How to Find a Water Leak Underground

How to Find a Water Leak Underground

Nearly every homeowner has to deal with a water leak at some time or another. It’s one thing to deal with a water leak that happens inside your home, but a slab leak is a different matter. This happens out of sight and deep underground, beneath your home’s foundation.

If your home has a basement or crawl space, your plumbing is fairly easy to access. These areas provide a foundation for your home while also creating a place for your plumbing. If your home doesn’t have either of these, it’s probably built on a concrete slab.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of structures. Homes built on slabs are less prone to flooding, mold growth, and gas leaks than those with basements or crawl spaces. They create a safer living environment. At the same time, concrete slabs are vulnerable to damage from natural events such as tree roots or earthquakes. Damage to the slab and the surrounding area can lead to damaged pipes or vice versa.

How Does a Concrete Slab Work?

When a builder begins home construction, they dig a trench and place the pipes for the plumbing in either gravel or sand. Next, they pour concrete into a mold to create the concrete slab. The concrete cures into a solid foundation that will support the house. The slab encases the plumbing lines, creating a formidable barrier between any leaks and the plumber who wants to repair them.

The pipes might be made of copper, galvanized steel, or cast iron, depending on the age of the home. Although these materials have different lifespans, all of them are prone to decay over time. Homes built since the 1980s are likely to have a moisture barrier to protect the slab in case of leaks. Any home built before that time probably can’t defend itself against the moisture.

slab leak

Most Common Causes of a Slab Leak

Your home doesn’t have to be old for a slab leak to occur. There are several causes of damage to the pipes and/or the concrete slab. Some of the most common are:

  • Improper Construction – If the pipes aren’t of good quality or they aren’t installed correctly, it can result in a pipe leak. The flow of water is abrasive and leads to corrosion, especially in copper pipes. In older homes, copper pipes have more corrosion and often have more severe damage. Never assume that the only option is to jackhammer through the concrete and replace the damaged pipe. Today’s trenchless pipelining technology makes it easier and more affordable to replace the damaged pipe with a new one without disrupting your property and your life.
  • Abrasion– Abrasion doesn’t just happen from the inside; it can happen on the outside of the pipes, too. If they rub against gravel or concrete, or other pipes, the abrasion can eventually lead to leaks.
  • Poor Water Quality– Water that is either hard or soft can lead to pipe corrosion. Acidic water typically leaves blue/green stains in the shower or sinks, emitting a chlorine-like smell. Hard water often causes mineral build-up on your water fixtures, makes your skin and clothes feel dry and itchy, and leaves water spots on dishes and glasses. The normal pH of water is 7.0 and it shouldn’t vary much in either direction. It’s a good idea to check the pH of your water regularly.
  • Shifting Soil– The soil under the concrete slab can shift due to normal erosion, underground water, or events like an earthquake. If the change in the soil causes your house to move even slightly, it can cause enough pressure on the pipes to cause a leak. Often, the damage is extensive and results in severe water leaks.

All of these causes have one thing in common. They all lead to a slab leak over time. In some cases, the damage is limited to one area of a single pipe. In others, it might extend to multiple pipes and the integrity of the concrete slab.

Although the damage is underground and out-of-sight, there are signs that you can look for inside and outside of your house.

  1. Damp Spots on the Floor

This is usually the first sign that you have a slab leak. You might find water or damp spots on your floor. If the hot water is leaking, it can also create warm spots on the floor. A barefoot walk through your home is a good way to discover where you might have leaking hot water lines.

  1. You Hear Rushing Water

If you hear the sound of rushing water beneath the floor and you don’t have a faucet downstairs, it’s probably coming from a leaking pipe.

  1. Mold and Mildew

Leaks can cause damp spots on the floor or in the ceiling. They result in mold and mildew that might give off a musty odor.

  1. Low Water Pressure

When water is leaking in one spot, it takes water away from other outlets. If the shower or sink doesn’t have the same pressure it used to, it might mean the water is going somewhere else – such as a leak.

  1. Soggy Spots Near the Home’s Foundation

Water that escapes from pipes encased within the slab might find its way out from under the slab and pool near your home.

  1. Cracks in the Foundation

It’s normal for some cracks to occur in the foundation over time as a result of the house settling. Cracks caused by leaks occur suddenly. A slab leak that isn’t fixed can weaken the foundation and cause cracks in the foundation and walls.

  1. A High Water Bill

If your water bill suddenly goes up a lot for no known reason, you’re probably losing water somewhere in your home. You need to find out the source right away. Some causes of a high water bill are easy to explain. Others are due to an out-of-sight leak that is getting worse each day. Don’t wait until another month passes to see if things change. The problem might get worse and end up causing a lot more damage and an increasingly higher water bill.

Leaking Sewer Lines

Leaky sewer lines present an even more challenging issue. There aren’t as many clues to sewage leaks until there’s already damage to the foundation or the leak causes raised sections in your flooring. Sometimes a leaking sewer line leads to a phenomenon known as “heaving”, during which the slab swells and lifts the entire house.

