What do you mean ‘water leak’?
Drought? What drought? At least that’s what I thought each time I backed out my drive, and smiled at how well my garden was doing compared to everyone else’s in the street.
Months passed, and as their grass became browner and more withered, mine just kept powering on.
I figured it was my green thumb, until one day my neighbor, Paul, made a comment as we both put the bins out for collection.
“Geez, your grass is doing well,” he looked at me almost accusingly.
“Yeah,” I smiled weakly, not wanting to rub his nose in the fact that living next door to a gardening guru was making him look bad, “I guess it’s because it’s on an easterly slope so it doesn’t get as much of the hot afternoon sun or something,” I offered.
Until then I hadn’t really questioned why my grass was greener than anyone else’s or why my roses were the only ones in the district blooming; I was just happy that they were.
“Hmmm,” he seemed dissatisfied.
“Well … it just seems strange.”
Paul and I hadn’t talked a lot over the years, but he was always friendly. I’d seen his ‘SPEAR PUMP IN USE’ sign proudly displayed on his ‘once-best-lawn-in-the-street’ and it crossed my mind that maybe he was just jealous. I wondered whether he was thinking I was sneaking out in the dead of night secretly watering my little patch of earth against the water restriction rules.
There was an awkward silence while I tried to judge whether he seemed the jealous type, until he eventually said, “You sure you haven’t got a water leak?”
The penny drops
Water leak?... I repeated silently, as time stood still.
Long-disused storage spaces in my brain which held unimportant information about such boring and irrelevant topics as water leaks and broken pipes started creaking open.
“What do you mean a water leak?” I reluctantly asked.
He looked me in the eye now, a mixture of disbelief and confusion.
“Like … your water pipes … are you sure they’re not leaking?”
I didn’t know how to answer him. To be honest the only thought going through my mind was, ‘What a stupid question’. I mean, how the hell was I supposed to know whether my water pipes were leaking when they’re buried all the way down there under the ground?
I decided, however, to keep it civil.
“Well …. I guess I’m not exactly sure…,” I stumbled, “but we’ve got water inside, and everything seems to be working just fine, so I wouldn’t have thought so. I guess there’s really no way to tell.”
The sound of a long, hard breath exiting through his nostrils was bad enough, but the folding of the arms confirmed I’d said the wrong thing.
“There’s a couple of ways to tell, actually.”
I waited; wanting to ask the obvious, but keen to avoid saying anything as stupid as what my last comment had apparently been. He was a 50-year old blokey-type builder who still rode his prized Harley Davidson on the weekends, and I’d just have to be patient.
“For a start,” he finally offered, “if your grass is significantly greener than anyone else’s in the street, then it’s pretty obvious it’s getting extra water from somewhere.”
I followed his eyes as they wandered over my nice, green grass and the penny, along with my stomach, slowly dropped.
“So unless you’re sneaking out here at night watering it, I’d be guessing you’ve got a problem on your hands.”
His rambling became a blur as images of the thousands of litres of precious water I’d likely been paying for – for who knows how long - trickling off into the dirt flashed across my mind, along with a sense of panic about how the hell you fix something under the ground you can’t even see.
Sharing the word of Paul
Once I refocused I actually learned quite a bit about such riveting topics as broken pipes, dodgy plumbing and water leaks standing there that day with Paul. Things I wish they’d been teaching me in grade 10 instead of making me sew a stupid apron I’d never wear.
According to the word of Paul, the little trickle of water running down the gutter was also something I should have noted as I flew in and out of the house each day on my way to life. To be honest, making sure the kids’ seatbelts were done up usually took priority on the outward leg, and on the return trip I was too busy focusing on getting the speed and trajectory right to negotiate my steep, skinny drive to bother checking out what was going on in the gutter. The trickle could have been there for months as far as I knew, and even if I had seen it, I wouldn’t have thought it had anything to do with me, because my precious water was safely tucked away up in my house …. right?
OK – so in retrospect I can see now how such ‘tell-tale signs’ might seem perfectly obvious to the touchy-buildey-fixey types of our world. But in my defense; if she’s never been told, how’s a girl with a social work degree supposed to just know that all those innocent little pipes sitting perfectly happily in the dark under your house for 20 years can suddenly just up and decide to start leaking?
