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What is Leak Detection?

leak detection
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Water leaks and water damage are obviously a big part of what we deal with as plumbers so I want to shed a little insight into how we find and fix pesky water leaks. Almost daily we get a call regarding an expensive water bill that is out of the ordinary. After a couple basic questions to eliminate unusual usage, like did you fill the pool up recently or excessively water the landscaping, dispatch gets one of our plumbers on the way.

Water leaks can be tricky and sometimes hard to find, that is where you’ll really need the help of a professional to track them down. So, what goes into a leak search? The always asked question is why copper pipes would spring a leak to begin with. The why they leak is the easier question to answer. Every time you use the water in your home you send small vibrations throughout the entire plumbing system, which over long periods of time can cause joints to break apart and allow a leak. One of the other whys is if piping was run under ground when the house was built it may not have been sleeved properly or it had a small kink in it when it was installed. As the home settles over the years the shifting of the structure can also cause underground leaks, or more commonly called, slab leaks.

Ok, so how do we find leaks? We are going to start with the very basics and visually inspect for any wet areas that can point us in the right direction. Once in a while we’ll get lucky and it is as simple as a valve under a sink coming from the base of an older faucet or a toilet needs to be rebuilt because it is running.

When wet areas cannot be found this is where it starts to get a little more complicated. So, we have inspected the house, found nothing obvious, and now need to determine if the leak exists between the house and the water meter or if the leak is under the house itself. For that we are going to perform a pressure drop test on the home. Pressure drop testing is pretty simple; we place a pressure gauge on one of the faucets you hook a hose up to, also known as a hose bib, open the valve and mark what the water pressure is. Making sure there is no water being used in the home we shut the water supply off to the house. If the leak is under the home the water pressure at our gauge is going to drop very quickly. If the pressure remains steady the leak is likely in the water main running between the house and the meter at the street. This can be confirmed by again shutting the water off at the home and seeing if the water meter is still spinning indicating use.

Typically the hardest type of leak to track down is when it is under the home. We have specialized equipment that can help us narrow the search and try and minimize the holes we need to cut in your walls. Yes, I said holes because when it comes to a slab leak search there will be holes in the walls, sometimes in multiple places. Before we start cutting holes we are going to use thermal cameras and or very powerful listening devices to narrow the search for this nasty little water waster of a leak. We are also going to determine if the leak is on the hot or cold side of the water supply system by shutting off supply to the water heater and re-testing the house. After we narrow down the location of the leak exploratory surgery is going to begin.

We are going to open a wall (typically a 2’ x 2’ hole) looking for what is called a manifold. A manifold is typically a larger pipe that is split into three or four smaller lines. Water is turned off and water lines are cut and capped individually until we find the bad line and stop the leak. Once the line is identified the next step is determining what fixture that line feeds. After the fixture being supplied is determined, the typical repair is running an up and over water line. We will start at the afore mentioned manifold, run a line up into the attic of the home and pick the original fixture back up and supply it with water again.

If you think this sounds like a major project you would be correct, slab leaks can get messy and very expensive quickly depending on the location of the leak and the size of the home. Then after the water is fixed, you of course get the added joy of having the walls repaired. I know I am just full of good news, yes?

Well friends I have gotta run for now, so until our paths cross again, you have noticed I’m sure that wounds heal better when covered, I personally think this is a great example of gauze and effect.

House Whisperer out!!

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