Determining where a leak is located in your plumbing

Water leaks can become apparent in a few unpleasant ways. You may see water dripping onto the floor or a water stain on the ceiling. You might also suspect that you have a leak in your home if your water bill spikes.

Checking this bill is a good way to see if your water use is abnormal. The City of Gainesville Public Utilities Department in Georgia says you can compare your water use over a few billing periods to determine if the system has become more inefficient. Don't forget to account for any habit changes, visitors who stayed for a long period of time, or other factors that may have affected the bill; exterior water use, such as watering plants, will also cause higher bills in the summer.

You may be able to check the water meter at your home as well. The magazine Family Handyman says you can start by turning off all of the faucets in the home, including their shutoff valves if the faucets have a slow drip. You can then check the one-cubit-foot dial on the meter; if the reading has changed after a couple of hours, it indicates that a leak is present. The Alderwood Water and Wastewater District in Lynnwood, Wash., says the meter may also have a leak indicator that you can see moving after you take the initial shutoff steps.

The meter test can let you know if the leak is inside or outside the home. If the meter no longer shows water flow after you turn off the main shut-off valve, the leak is somewhere inside. If it continues to move, the leak is outside the home.

Exterior leaks can occur in spigots, swimming pools, or irrigation lines. The leak may also be in the service line connecting the home with its water supply.

Underground leaks may be apparent due to soft or muddy ground, or lush grass growth. However, this won't always occur; the City of Gainesville Public Utilities Department says leaks in the service line often occur where the line meets the house, since this spot is more vulnerable to freezing. If you want to dig down to the line to try to pinpoint the leak, you should be extremely careful not to rupture the pipe or any other utility lines.

If you suspect the leak is occurring indoors, a walkthrough of the home can help you pinpoint the location. Once you find one, don't stop; there may be multiple leaks. Take along a flashlight to look into crawlspaces and other dark areas, along with a pen and notebook or other means to record your findings.

Dripping faucets are often ignored, but are a common cause of wasted water. The Alderwood Water and Wastewater District says drips are usually caused by a worn washer, which can easily be replaced.

Toilets can also develop a variety of leaks. The flapper at the bottom of the tank may not be sealing properly, allowing water to flow continuously into the bowl. The flush handle may allow water to run if it is sticking or improperly sized. Water can also drain into the overflow tube if the water level in the tank is set too high.

The easiest way to see if water is leaking from the tank is to put a few drops of food coloring into the tank. Check after half an hour to see if the food coloring has made its way into the bowl.

Check any exposed pipes, including those in a basement or crawlspace and plumbing lines under the kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Renee Miller, writing for SFGate, says signs of a leak include corrosion on the pipes, mold, mildew, and buckled or rotted wood.

If a leak is located in a hidden pipe, the dripping water can cause noticeable damage to nearby structural components. This might include water stains and bubbling or peeling paint.

These signs of trouble might not be located directly next to a leak. The Alderwood Water and Wastewater District says water may flow to another location before finding an outlet, so it's important to track down where the leak is stemming from.

If you are worried about the overall condition of the plumbing in your home, a full plumbing inspection can be useful. Bradbury Brothers, a plumbing company in The Woodlands, Texas, says the inspection will give careful attention to all components of a home's plumbing, including fixtures, water filtration systems, water heaters, and drains.

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