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DIY Leak Detection

In most cases, the amount of water running into a home is measured for utility billing. Sudden increases in the water bill may not actually be due to price increases, but a leak somewhere in a home’s water supply lines. Even a slow, seeping water leak wastes gallons of water and has the potential to create high utility bills and damage over time.

Though water leaks are often due to corrosion in water supply lines, leaks may also be due to loose fittings, broken pipe connections and faucets, or defects in fixtures such as toilets or hot water tanks. Although plumbers have very specific technology for water leak detection, there are a number of simple DIY ways to detect and fix leaks without spending a fortune to hire a plumber.

1. Shut Off the Meter

One of the easiest ways to tell if a home is experiencing a leak, is by running two short tests using the water meter to the house. First, locate the shut-off valve by the house, shut the water off, and check the meter to see if the needle is turning.  If the needle is still turning, then the leak is most likely between the meter and the house. Check for visible signs such as muddy or squishy ground, or grass that’s greener or thicker than the rest of the yard – this may signify an underground leak in the main water supply line.

2. Turn Off Indoor Water Consumption

There is always the possibility that the shut-off valve may be leaking in addition to another leak inside the house. For the second meter test, turn the water back on at the shut off valve, then turn off all water-consuming sources in the home – including automatic ice makers, and evaporative coolers. Mark the position of the meter needle and wait 30 minutes. If the needle has moved, there is probably a water leak somewhere in the house. Some water meters are more sensitive to very low water flow. These meters possess a rotating triangle in addition to a needle. If the triangle still spins when all water-consuming sources are turned off, then there is a very high probability of a leak in the home.

3. Check the Hot Water Tank

Check the pressure relief valve on the hot water heater. If the tank is clearly leaking down the drain pipe, carefully open the spring-loaded operating level on the valve to release some water from the tank, then allow it to snap shut. The valve may seal again on its own.

Sometimes valves are plumbed directly into a drain, which makes it difficult to notice if a hot water tank is leaking. If the drain pipe can’t be checked for leaking water, a quiet hissing sound it usually as sign that the tank is losing water.

4. Check All Toilets

Toilets also make a hissing or trickling sound when leaking, and will flush intermittently on their own when the flapper allows water to leak from the tank to bowl. Remove the tops of all toilet tanks and listen for any noise. For added security, add a few drops of food coloring in each tank – if after several minutes the color shows up in the bowl, the flapper in that tank is not sealing properly and needs to be replaced.

5. Check All Water Supply Fittings and Faucets

Double-check for drippy faucets. Then check all the water supply fittings that screw into place or have visible connections, such as the faucet supply lines, hose connections for washing machines, refrigerators, and ice makers, and any other removable fittings. Hand-tighten all removable fittings.

6. The 'Poor Man's Stethoscope' Test

Leaks can be detected in the house by creating a stethoscope using a small wooden dowel rod or a long metal screwdriver. Once all fittings are tightened, locate all hose-bibs around the outside of the house. If using a screwdriver, place the metal tip of the screwdriver to the metal part of the hose-bib, then place the handle to the side of your head, directly in front of your ear. A leak will create a vibration that travels through the pipe, through the screwdriver, and directly to the eardrum. This works for most metal valves, as well.

Mark any hose-bibs that have vibrations or other sounds, and move the next bib. If the sounds or vibrations are louder at any hose-bib, note which one, as the leak will be closer to that particular hose-bib. Follow the same procedure with all other pipes and fittings inside the house, such as faucets, shower heads, washers, and hot water heaters.

Locating a leak can be difficult. However, even if the leak cannot be pinpointed, any information that can be given to a plumber regarding the leak’s approximate location will be helpful.

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