The Lowdown on Leaks

Have you ever stopped to think about the source of the water that comes out of your tap? You probably know that water sources vary depending on where you live. Tap water might come from a local lake or river (known as surface water), or it may be sourced from a well or aquifer (known as ground water). 

Where does my water come from?

Here in Indianola, our water is sourced from the Jordan aquifer, which supplies most of Iowa with the majority of its ground water. While the supply is stable at this time, the Department of Natural Resources has implemented measures to ensure its long-term viability. And while Indianola’s water rates are among the lowest in the state, conserving water where possible saves you money while using our state’s supply responsibly. 

One of the most foolproof ways to accomplish lower water usage is to repair water leaks in and around your home. It’s good for your wallet, good for the environment, and can prolong the life and value of your property.

The problem with leaks

In addition to practicing good water stewardship, fixing leaks right away reduces the risk of property damage and saves you money two ways.

  1. Costly repairs: Over time, a small leak left untreated will cause a lot more damage than one taken care of right away. When water continuously drips out of a hole in your pipe, it is causing that hole to slowly grow with each drip. Eventually, that small hole will result in a burst pipe, which can be expensive to repair.
  2. Long-term damage: Depending on where the leak is, you’re also risking mold growth, damage to your foundation, and even structural damage. Water can break down any type of material given enough time. Just look at the Grand Canyon! 
  3. Overpaying: Did you know you’re paying twice for leaked water? Every drop that comes into your house is measured on your water meter, and then again when it comes out of your house and into the sewer. Who knew a leaky faucet was so expensive?

How can I check my home for leaks?

The facts on leaks from the U.S. EPANow that you know that leaks are more than just a pesky dripping sound, let’s talk about how to check for common leaks, both inside and outside your home.

The fastest way to determine if you have any leaks at all is to use your water meter. Turn off all the water in the house. Make sure your washing machine and dishwasher aren’t running. Now check the number on your water meter. Wait ten minutes, and check again. If the number has increased, you have a fast-flowing leak. If the number stays the same, wait another two hours without running any water. If the number has increased after two hours, you have a slow-flowing leak. If the number stays the same, breathe easy. You likely have no leaks!

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE! I have a water leak. Now what? 

If you determine that you do have a leak, it’s time to investigate the possible sources. Any place in your house that is connected to a water line is a possible culprit. This includes sinks, toilets, tubs/showers, appliances, and worst of all, leaks from the pipes inside your walls.

Let’s start with sinks. Open the cupboards under your sink and run the faucet. Do this separately for each side if you have a double sink. Watch as the water flows through the drain and into the pipes underneath. Even if you don’t see anything obvious, dab all around the pipes with a paper towel to check for small leaks, especially at the joints. A leaky or dripping faucet may also be to blame. If you turn on your sink and water pools up around the faucet, or the faucet is continuously dripping even when the water is completely off, you likely have either a worn out washer or a faulty gasket. Sediment buildup can also make your faucet drip. With most sinks you can unscrew the aerator and clean it out.

Toilets. There are a few ways your toilet plumbing can fail. You may have a slow leak from the tank into the bowl, an issue with the wax ring around the base of your toilet, or an issue with the connection from the water line to the toilet itself. A leaky wax ring is the easiest to identify because water will pool around the base of the toilet after you flush. If you’re seeing water behind the toilet, or between the toilet and bathroom sink, the connection to the toilet is likely to blame. 

 

 

TIP: To identify a potential leak from the toilet tank into the bowl, place a few drops of food coloring into the tank. Give it a few hours, and then check to see if any color has leaked into the bowl. If so, you’ve found your leak!

Appliances. Your dishwasher, washing machine, and maybe even your fridge are all hooked up to your water line. Identifying leaks from these items is relatively simple. If water is pooling around them, you’ve got a problem. It’s best to call a professional to repair these, because appliance repair can be fairly tricky. 

Tubs and showers. These can be harder to see, because the plumbing is hidden in the walls. Some signs that may tip you off to a tub or shower leak include the grout or caulk chipping or peeling, mold or discoloration on the walls or ceiling around the tub or shower, or a musty smell in your bathroom. The shower head or faucet may also be leaking. Like the faucets on your sink, these are likely caused by a faulty connection or debris build up. 

Pipes in the walls. If you ever see discoloration, or peeling or bubbling paint on the ceiling or walls of your home, it’s almost certainly caused by water leaking from faulty pipes inside your walls. Other signs of leaky pipes: Puddles on the floor that aren’t near other water sources, a musty smell in specific areas of your home, or mold on the walls. If you see any of these, call a professional right away to assess the problem.

What about outdoor leaks?

Hoses, sprinklers, and irrigation systems also present the opportunity for leaks. Luckily, they are a lot easier to test for. Simply check the connections between water spigots and hoses. If they are tight and not dripping, the connection is solid.     

If you use an underground/installed irrigation system outdoors, we recommend having your system inspected annually by a professional, since parts of these are often buried and difficult to check yourself.

Repairing leaks

How you go about repairing the leaks you find will depend on several factors:

  • The location of the leak
  • The severity of the leak
  • Whether the leak has caused further damage to its surroundings 

If you’re handy or “YouTube handy,” great! You may be able to fix a small leak like a sink or toilet yourself. But if you don’t feel confident, please call a professional. Poor repairs can make your problem worse!

If you discover a fast-flowing leak, or any leak that has caused damage to the walls, floor, or pipes around it, don’t try to fix it yourself. Even if you end up handling the cosmetic parts after the repair, have the work done by a licensed professional. Big leaks are nothing to mess around with.

The takeaway

If you find water leaking in your home, don’t panic! Investigate the source and determine the best course of action. Whether that is repairing the leak yourself or calling in professional help, it’s always best to resolve leaks quickly. You’ll save money on your water bill, and you might head off an even bigger issue down the road.