Watch Out for Undetected Water Leaks

Photo: M Sittig/flickrSometimes it’s impossible to ignore the fact that you have a water leak in your home’s plumbing system. A torrent gushing from a burst pipe is an obvious sign. But other leaks may be harder to detect. Unfortunately, even though you don’t know it’s there, undiscovered water leakage rarely disappears. It continues to quietly drip, drip, drip, slowly damaging your home and costing you more and more money. Learn how to detect and deal with this hidden nuisance.

Detecting Water Leaks

Look out for an exceptionally high water bill. Whether your water bill is sent to you in paper or virtual form, it will usually indicate in gallons the amount of your consumption for the same period last year, as well as showing a record of the entire past twelve months as a bar chart, so you can compare. If there is a major discrepancy which you can’t account for, start looking for a water leak.

Take a peek at your meter every once in a while. If the meter’s flow indicator gauge keeps running when no one is using water in your home, either your house is haunted by a clean freak ghost, or you have a leak. Even if the gauge is not running, you may still have a slow leak hidden away in some part of your plumbing system, such as a toilet that refills itself periodically.

If you have a good idea that water is leaking someplace but are not sure where, systematically check all plumbing fixtures inside and outside your home. (Don’t forget your landscape irrigation system, the most frequent cause of exceptionally high water usage.) Even if it turns out that you need to call for professional help, you’ll save time for the plumber and money for yourself by being able to show him or her exactly – or even approximately -- where the leak is located.

Need for Prompt Repair

Whatever their size or location, water leaks should be identified and repaired promptly. A leak almost never goes away by itself, but rather gets worse. Unchecked water can do a truly incredible amount of damage to your home. It acts directly, by soaking into – and eventually destroying -- surrounding materials such as drywall or flooring, and indirectly in the form of condensation, humidification, and mold and mildew generation.

Should you locate a leak in your system, turn off the main water valve and try a DIY repair if you think your plumbing abilities are up to it. You may be successful. I once came home to find water pooled 2 inches deep on the floor of my rented apartment’s laundry room; a tiny hole in an exposed wall pipe was shooting out water with tremendous force. No way was I going to just hang around and wait for a repairperson, so I closed the main water valve and blocked the hole with a sewing pin! Amazingly enough, that did the trick; when the landlord’s plumber eventually arrived, he could not believe how much water had poured though the minuscule opening.

Environmental Impact

Beyond the potential damage to your property and the financial cost to you, leaking water also has a negative impact on the environment. Plumbing leaks in the average home can account for as much as 20,000 gallons of wasted water annually. In a world where 800,000 people lack access to clean, safe drinking water, that is inexcusable.

Another impact of water leakage is the damp atmosphere it creates, which fosters growth of mold, mildew, and spores. This is very unhealthy for anyone suffering from lung diseases, allergies, or a compromised immune system.

Laura Firszt writes for

Updated September 2, 2018.

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