As he lectured me on the myriad of ways one should know they’ve got a broken or leaking water pipe on their property, I wondered what other basic home-ownership survival skills I hadn’t picked up on when I’d signed the contract. All I’d been worried about was whether I’d be able to make the mortgage payments, but I was starting to see that maybe that was the easy part. Was a flickering light a sign of impending electrocution? Did cracks on the pavement mean we were about to be swallowed up in a sinkhole? And do splits in your ceiling paint mean the roof’s caving in?
I wanted to probe the depths of his ever-so-practical mind, but I figured he’d had enough frustration for one day. As he walked off shaking his head, I looked back at my house with wistful and more skeptical eyes. If ignorance is bliss, then my little bubble had just been burst, and I trotted off to find something in my ex-husband’s toolkit resembling Paul’s lackluster description of a wrench.
I’ll save the story of the actual pipe repair for the future – but on the off chance that I’m not the only blissfully ignorant homeowner out there unaware of the potential water-leak disasters lurking beneath your shiny, clean floors or prized roses, I thought I’d do the sisterly thing and share the pearls of wisdom Paul so graciously passed on that day.
Twelve ways to tell whether you’ve got broken or leaking water pipes
Having done the research, it seems there are at least 12 simple signs that savvy home-owners look out for to help with early detection of leaking water pipes. Let’s see how many you’d have thought to look for.
1. A running water meter when everything’s turned off
Now I know this has to go first because it’s the only 100 per cent way of knowing you’ve got a leak (and because all the research I did consistently puts it first) but personally I’ve got a few issues in terms of the ‘logic’ behind this ‘sign’.
Firstly – knowledge that your water meter is running when everything’s turned off presumes:
a. that one knows what a water meter is
b. that one knows what it does, and
c. that one knows where it might live.
Now let’s be honest, if I’d known all that, I most likely wouldn’t have needed Paul.
Mine was hiding way off in a distant corner of my unfenced front yard, practically out on the footpath and completely covered in grass and a wonderful colony of Green Ants who weren’t particularly happy to see me and my wrench.
How anyone is supposed to magically know such things is beyond me!
Secondly - it also presumes that you:
a. have the knowledge and wisdom of what the ‘signs’ of a water leak are in the first place, and
b. are vigilant enough to have actually picked up on one of those signs.
I mean, why else would you be prompted to go and check the meter in the first place?!?
For those reasons, I see it as more of a front-page headline than a sign, but either way, it really is the only way to know for sure whether there’s a leak. Just make sure your garden taps and water-using household appliances are turned completely off then take a reading of your meter. After about 15 minutes go back and check if the numbers have changed. Alternately, if you don’t have an angry mob of Green Ants, just sit in the sun and watch the meter to see whether it’s ticking over. If it is, that means water is still being ‘used’ when nothing’s on, so there’s a problem somewhere. (You can watch a video on how to read your water meter here:
2. Water in the street or trickling along the gutter outside your house
Water in the gutter when it hasn’t been raining is one of the most common signs of a leaking water main. Don’t automatically assume it’s coming from somewhere up the street. Check where it starts, and if it’s at yours or either neighbour’s property, investigate further. Even if it’s not your cash and water running down the drain, we all need to do our bit to conserve drinking water, so try to work with others in the street to find the problem. If you can’t find the leak call a plumber, your local council or a qualified leak detection specialist.
3. Damp soil, ponding or wet paths, brickwork or concrete
Again, in our constant rush to shuttle kids to trainings or get dinner on before Facebook ‘prime time’ it’s easy to look at wet patches in the yard or puddles on the pool pavers or your drive like there must have been a spot of rain you missed, but stop and think. Rain doesn’t fall in just one spot, so if part of your yard is wet while the rest is dry, check further.
4. Patches or areas of lush, green grass when neighbours’ lawns are struggling
Okay – so I’m fairly confident we covered this above, but basically, if there’s one area of your grass or garden that’s really thriving when everything else is struggling, think hard about why. If you can’t come up with anything more than good luck or a green thumb, then think again.