What to Do If You Suspect a Slab Leak

When leaks occur under your home’s concrete slab, pinpointing the location isn’t always easy. Plumbers have modern tools that let them “see” the source of a leak without disrupting the foundation. Sonar listening devices, helium detection, and infrared cameras are valuable tools that pinpoint the site and the extent of damage to the pipe.

Once the plumber identifies the leak, they can determine whether re-plumbing or replacing the pipe is the best option. If the damage to the pipe is severe or if it is old, galvanized plumbing, you might need to replace the entire pipe. That means removing the finished flooring, jackhammering the concrete slap, and accessing the pipe. This process is expensive, and it makes a lot of mess.

Of the materials used for water beneath slabs, copper is the most common, especially in older homes. Copper often wears thin over time, resulting in pin leaks. Although there might only be a few pinholes in the pipe, the rest of the pipe is probably in a similar condition. Repairing the area with the leak is only a temporary fix. Eventually, other leaks will develop in the pipe. Re-piping provides a more lasting solution and prevents the need to break through the concrete slab when a future leak occurs.

If you do decide to repair the pipe instead of replacing it, the plumber will use a hacksaw or tubing cutter to remove the damaged area. They will then replace the pipe with new tubing and copper couplings and solder it into place. Next, they bury the pipe, replace the concrete, and repair the floor.

Repairing Sewer Lines

Like detecting the source of leaks, repairing leaks in a sewer line is more difficult than in a water line. It isn’t a job you should tackle yourself. It requires expertise about the types of pipes used and how to deal with issues involving exposure to human waste.

Sewer lines are also made of different materials depending on the age of the house. They might be cast iron or clay, while modern homes often have pipes made of PVC. The same types of couplings used for different types of sewer pipes aren’t recommended for use on sewer pipes under concrete slabs.

Hiring a professional to diagnose, locate, and repair or replace a slab leak is often the simplest and cheapest approach. They will explain your options including pipe relining when replacing the entire line isn’t necessary. They will help you find the best solution based on the specific situation and your budget.

How Much Does Slab Leak Repair Cost?

Cost is an important factor for most homeowners. When dealing with a slab repair, it’s important to consider the immediate costs and the potential future costs as well. Several factors determine the cost of repairing a slab leak. Different methods of repair involve a range of labor and expertise. One method requires excavations and the installation of a slab pier to raise the foundation. This method costs an average of $1,000 to $3,000. Another involves pouring a mixture into the space under the slab to restore its original position, and costs an average of $500 to $1,300. There’s may also be damage to the home flooring, walls, baseboards, and cabinets, all of which will contribute to the overall cost.

One of the first questions homeowners often ask about slab leak repair is whether it is covered by their homeowner’s insurance. Many homeowner insurance policies cover the repairs to flooring and other parts of the home caused by the leak, but not for the leak itself. Many people don’t foresee the probability of developing a slap leak that can damage the very foundation of their home. The time to see whether your insurance covers leaky pipe repairs of any kind is before they become a reality.

What You Need to Know About Slab Leaks

The most important to know about a slab leak is that the leaky pipe needs replaced as soon as possible. Over time, the area around the slab can erode and allow the concrete to crack or separate between the layers. A damaged foundation is a lot messier and expensive to deal with than a single leak.

The extent of the damage not only determines how extensive the job is; it also determines whether a non-invasive method of pipe repair will work. In the past, breaking through the slab was the only way to get to the pipe for repair or replacement. Sometimes the plumber could dig from outside the home. More often, they made the repair from inside the house causing a great deal of damage to the floor.

Today, modern methods of slab leak repair reduce the expense of labor and the time it takes to make these repairs. Trenchless slab leak repairs don’t cause damage to the foundation, the landscaping, or other areas of your home.

Pipelining replaces dig and replace methods by allowing the pipelining company to access the interior of the pipe through small access holes. You can use it with different repair methods for a homeowner friendly and environmentally-friendly solution. The new pipe cures in place and the process only takes a matter of hours. Once the plumber inspects the damaged pipe, they will advise you on whether pipelining is a viable solution for you.

Pipes that carry fresh or potable water are smaller in diameter than sewer pipes. Sometimes only portions of a pipe require repairs instead of an entire pipe replace. If pipe re-lining is an option, the plumber will need to remove existing debris. Also, corrosion or tree roots that narrow the pipe opening must be removed. Pipe bursting is another process used to replace pipes. The plumber will tell you whether either of these options will provide you with the best solution.

Contact Best San Diego Leak Detection Today

The first step to a successful slab leak repair is determining where the leak is located and how extensive the damage is. Best San Diego Leak Detection offers a 24-hour response team to provide an immediate response to signs of a leak at your home. We’re experts at detecting leaks and offer you the best options for your situation.

A slab leak is a serious situation that will only grow worse over time. Don’t risk letting a leak turn into more damage before you call for a repair. Contact us today by calling 800-738-5325 or emailing us to schedule an appointment or for more information about our services.

October 16, 2019 Categories: