Leak Detection Can Mean Lots of Work

Has your water bill steadily gone up without any explainable reason due to a lifestyle or occupancy change?

You may have a water leak!

Have you noticed that your water meter is steadily moving, even though you know that no water is supposed to be running when you look at it? 

You may have a water leak!

Is there a foul sewage or mildew buildup in your building or house, but you're not sure of where it is coming from or why? 

You may have a water leak!

Do you hear a steady flow of water under your foundation, but you're not sure of exactly where it is flowing? 

You may have a water leak!

Water Leak True Story #1

Here's a true story from the trenches! A friend of mine had two catastrophic experiences with major water leaks when he was an investor and manager for two apartment complexes, so I trust that this story will be instructive.

The first leak showed up and made itself known after we had replaced the carpet in one of the bottom units. The building was built on top of a slab, and the leak was a sewer leak three feet below the concrete. The two upper units also backed up from the toilets. This had managed to create a small pool. The water rose to the surface in one unit, soaking the carpet. Deteriorated sewer water pipes have broken into small pieces under the grade. The result: all sewage was pooling under the floor and not to the sewer. In this case, since this was a small, 12-unit building, it was easy to find but not repair. The fix was to completely tear out the carpet and cut out a channel of concrete through the kitchen and into the main hall to get to the plumbing water sewage pipes. So, we had to move the tenant as well. All of the plumbing below the grade was replaced; the concrete and the kitchen floor had to be repaired, as well as all the counters had to be replaced.

Water Leak True Story #2

The second experience was in a slab foundation of a 36-unit apartment building. My friend was alerted to the fact that there was a gurgling sound below a stairwell. Upon further investigation, his main water meter was spinning out of control even during the day when most tenants were working. Apparently, it had started between billing cycles and was going on for about three weeks before it was noticed. Now, since there was not supposed to be any water pipes directly under the stairwell, why was the gurgling sound coming from there? Of course, flowing water will follow to the lowest, least resistive place. He had a pool of water growing under his building that could soon turn into an underground lake! Through turning off several splitter valves, he was able to determine that the leak was coming from one of six units within the building. That was all he knew. Now what was he supposed to do? He had to call in a professional plumbing company (Uncle Bill's Hillcrest Plumbing), who had on contract a professional leak detection specialist.

What was needed was some specialized equipment to determine the location of the actual leak before they started to tear out walls and floors. Well, as it turned out, the actual leak itself was about 30 to 40 feet away from where a person could hear the actual flow of water. It was, of course, a subterranean leak. Again, tearing out the kitchen and concrete floor and repairing the offending pipe was a huge cost. Also, one had to prove to the city that the water used did not go through the sewer system, so we needed a sewage rebate. That was not an easy case to prove! What was the cost? Between the two buildings, it was over $30,000. That certainly cut into profits, even with insurance coverage with a deductible of $5,000 per incident.

Cold, Leaky Reality

These stories from the trenches are to bring to reality the difficulty it is in dealing with water leaks and knowing about them before they occur. They can occur anywhere, not just below the surface. When they do, be prepared for the worst! Better yet, get yourself educated here and learn about some prevention! Water Leak Detection What does it take actually to detect a water leak? How can you know for sure where the leak is if it is not readily viewable to the obvious, like a faucet rupturing? If you know that there is a leak, but do not know the source, call in a professional. Everything else is a waste of time and money.

