How to Tell If You Have a Water Leak

by James Caviness

Water leaks can lead to costly repairs that also pose environmental and economical and can even impact our own health. If an underground water leak is not detected quickly, the surrounding area can show signs of damage, ranging from cracked or broken roadways to sinkholes and more. The costs associated with excavating and repairing a damaged water leak in a major waterline could cost thousands of dollars and take months to complete. If that isn't bad enough, our family's health can become affected by broken, rusted pipes that add rust and sediment to our water.

Since many of the signs of an underground leak can not be easily observed directly, it is important to know some of the major warning signs that you may have a leak. Knowing what to look for can help us make proactive decisions to prevent any significant damage from a water leak and also more quickly mitigate any problems when they happen.

Preventing Water Leaks

The best way to prevent water leaks is to be proactive and inspect your home regularly with a leak indicator. Check all the exposed pipes in your home, including under sinks, in crawl spaces, and in the basement or utility room. Look for any signs of water damage, such as water stains on ceilings or walls. If you have an irrigation system, have a professional check it annually to ensure there are no leaks.

Water main leaks are often caused by corrosion or damage to the pipe. Have a professional plumber inspect your home's main water line every five years to prevent water main leaks. If you live in an area with hard water, have your pipes inspected more frequently. If you have a water treatment system, such as a water softener or reverse osmosis system, check it regularly for leaks. These systems can develop leaks over time, and even a small leak can waste a lot of water.

In addition to regular inspections, you can take other steps to prevent water leaks, such as:

  • Fixing any existing leaks
  • Regularly check the water supply and water level in storage tanks
  • Install a water pressure regulator
  • Install a whole-house leak detection system
  • Be prepared for storms by clearing gutters and downspouts and sealing any cracks in your foundation or walls.
  • Perform regular drain cleaning
  • Immediately perform water heater repair if there are issues
  • Replacing old or damaged pipes
  • Insulating exposed pipes during cold weather
  • Sealing cracks and holes in your foundation
  • Installing a water leak detection system
  • Install flow indicator on all water-using appliances

If you think you may have a water leak, don't wait to take action. The sooner you find and fix the problem; the less damage will be caused. If you're unsure how to inspect your home for leaks or don't feel confident in your ability to fix them, contact a professional plumber or water damage specialist. They will be able to help you locate and fix the problem so you can avoid further damage and wasted money.

Water leaks can cause a lot of damage to your home, so it's important to be aware of the signs and take steps to prevent them. By being proactive and conducting regular inspections, you can catch leaks early and prevent major damage.

Signs of a Leak

Water leaks can be sneaky, but there are a few telltale signs that can reveal whether you have a leak, including:

  • Increased water usage
  • Low water pressure
  • Wet spots on ceilings
  • Broken, leaky pipes or damaged plumbing

Sound and Smell

Some of the most basic ways to determine if you may have a water leak are to take a listen, turn off any other noise, fans, or appliances nearby, and maybe even wait until nighttime when it is quieter. Be sure all faucets and spigots are turned off. If you hear any running water, it may be a leak. The sound of a small leak may be consistent drips; a larger leak may resemble a stream or brook.

The smell can indicate that you may have a leak on your hands. Water leaks can oftentimes cause mold or mildew, which has a distinct pungent odor. If a room in your home has this smell, it may be wise to check for any mold or mildew and ultimately inspect any above or adjacent pipes.

Visual Cues

If your nose or ears brought you to a basement or washroom, you may be able to actually see mold or mildew forming on the walls, floor, or ceiling. Some other signs of a leak inside would be sagging ceilings, bulging paint or wallpaper, or discoloration on the walls. With the right tools and equipment, such as a water leak detector, you can be sure there is a leak regardless of these signs or confirm your suspicions, and you almost certainly will have a leak to contend with.

Monitor the Water Bill

A less subtle leak may not cause mildew or stained walls but would likely show up on your water bill if you know how to spot it. If you are noticing an unusually high water bill, and you have not changed any water usage yourself, the water may be leaking out from somewhere unintended.

Study the Water Meter

The best way to investigate an unusually high water bill would be to inspect your water meter. A quick way to test and see if you are unknowingly drawing water would be to shut off all faucets, spigots, and appliances that use water and watch your water meter for a few hours. If there is any change and you are not using water, then there may be a leak somewhere, and you should investigate further.

