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Your water line is the plumbing line that runs from the municipal water main on your street to your household plumbing system. It supplies all of the fresh water entering your home. Leaks in water lines rarely occur. However, when they do occur, they can severely disrupt the normal function of your home and lead to some major repair costs. Accurate detection of water line leaks takes considerable skill. Still, even if you have no special training, certain tell-tale signs may help reveal the presence of problems. Here are three methods you can use in your detection efforts.
Water Line Basics
Before we begin, it’s helpful to know some basic things about residential water lines. First, these lines typically have a diameter of ¾ of an inch, although some homes have larger pipes. Copper is the top-shelf material for water line construction. However, due in part to cost concerns, plumbing contractors also commonly install pipes made from galvanized iron or heavy-duty PVC.
After leaving the water main, your home’s line passes through a device called a water meter, which measures the amount of water passing from the municipal supply into your home. In most cases, these meters are situated inside a concrete enclosure buried in your yard close to a sidewalk or curb. Beneath your yard, your water line runs far enough underground to stay below the frost line for your region. Outside your home, the line rises above ground and connects with your indoor plumbing system. A control valve lets you shut off the water flowing into your home.
Detection Method #1: Check Your Water Meter
If you have a water line leak, you can often detect it by checking your water meter. Some meters have displays that resemble the face of a clock, while others have digital displays. In either case, look for a readout dedicated to leak detection. If your meter has this type of readout, you can use it to quickly check for problems. All you have to do is check the leak detector with all faucets and fixtures in your house turned off. If you have a leak, the analog or digital display will reveal its presence.
You can also use your meter to check for water line leaks if it doesn’t have a leak detection display. Start by turning off all your household water, shutting off your toilet valves and writing down the current number displayed on the water meter’s main readout. Wait half an hour and check the meter. If the number on the readout has changed, you may have a line leak.
Detection Method #2: Check for Unusual Sounds
The water passing through the main line is under significant pressure (typically about 60 psi). Among other things, this means that leaks in this line are commonly accompanied by unusual sounds. For example, pressure changes and vibrations caused by the leak can produce a whooshing or hissing sound. When the water from a leak flows back down the exterior of the pipe, it can produce a splashing noise or a sound that resembles a running stream. If there is enough pressure to force the water from a leak against the walls of the surrounding soil, you may hear a swiftly repeating thumping noise. If pebbles in the soil bounce against the line, you may hear a clicking or clunking sound.
As a rule, you can only detect these noises if your house is quiet. For this reason, you may want to consider checking late at night when household activities have concluded. Other steps to take include turning off the main control valve to stop the water flowing into your home, draining the water from your indoor lines to avoid mistaking the normal sounds from these lines for a leak, and positioning yourself close enough to the main water line to detect leak-related noises.
Detection Method #3: Look for Obvious Signs of Leaking
In some cases, a leak in your water line will produce obvious signs of leaking in the form of excess water accumulation. These signs will appear in one or more of several locations. Start by checking the interior of your water meter box. If it hasn’t rained recently and you don’t have an irrigation system that channels water into the box, the presence of water here may indicate a line leak. You may also have a leak if the soil is consistently soggy around the place outside your home where your water line emerges from the ground. In cases of extensive water line damage, you may notice soggy soil in large sections of your yard above the location of the line. Subsidence associated with these soggy areas may lead to the development of holes or soil depressions. You can also check for leaks on the connection points between the water line and your indoor plumbing.
Be aware that leaks from an irrigation system can mimic some of the signs of a water line leak, including soggy soil and depressions or holes in your yard. If you have this type of system installed, check your yard with it turned off. Next, turn your sprinklers on and check your yard again. This process may reveal the presence of irrigation-related leaks that only occur when your system is running.
Following Up Your Leak Detection Efforts
If you think you’ve discovered a leak in your main water line, the next step is to call your local plumbing professional. Your plumber has the expertise needed to precisely identify the location of the leak and devise an appropriate, cost-effective solution to the situation. Several factors dictate the right approach. In some cases, your line may only require spot repairs to restore normal function. However, if there is extensive damage, your plumber may need to perform a complete line replacement. If you need to replace an entire main water line, your expenses could range from roughly $1500 to $5000, or even more. Factors that affect the cost include the type of material used for the pipe, the required depth of the pipe, and the relative ease of accessing the line. Call your plumber for more information.
Phil Harris is the owner of Orange Coast Plumbing, the premier residential and commercial heating and plumbing company in Huntington Beach, Ca since 1977, providing services for a wide range of customers who’ve come to depend on our high quality professionalism, superior workmanship and unsurpassed level of customer service.