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Top 10 Things You NEED to Know About Leak Detection

Leak detection is a common practice for many plumbers. It is a specialized skill which requires knowledge and equipment specific for the job. Not all plumbers can do leak detection and many plumbing companies sub it out to specialized companies. As a consumer, having knowledge about the leak detection process will help you decide if your plumber is the right person for your leak detection needs, or if you need to hire a specialist. Here are our top 10 things you need to know about leak detection.

1. How to find sewer leaks?

Sewer leaks are very time consuming to find, and we often recommend these appointments be scheduled during the day when the house is unoccupied. This is because sewer leak detection is tedious and time consuming. Leak detection specialists must isolate and test each line individually which allows them to pin point the location of the leak. Sometimes, a homeowner will find water in a hallway and the leak is in a bathroom or kitchen. By isolating individual lines, professional leak detectors will be able to tell you which lines need to be repaired or replaced.

It is important for homeowners to use a reputable leak detection company. If your plumber isn’t familiar with how to properly find leaks, they may dig in the wrong place only to find the lines aren’t broken, then charge you for the time it took to dig.

The best way to find sewer leaks, is to use a combination of water hoses, test balls, air hoses, pumps, cameras, and sometimes electronic listening equipment. Cameras, used by themselves will see large breaks, bellies and roots. However, cameras don’t always see the smaller holes. In the most basic form, a plumber will use a test ball to plug the sewer line the two way clean out. Then he or she will push a second test ball into the sewer going the opposite direction and will fill up the segmented part of the system with water then use a camera to see if the system is holding water. He will repeat this process over and over segmenting more and more of the sewer lines until they finally find the part of the system that is causing problems. Then he can push the test ball into the branch line with the camera and usually see some indication of a leak (break, roots, separation, etc.). With the camera head at the point of the leak, the camera can send an electronic signal directly to the surface and another machine can be used to hear that signal, showing the plumber the exact spot of the leak, whether it be under flooring or behind walls. From there, repair options can be discussed with the homeowner.

2. How to repair a sewer leak?

We always try to give our customers options when discussing repair. Some options may require more work but will protect expensive flooring from being removed or destroyed in during the repair process. Other homeowners simply and just want the problem solved as quickly as possible so opening the floor is not a problem.

In its most basic form, a sewer leak repair is as simple as replacing the broken section or sections of pipe. Of course, no job in plumbing is truly easy. Every job has its own challenges, that’s why it’s important for homeowners to know and trust their plumbers.

The location of the leak, the type of foundation, the flooring, the age of the house, how long the homeowners plan on living in the home all play a big factor in how to approach the repair. If a leak is in a kitchen under the slab, and the homeowner informs us that they plan on remodeling the entire kitchen soon, we may be able to cut a hole in the foundation, dig out the pipe and replace it there. On the other hand, if a couple has just moved into a brand-new house and they love it, the plumber may recommend tunneling underneath the house to make the repair.

3. How do I know if my sewer is leaking?

There are a few symptoms that can raise alarms for homeowner who feel they may have a sewer leak.

  • Frequently clogged or slow drains. If the same fixtures in your home require drain cleaning, there’s a strong chance you have a leak, break, roots, or other damage that is preventing your sewer from working properly.
  • Sewer odors. If your home or parts of your home frequently smell like sewer, that’s a good indication that your sewer line may be broken or leaking, allowing the gasses as well as liquids to freely flow out.
  • Wet spots in the yard. If you notice that one area of your yard continues to hold water, even when you haven’t watered your yard or it hasn’t rained, you could be facing a leak. It might not necessarily be a sewer leak, but it should be dealt with promptly.

These are just a few of the ways to determine if your sewer is leaking. We’ll cover water leaks in number 7.

4. What causes a sewer leak?

There are many variables that cause sewer line leaks or breaks. Some of them are specific to certain regions, some are common everywhere. We’ll discuss the common ones we see in north Texas, since that’s what we are most familiar with.

  • Roots can cause leaks in sewer lines. Certain trees have aggressive root systems that seek water and will break through your sewer pipes to get it. Roots can normally be seen with a sewer camera.
  • Foundation shifts can cause major problems. The soil in north Texas is known to settle and move which can cause foundations to shift. Parts of homes can “sink” when our soil gets too dry in our harsh summers, then can expand during our rainy seasons. This movement of the house can crush pipes or cause separations. We recommend fixing foundation issues before repairing plumbing issues. Fixing plumbing first can result in having to fix the same problem once the foundation has been reset.
  • Abuse of sewer system. Sewer systems were designed to only handle certain things. Too often do people abuse their sewer system by putting products through the system that need to go in the trash instead. Once in the sewer system, these products can sometimes mat together creating large hunks of materials that can clog up sections of pipe and depending what you’ve put into your sewer, can actually rot out the bottom of your pipes. Please be aware of what can and cannot go down your toilets and sinks. If you are unsure, call your plumber for advice.
  • Soil movement. Similar to the foundation issue, when the soils expand and contract due to changing weather conditions throughout the year, the force can break or separate pipes.