Reduced Water Pressure

If you notice a drop in water pressure, it may mean water leaks out somewhere along the way. If, along with a drop in water pressure, you notice sediment or rust in your water, and a gushing sound commonly associated with air in your pipes, you should search for other signs of a water leak.

Check for Moisture or Water Around Appliances and Fixtures

Checking around major appliances should be one of the first spots to check if you notice signs of a leak. An older appliance or a loose gasket around a dishwasher or refrigerator could cause water to drip- resulting in damage. There are tools to detect moisture and water where they should not be, and different trouble-spots require different solutions; some common areas to check and protect against leaks would be:

  • Kitchen and bathroom sink.
  • Cabinets nearby sinks and appliances
  • Bathtubs
  • Showers
  • Hot-water heater
  • Water softener
  • Water purification systems
  • Well pumps
  • Washing Machine
  • Dishwasher
  • Refrigerator
  • Outdoor spigots for hoses
  • Sprinkler systems

Dye Test the Toilet

A dye test can be a fast and cost-effective way to see if there is a leak in your toilet. Most commonly, the flapper inside the main tank can deteriorate over time and cause water to drain into the bowl. You can perform a dye test at home by adding a few drops of food coloring to the top tank, then waiting a few minutes. If you see that any dye has leaked into the bowl, then you know the flapper may need to be replaced.

Cracks in the Foundation and Walls

Water leaking from a pipe underground can cause the ground conditions around your home to change. Any time there is a significant change to the ground surrounding your home, there can be additional stress or pressure put on the foundation- resulting in large cracks in the foundation. A home that is slowly settling or leaning due to a leaking pipe may show signs inside as well, such as cracked walls and ceilings and uneven floors.

Flooding

When there's smoke, there's fire, and when there is a leak, there is water. If you notice spots along your yard where there is water pooling up or increased vegetation, there is a chance a leak underground is causing it.

Water Leak Detection

From a concrete slab leak to plumbing leaks and burst pipes to sewer line leaks, any type of leaking water in your home can cause major water damage and be expensive to repair. That's why it's important to know how to tell if you have a water leak. Water leaks can be sneaky, gradually destroying your home without you even knowing it's happening. But there are a few telltale signs that can reveal whether you have a leak. 

If you're wondering how to tell if you have a water leak, here are four things to look for:

  1. A spike in your water bill - If you've noticed a sudden and unexplained increase in your water bill, it could be a sign that you have a water leak. A significant spike in water usage is often one of the first indicators that you have a problem.
  2. Water stains on ceilings or walls - If you see brown or yellow stains on your ceilings or walls, it's likely that water is seeping in from somewhere. These stains are usually the result of leaks in the roof, but they can also be caused by plumbing or HVAC leaks.
  3. Mold or mildew - If you see mold or mildew anywhere in your home, it's a sign that there's too much moisture present. This could be due to a water pipe leak.
  4. The sound of running water - If you hear the sound of running water when all your faucets and appliances are turned off, it's a sure sign that you have a leak somewhere in your home.

Water leak detection is the first step in preventing water damage from a leak. There are many ways to tell if you have a water leak. A sudden and unexplained increase in your water bill is often one of the first indicators that you have a problem. 

Water stains on ceilings or walls, mold or mildew, and the sound of running water when all your faucets and appliances are turned off are all signs that you have a leak somewhere in your home. If you suspect you have a water leak, it's important to act quickly to prevent further damage. 

What to Do If You Find a Water Leak

Hidden leaks like a water leak underground can go undetected for months or even years, slowly destroying, eroding your foundation, or causing mold to grow in your home. That's why it's important to know the signs of a water leak and have a professional regularly inspect your home for leaks.

Plumbing leaks are one of the most common types of water leaks. Some leaks, like Toilet bowl leaks, can be solved with a DIY solution, but more serious leaks may be harder to detect and fix. To prevent plumbing leaks, have a professional plumber inspect your home's plumbing system annually. If you do find a plumbing leak, it's important to have it repaired quickly by a licensed professional water leak detection services provider to avoid further damage.

Many plumbing service companies offer an emergency plumbing service to detect and fix a hidden leak. They will conduct a series of inspections to identify the source of the leak. Obvious signs like a water stain or wet spot you have probably already noticed. Sometimes it is just a leaky pipe, toilet leak, or toilet tank causing the issue. Other times it might be something more serious like a burst pipe or water main leak. If you have a main water line leak, they will begin by shutting off the source water supply to your residence or business.

© 2021 Detector Electronics Corp. - Revised September 2022