into your water system. If you have not had any recent plumbing work done and there is air or sediment in your water line, you may have an underground water leak and should take action.

Know the Common Risks and Factors of Underground Water Leaks

  • Old Houses

    Old homes are full of character but can also have older utilities that may be in need of replacement. Old rusted or clogged pipes can eventually corrode or burst, causing an underground water leak. Oftentimes these pipes may be in hard-to-access spots, and an older home, renovations can become costly very quickly. Old homes present the additional challenge of finding the underground water line itself, which is an easy task given the correct equipment. Being knowledgeable as to where your water lines are yourself can save you money by hiring someone to do this for you.
  • Mature Trees

    The environment can tell us about potential issues with our home as well if we know what to look for. Trees near underground water lines can be a potential hazard; a growing tree root can damage underground utilities. Large trees near water lines should be handled by a professional, but it is not hard to locate the line itself, with proper equipment, to see if a tree poses a threat.
  • Water Main

    An underground water leak in a home may be costly to the homeowner, but a water main that is leaking could cause a financial drain on the entire town. While the ideas behind locating these more major underground leaks are the same, specialized equipment, such as an industrial metal detector, is needed to be able to detect through concrete or pavement. Being able to quickly and accurately locate a leak along a water main is critical to mitigating the cost of a potentially huge project.
  • Sprinkler Systems

    Most of us would be aware of sediment in our water or the gushing sound of air in our water pipes, but outside of our home, an underground water leak can be more subtle. Sprinkler systems around our yard could also be the source of an underground water leak. Areas of increased vegetation, puddles, or lower water pressure during spraying could all be signs of a potential leak in your sprinkler system. Being able to locate and handle a sprinkler leak yourself would save on your water bill and save time from having to hire someone to do it for you.
  • Faulty Plumbing in Pipes and Sewers

    With many potential sources of water leaks in our homes, it is important to know where to look first in order to quickly see the problem source. The most common areas for water leaks within a home are the kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, and basement, places where we use to water the most! In the kitchen, it would be wise to check any major appliances and their connections to ensure proper drainage; you may do the same in the bathroom. In both cases, aside from visible water damage and dripping, it may even be possible to hear water leaks; bubbling or gurgling and sounds of running water may be an indication of trouble. Checking the basement for additional signs would be wise, and you may want to have a plumber investigate if you are not able to locate the source yourself.

Copyright 2020 Detector Electronics Corp. - Revised August 2022.