Where’s That Leak Coming From?

Plumbing pipes, fixtures and water-using appliances all can spring leaks. You know that, and when you notice something leaking you’ll either figure out a way to stop it yourself or give a call to Dutton Plumbing for professional help.

But sometimes leaks can be insidious. They drip or seep rather than gush. You may not notice that something has sprung a leak until days, weeks, even months after the seepage begins and moisture accumulates. You may not even see water. The leak might show up as rotted floorboards, moldy tile, wet carpeting, spots on a wall or ceiling. Sometimes there may be no visible sign, only a musty odor emanating from an obscure corner of your home or from behind a wall. That spells trouble.

Pinpointing leaks, especially from enclosed pipes, requires special leak detection equipment, which is why you want to call us if you can’t figure out where unwanted moisture is coming from.  Here are some of the most common causes of mysterious leaks.

  • Aging copper pipe. Most water lines in our part of the country are made of plastic pipe but many older homes or expensive custom homes may have copper water lines. Copper is a great piping material for the most part, but if the joints have not been properly brazed they can deteriorate and leak over time. Also, exposure to very aggressive water over a long period of time can lead to pinholes leaks in the tubing itself. These leaks may be subtle and hard to distinguish from sweating caused by humidity.
  • Clothes washers and dishwashers. These appliances can spring leaks in various ways. Sometimes rubber seals will come loose and sudsy water can seep out through the loading door. More often leaks will come from either the water supply or discharge hoses, especially where they are joined to the supply or drain pipes. Often the joints will be hidden from view and repairs will require pulling out the machine from its moorings.
  • Water heaters. Water puddling in your basement or utility room near the water heater is almost always a sign that the bottom of the storage tank has rusted through. Not much can be done in the way of repair. It’s time for a new water heater.
  • Toilets. Toilet leaks usually are caused by deterioration of the ring seal where the toilet joins to the floor waste piping. Or, they can be caused by a problem in the tank fill valve that causes water to overflow. You’d probably notice these pretty quickly.
  • Under-floor and behind-wall pipes. The floor joists and interior walls of your home tend to hide a network or supply and drain pipes. Poor workmanship, aggressive water, or mechanical yanks and tugs from earthquakes or other  jolts can loosen piping joints to spring leaks in the worst possible places.
  • Sewer leaks. Drainage lines have clean-outs, usually marked by square raised nuts that enable a plumber to rod out or jet the line when necessary. You’ll likely smell the leak before you spot it.
  • Valves. All of your plumbing fixtures and water-using appliances are equipped with shutoff valves, as is your main household water supply. The interior components of these valves can wear out over time to cause leaks.
  • Gutters and downspouts. Overflowing gutters will spill water over the edge, down exterior walls and into the foundation, from where it will leak into a basement or crawl space. The same thing happens with poorly directed downspouts. Keep those gutters clear of debris and make sure downspouts point well away from your foundation wall.
  • Furnaces. Warm air furnaces and heat pumps don’t contain much water, except in a condensing box inside the unit. They won’t flood your home, but if you spot a little water accumulating by equipment, that could be the reason.

Homes with basements are particularly prone to water collection. After all, gravity inevitably brings water to its lowest resting place. If your home has a basement, you are well advised to invest in a sump pump. If you already have one, periodic maintenance and inspection is essential. I’ll address sump pumps in my next blog