Water Leak Detection

Do I have a leak?  Where the heck is it?

Each year water leaks cause billions of dollars in property damage.  Some problems are obvious, while finding others are a challenge even for experts armed with the latest equipment.  That’s because water can flow quite a distance from the source before it surfaces as dampness, staining, mold, or other indications.  So let’s consider likely sources and the best leak detection methods.

TIP:  If you hear water running, gurgling, or spraying it’s likely you have a major plumbing leak inside a wall or under the floor slab.  Use the shut off valve near your water meter, then call for an emergency plumbing leak detection professional.

Kinds of Leaks

Bathtub and toilet overflows along with appliance failures (such as leaking or burst water heaters) are among the most common causes of water damage insurance claims.  But sticking specifically to leaks, the two remaining causes are flaws in the building or plumbing.

As you might guess, most building problems take the form of roof leaks.  They’re usually a result of old dried-out shingles or wind damage.  But there can also be problems from flashing (metal fittings) and the sealing around them.  Additionally, failing seals around windows and doors are often overlooked until there’s been significant damage.

Plumbing leaks can occur almost anywhere.  In the garage they may be visible, but they’re commonly hidden inside walls and in bathroom plumbing behind shower stalls and under tubs.  From there they lead to wet insulation and, sooner or later, significant water damage.  Slab leaks from pipes underneath a concrete floor slab are in a class by themselves.  More difficult to detect and expensive to repair, they can remain hidden for months with little more clues than an increased water bill.  All the while they’re causing erosion under the foundation that can lead to major structural damage.

Do I Have a Leak?

You need to be on the look out for building leaks, watching for staining or other discoloration, mold, and dampness.  It’s especially important to take a close look for those clues in your attic and check the condition of your shingles from the outside.  You should also check the caulking around window and door frames at least once a year.  Bubbling paint is another leak indicator.  It’s also a good idea to have a roof inspection or a complete building inspection once every several years.

If you see or can hear water then it’s pretty clear that you have a leak, and that’s a plumbing emergency.  Turn off the water at the main valve (typically by the water meter, usually near the street) then call a plumber.

For other water leaks you may not be sure there’s really a problem.  You can do a fairly simple and quick leak detection test yourself.  Turn off everything that might be using water (don’t forget ice makers and water softeners), then take a water meter reading.  (Meters differ, so get exact instructions from your particular water utility.  You can find yours at http://www.calwaterassn.com/about-cwa/regulated-water-utilities-in-california/.)  Wait an hour or two, then take another meter reading.  A change means you have a leak… somewhere.  It could be between the meter and your home, inside your home, or in your sprinkler system.

Professional Water Leak Detection Methods

Most plumbers can perform a more sensitive pressure test for plumbing leak detection.  Shutting off the water supply, they measure the slow loss of pressure in your pipes.

Plumbing and water damage specialists can employ more advanced water leak detection methods that also pinpoint the exact location of the problem.  They’re also experts at visual inspections for subtle indications of any source of water intrusion.  Here are the main detection technologies.

  • Acoustic — Pressurizing pipes with a safe inert gas (such as nitrogen) causes cracks and holes to emit both audible and ultrasonic sound.  A special microphone and electronic amplifiers convert the ultrasonic hiss into the human hearing range.  A well-trained and experienced operator can then track the sound back to its source.
  • Electronic —  There are several electronic leak detector and leak location technologies.
    • Special RF (radio frequency) transmitters and receivers can be used to trace the location of pipes inside walls, under the floor, and underground.
    • Sensitive moisture meters help track down damp areas.
    • Equipment that works by the same principles of metal detectors can detect the moisture from underground and slab leaks.
  • IR (infrared) — Wet insulation and water itself causes slight temperature changes that extend to visible surfaces.  Special infrared thermometers and imaging cameras can detect temperature differences down to a small fraction of a degree to quickly reveal hidden wet or damp materials.

Don’t delay until there’s extensive damage.  With professional leak detection services it’s no longer necessary to put up with inadequate inspections or tests followed by making one hole after another in your walls or floors!


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