5. Damp, warped, bubbling, sagging or discoloured patches on ceilings, walls, floorboards or carpet
What might start out as a slight discolouration on the ceiling or the outline of a watermark on a wall could end up as a collapsed wall or sagging ceiling, so get it investigated fast. If an indent remains when you press your finger into the wall or the ceiling start to sag at all internal water pipes may be leaking and the longer it continues, the worse the total pipe repair bill will be.
6. A noticeable drop in water pressure
When you still have water, but the pressure’s becoming increasingly low (lighter flow rate) it’s a good bet there’s a problem in the water main or the pipes in your home. This could mean a small crack that’s slowly getting bigger, a blockage from some sort of waste or tree roots or a complete break in the line. Either way, you need those pipes cleared and repaired as soon as possible.
7. An unexplained increase in your water bill
Water usage fluctuates from one season to the next, with most of us using more water in summer with increased gardening, watering and pool filling. Try to compare the usage levels from your current bill to those on the bill you received the same time last year. If there’s a big jump and you haven’t had any unusual changes or reason for the increase, it could be a sign of a leaking pipe. If this happens, go out and check your property for any of the signs mentioned above, then do a meter check (see point 1 above).
8. Musty-smelling rooms
You know the smell …. And try as you might to pretend it’s not that bad, ignoring the possibility that it could be a sign of a broken or leaking water or sewage pipe is a recipe for disaster. If water sits in one place like under a leaking pipe, it will stagnate and produce a foul, musty smell. IT can happen in the bathroom (where there are numerous internal water pipes) or in other parts of the house that water pipes travel through. The mould or mildew might be inside the walls, in vents or under the floor, but wherever it is, things will only get worse if they’re not found and repaired.
9. Mould or mildew on non-shower walls
Mould and mildew thrive in wet, dark places with little free-flowing air; making leaking pipes in wall cavities the perfect breeding ground. If there’s mould or mildew growing on a non-shower wall in your house, it could indicate there’s a leaking pipe behind that wall.
10. Drips or pooling on the side of your hot water system, your evaporative air-conditioner or your dishwasher
You might think those few little drops you’ve seen won’t do much damage and put off getting a repair, but over the course of a few days those few drips can turn into bucket loads of water seeping into floorboards or wall cavities. Check out any drip as soon as you see it, and if you can’t solve the problem call in a professional who can.
11. Water damage to cupboards
If you start noticing laminate seals bubbling and lifting at the back of your cupboards, or see wet patches lurking back there in the dark, have a think whether leaking water might be the cause. Whether it’s pipes behind the cupboard frame or something dripping down from above, hoping it will go away might not be the best strategy. Always do what you can to find the source of the moisture, and if all else fails get a plumber in to be certain the problem won’t get any worse.
12. Cracking, potholes, depressions in the pavement or concrete foundations of your home, a leaning building or uneven flooring
If you notice a sudden crack in your house slab or one that’s inexplicably widened of late, this could mean a leaking water pipe is undermining your foundations. An undermined foundation will slowly sink, and as it does doors, windows, walls and floors will literally bend, weaken and eventually be torn apart.
If you see any of these signs or you hear running, dripping, clanking or bubbling from your water pipes when taps etc. are all turned off, you might have problems. Water is precious but when it’s leaking from broken pipes around your home it’s not only like pouring money down the drain, it can cause major and costly damage unless things are fixed fast.
With excellent composite resin pipe repair options like CIPP relining available today, broken pipes can even be fixed in a day without having to dig up a single thing, so there’s really no reason to put off investigating suspicious signs as soon as they appear.
So there you have it! Leaking Pipes 101. Much more useful than knowing how to sew an apron, and undoubtedly a missed opportunity for my long-suffering maths and science teachers to have demonstrated how their physics and equations might have one day been of any practical use to me.
If you suspect that your pipes are broken and you need some help, call 1800 683 569 (Australia) or 0800 168 356 (New Zealand) or visit our contact page to book a no obligation quote for a pipe inspection.