5. How to find a water leak?

Water leaks often shadowed out by the fear of sewer leaks. When people think of sewer leaks they think of horrible images of waste flooding their house, which is rare. Water leaks are truly scary because if left unnoticed, the leak can not only damage your home, but you’ll also have to PAY for the damage to your home. It’s not uncommon for water leaks to go unnoticed for weeks until the homeowner sees a water bill that is extraordinarily high. The city charges for water that you “use”, which is defined as any water that your meter can track that flows into your house. So, if you have a break or a leak, and water is spraying behind and exterior wall, the water from the city is freely flowing into your house and the city will charge you for it.

So now that you know what is at stake, let’s talk about how we find leaks. We use special equipment to trace the lines out so we know where they go and where they’re coming from. Often we can use our sense of touch to feel temperature changes in flooring (if a hot water line is leaking under a floor, the floor where it is leaking gets warmer) and we can listen to the lines with special geophones to hear water and where it leaking. Otherwise we have to isolate certain lines and pressurize them with air to listen. This process can sometimes be very quick and obvious, other times it can take a long time.

6. How to repair a water leak?

Like the sewer lines, the concept is basically the same; cut out the section of pipe that is leaking and replace it with new line. This time, however, we’re also adding in the fixtures. Sometimes fixtures can have leaks like shower heads, toilets, faucets, water heaters, etc. In those cases we will have to adjust our strategy accordingly and repair or replace those particular fixtures. The interesting thing about this, however is that sometimes if the leak is in a bad spot (middle of the floor in a popular room) we can sometimes just “cut the line” out of the water loop and reroute the lines elsewhere. We can go into a wall or someplace that has easier access, cut and cap off the lines to basically make the damaged line “dead”, the using flexible materials we can make the water line go up through the attic and back down to the fixture. Again, our plumbers give multiple options to every homeowner to find the best solution tailored to them.

7. How to determine if I have a water leak?

We will try to keep these specific to water lines, but there maybe a little overlap.

  • First things first, check your water bill. If it seems abnormally high, you could have a leak.
  • If you don’t want to wait for a water bill, go check your water meter. We have videos on how to turn you water off, where we also teach you to look at your meter. If your meter is spinning when you look at it, and no one is using water, you probably have a water leak and need to shut your water off and call a plumber.
  • Drop 2 or 3 drops of food coloring into the tank of your toilet. If you see colored water in the bowl after 10 minutes or so, you have a toilet that is leaking.
  • Hot spots on the floor could indicated hot water leak under the slab.
  • Mold on walls, floor, or ceiling also can indicate that you may have leaks

8. What causes a water leak?

There are several things that cause a water leak.

  • A pipe that rattles in a wall when water passes through it can be a problem. Over the years water hitting the same spot of the pipe has hit the same stud over and over again and can eventually lead to a small hole in the pipe.
  • If you’re not careful, DIY projects can result in a nail being hammered into a line.
  • A small rock and be rubbing against a pipe can eventually wear a hole in it.

The possibilities are endless. The key thing is, as soon as you think you have a water leak, do some investigation and call your plumbing company. Water leaks left unattended can waste water, damage your home, and cost your money.

9. How to find a gas leak?

Be aware of where your gas meter is and know how to tell if it’s running. If you look at your gas meter and see that it’s moving without any gas fixtures in your home being used, you likely have a gas leak and need to call a professional. If you smell gas, call your plumbing professional or gas company immediately.

What we will do is pressurize your gas line with air and use soapy water on the exposed lines and fittings to see if the leak is visible. If it’s not leaking where we can see it, we will begin isolating the lines where necessary and find the section of pipe that is causing the issue. Again, we will always give multiple options tailored to the homeowner and their unique situation.

10. Are gas leaks dangerous?

Gas leaks can be dangerous, especially if they are inside the house. Natural gas is colorless and odorless, however an additive is mixed with the gas to make it smell foul, like rotten eggs. This way homeowners can tell more easily if they have a leak. If you smell this, you need to exit the house and call the gas company immediately. They will come in and shut off the gas. Then you will have to call a plumber to fix the issue. If you know and trust your plumber, and you believe the leak to be a very small leak, make sure to open some windows and doors, call your plumber and see if they can come to your home immediately. In a major gas leak situation, or if you are not comfortable, just leave the house and call the gas company. Natural gas is flammable and not good for humans to inhale, so it can be very dangerous if not handled properly.

Hopefully this helped you become familiar with the different types of leaks and leak detection,. As a homeowner, you need to be informed in case you ever run into this situation. If you have questions feel free to contact us. We will do everything we can to help you be a more informed buyer.

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