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If I Can’t See Water, How Do I Know If My Plumbing Is Leaking?

These are the tell-tale signs of leaky plumbing under sinks and in your kitchen and bathroom.

If you can see gaps in your pipes, or if you can witness a pipe seam that’s splitting open, you can be pretty sure that trouble is afoot. But you may have a hunch something is wrong without seeing water dripping out of your pipes. If you want to know, “How do I know if my plumbing is leaking?” you’ll often have to look beyond the actual pipes. There are a handful of sneaky signs your plumbing is leaking, and some even require a little detective work. Here’s what the plumbing professionals look for in their own homes.

What Causes Leaky Plumbing?

First, we should address the common causes of leaky plumbing. Leaks are caused by valves that aren’t securely shut, or by compromised pipes. In the case of a valve leak, the fix could be as simple as tightening the valve. If the valve is old or broken, it may need to be repaired; luckily, this is relatively quick and simple.

But what about leaky pipes? Old pipes are susceptible to damage. How do you know if you’re pipes are old? If you haven’t updated the plumbing in your home in 20 years, or if you live in an old house, it’s time to take a look. All pipes degrade over time; wear and tear is normal. The leak may also be a result of freezing and thawing. When pipes freeze, they expand. This causes the pipes to experience strain before they contract. If this process is repeated over time, the pipes will likely burst or spring a leak.

How To Tell If Your Plumbing Is Leaking

Now that you understand the main causes of leaky plumbing, you can probably spot some signs in your own home. But you can’t always see leaks — not all pipes are visible to the naked eyes. These are the main signs that your home’s plumbing is leaking, even if you can’t confirm it with a visual cue.

  1. Increased Water Bill. If the water bill seems to be creeping upward, but you haven’t changed any of your routines or water usage, a leaking pipe could be the culprit. Bear in mind that it’s normal to use increased water in the summer (lawn sprinklers, etc.), but if the price is spiking, you should consult your local plumber to investigate further.
  2. The Water Meter Is Constantly Running. You may not immediately think of the water meter as a tool in your DIY plumbing kit, but it can tell you a lot about your home water use, even when the pipes aren’t leaking. To check the meter for leaky pipes, turn off all of the faucets and appliances that use water, such as a dishwasher. Check the number on the meter, wait for 30-60 minutes, then check again. If the number has increased, there’s a leaking pipe. At this point, you should contact a professional to help you determine the location of the leak. Not sure where to find the water meter? It’s typically located underneath a manhole cover, either by the side of the house or near the street.
  3. Presence Of Mold. Mold will accumulate over time when a pipe leaks. This is especially common when the leaky pipe is in a place that’s relatively humid, such as a bathroom. Mold can be visible, but if it begins to grow behind a wall, it may take a long time to see evidence of it.
  4. A Musty Smell. Continuing our discussion from the third sign of a leak, your nose will know if mold is present. Do you smell something musty or damp in the bathroom or kitchen? This could be a sign of mold, caused by a leaky pipe.
  5. Damage To Paint or Wallpaper. When plumbing leaks, the paint, wallpaper, or flooring will eventually become damaged. This may manifest as wallpaper that peels off in strips or shards, paint that flakes off, discolored floors, or bulging materials, such as cabinet walls or laminate. To address the problem in the short term, use a fan to reduce humidity. While that will help mitigate the symptoms, you’ll still want to contact a plumber to diagnose and fix the larger problem.

These are all signs that your pipes are in need of repair. Once you’ve answered the question, “How do I know if my plumbing is leaking?” it’s time to fix the problem. Before you call a local plumber, it’s helpful to do research into the problem, so you are ready to discuss the scope of work. Although plumbing repairs may cost more than DIY fixes, they’re much more efficient and cost-effective in the long term. Remember that emergency plumbing repairs are always much more costly than minor fixes.

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