Obviously, if water leak occurs above ground, it may be a little easier to find. You will see the water collecting on the floor, under a sink or in a wall. For those with basements, some of the piping will be exposed in the basement ceiling. Getting the water shut off and getting the obvious offending pipe repaired will be a little more challenging and costly. So, honey, what did you say you wanted to do this weekend? However, it is the underground piping that can go undetected for a very long time. This is where you are going to have to employ the services of a professional, who will use acoustic leak detection. This is also where knowing your house or building blueprints will come in handy. Depending on the water pressure and the pipe material, you may hear different sounds. Pipe vibration will be different than water already flowing in and around the pipe. Water under pressure leaking from a pipe will sound different than water flow causing the surrounding rocks and pebbles to be moving and hitting the surrounding cavity. Besides, these sounds are affected by many other factors such as the type of pipe used - copper or PVC or concrete pipes. The diameter of the pipes, the soil and rock composition around the pipe, and the depth of the pipe are all variables in the sound of running water. Another variable is how sound travels through soil or concrete. Soil can absorb this sound which attenuates it quickly. Again, the diameter of the pipe, the water pressure, the surrounding soil, and the depth all come into consideration when trying to detect the source of the leak.

Ease of Mind

This is where the services of a professional leak detection company, which spared no expense in obtaining the proper and well-designed acoustic detector, will be worth the expense. These professionals will have the training, the experience, and the know-how to find the leak location. It is only then that the real work of getting to and repairing that leak is where all the major expense is. Why waste more time, water, and money looking for the leak? Find it and get it fixed! Acoustic Detectors Acoustic detectors to work the best for most leak problems to date. They are especially suited for identifying the location of loud leaks and shallow leaks. However, the other types of detectors are correlators, correlating loggers, and leak-no leak loggers. Various manufacturers have their makes, models, and applications. The reason these other types of detectors are mentioned is to confirm that getting the right equipment is paramount. It confirms that knowing where you hear the gurgling sound is not necessarily where the leak is, as in my true life story.

Whether you are a homeowner or a commercial property owner, knowledge of acoustic detection is valuable. There is a nice report entitled "Leak Detection: Buy the Right Equipment for your System." It was one of the handouts at the American Water Works 2014 Conference in Eugene, Oregon. Whether you are Canadian or American, you will find the information very useful and educational.

Water Leak Prevention – Better than Water Leak Detection So, if you have taken the time to get this far, then you probably can surmise that preventing water leaks is a better choice than having to detect them. Although water leaks are never 100% preventable, simply due to the aging of pipes and fixtures, some very important prevention can minimize the possibility. We have compiled a list of things you can do to prevent a water leak, or to quickly stop one in progress. Some of these are intuitively obvious, but they still need to be mentioned due to human nature. Let's cover some of them:

  • Read your water meter weekly. Keep a simple record of the usage. Also, notice the water flow needle. Is it moving when it should not be moving? Compare your monthly water bills. Aside from seasonal usage, does one bill have a huge difference in usage compared to previous bills? Maybe once a month, performing a quick visual inspection of all of your water valves would be recommended. Turn them off and back on. This includes your toilet inlet valve. Do you notice water leakage or water stains? It's time to replace the valve.
  • Check the pipe fixture connections to your appliances.
  • Replace washing machine hoses about every five years.
  • Listen for running water in your bathroom. This is most likely a toilet problem. A slow-running toilet can cause a huge water bill from wasted usage. Do not just jiggle the handle; get it fixed!
  • Inspect all of your cabinets under your sinks. Are there water drips or stains?
  • Inspect your dishwasher hoses when you inspect your washing machine hoses.
  • Check for condensation, stains, and corrosion around pipe fittings.
  • Is the floor cracked, warped, or buckled? If so, that's a good indication that you have a leak.
  • Have your HVAC serviced annually!
  • Consider having an automatic water shut-off valve installed
    • Whole house
    • Appliance only
      • Using an automatic water shut-off valve will immediately stop the water flow if a leak causes an increase in a predetermined per-minute water flow setting. This will allow you to turn the flow back on manually in search of your leak, as described above. It will also prevent the unnecessary and wasteful use of water.

Water leak prevention will go a long way until you have to do water leak detection. At Hillcrest Plumbing, we want to educate you in prevention first. In case of a water leak, please contact us immediately. We will get it resolved for you quickly, professionally, and in the timeliest manner.