Here's how to find water leaks in your home's plumbing

Throughout the life of their home, most homeowners experience some kind of plumbing leak at some point. Some leaks are obvious, like frozen pipes that burst. Others are hidden, like loose connections in under floor plumbing lines.

The sooner you see a leak, the sooner you can fix it. But, you first need to know how to find it. That’s where we come in. At Wagner, our plumbers are leak detection experts.

In this article, we’ll review everything you need to know about water leaks, including where they most commonly originate, how to go about finding them, and why you should always bring in a professional plumber to assist you.

How do you know when you have a water leak?

Here are the common signs of a plumbing leak and a quick way to figure out if you have a leak in your home.

What are the signs of a leak?

Depending on where they originate and how severe they are, some leaks might be immediately apparent. Few homeowners are going to miss a frozen pipe bursting in their ceiling, for instance. However, other leaks can be far more subtle. A slab leak, for instance, may not be visibility noticeable—you’ll only see evidence of it in abnormally high water bills.

Here are some of the visible signs you have a water leak:

• Stains on floors, ceiling, and walls
• Wet spots beneath leaks from the ceiling
• Wet drywall
• Visible mold and mildew outside of showers and tubs
• Cracks in your home’s foundation

Here are some more subtle signs you may have a leak:

• Strange, musty odors, commonly associated with mold or mildew
• A sudden increase in your monthly water bill, both in usage and cost
• Very slight sounds of water running when water isn’t being used

Confirming you have a leak

If you’re noticing visible water damage in your home, you can skip this step—you have pretty solid evidence that there’s a leak of some kind in your home. However, if you’re encountering just strange smells, seeing an increase in your water bills, or just have a feeling there’s a leak, further diagnostic work may be necessary.

Start by running this test. Throughout your home, make sure no water is being used during a 30-minute stretch. This is often easiest to do when other family members are at school or work. This includes irrigation systems and fountains. For the purposes of this test, you don’t want to shut the water off altogether, but you do want to ensure nothing is using water around your home.

Check the water meter. Your water meter should have a leak indicator. In most units, this is a small, wheel, or triangle. The leak indicator is designed to identify minuscule amounts of water moving through the pipes of your home. If you’ve successfully turned off everything else that’s using water and yours is moving, you have a plumbing leak.

You’re now at the point where you can, and should, call our plumbers.


Other indoor leaks

Not all indoor leaks come from leaking pipes. We’ll discuss roof leaks below, but there are several other potential sources of water damage in your home:

Leaking Tubs & Showers

Beyond just the pipes that connect them, it’s possible for tubs and showers themselves to leak. This can often happen when waterproof caulking wears thin or is accidentally removed—this allows water to get between floor tiles.

Leaking Appliances

If the water damage is contained to an area around your dishwasher or washing machine, double-check that the problem isn’t stemming from either the appliance or its connections and / or drain-outs.

Leaking Water Heaters

As water heaters age, their tanks—which have started to corrode—can spring small leaks. If you notice water pooled around the bottom of your water heater, this is a likely reason why. In other cases, the water heater’s pressure-relief valve may be opening to release water (and pressure) from the tank.

Is the leak coming from a pipe or my roof?

Let’s say you discover a wet spot on your ceiling. There’s two likely causes for this water leakage: either you have a leaking pipe or a leaking roof.

As any roofer can tell you, roof leaks are incredibly common: most homeowners will encounter a few leaks throughout their time in the home, especially if the roof is starting to age.

A leaking roof occurs when both the roofing material (tile, shingles, etc.) and the underlayment fail. Moisture then penetrates to the roof itself, gets into the attic, and—driven by gravity—down to the living spaces of your home.

Ruling out a roof leak

There’s a few things you can do to rule out a roof leak, relatively quickly:

#1. Has it recently rained?

Obviously, if it hasn’t rained in the past few days, the moisture probably isn’t from your roof, but instead is coming from a leaking pipe, somewhere in your home. If the water damage is getting worse over the course of several days without rain, that also points to a pipe, not roof, leak.

#2. What does the water meter say?

Use the water meter test described above to check it to see if excess water is being used. A roof leak won’t spike your water use like a pipe leak will.

#3. What does a roofer say?

If it’s recently rained, your roof is in relatively poor condition, and you’re unsure where the leak is coming from, it’s probably not a bad idea to bring out a professional roofer—in addition to our plumbers—to take a look and determine if you need roof leak repair. If they don’t see signs of damage, that’s a further indication that the problem lies with your pipes, not your roof.

If you do determine that the leak is due to your roof, bring in an expert for roof leak repair as soon as you can. The faster you get your roof fixed, the sooner you can decide if that was the source of the problem.

If the water damage gets worse, the original source of the problem may not have been your roof after all.

Related: Keep Your Home In Its Best Shape

In this related article, we share tips for keeping your home in its best-possible shape, helping you save money and avoid homeowner headaches.


How can I tell where a leak is coming from?

Once you’ve ruled out your roof, it’s time to diagnose where the leak is originating from within your home. Your home features a network of water pipes that run behind walls, underneath floors, and in ceilings.

Unless you have a detailed map of all the pipes in your home, you might be left having to guess where the leak comes from.

This is trickier than it might initially sound. In your home, water is capable of traveling in three dimensions. Gravity pulls moisture down. When it encounters insulation, studs, or other things that block its downward flow, water can flow in any direction.

It’s not always as simple as looking at the point of water damage, tearing out the drywall, and finding the leaking pipe. It’s not unheard of for water damage on a downstairs interior wall to originate in an upstairs bathroom.

Call a plumber

At this point, you need to call a plumber for help finding the leak. That’s because so much of successful leak detection comes down to intuition and prior knowledge.

Experienced plumbers, like ours here at Wagner, have dealt with so many residential leaks that they have a sense of where leaks often come from and how to best access them for fast water leak repair.

Like most plumbing problems you’ll encounter, water leaks don’t fix themselves. A pipe leak won’t magically go away. If you procrastinate, or leave it to “next weekend,” that water damage is only going to get worse. This includes everything that comes with water damage, including structural deterioration and mold growth. Leaks are urgent, and must be dealt with urgently.

Outdoor leaks

We don’t think of our yards as being full of pipes, but they essentially are! Most of us have drip and irrigation lines going to sprinkler heads and gardens. Every home has either a sewer line—running from the home to the street—or a septic line, connected to a septic tank and field.

In some respects, outdoor leaks are harder to initially identify, but easier to find. You’ll want to look for wet spots in dirt and grass—especially if it hasn’t rained recently. Look where your sewer or septic line runs. If the earth above this area is damp, or smells foul, then you probably have a leak in the line.

To find these leaks, our plumbers start by identifying where the line runs, and then get to digging. This is often the fastest way to reach the line, both for diagnosing the issue and then either repairing or replacing the line.

Call for leak repairs in Albuquerque

At Wagner, our plumbers are leak detection and repair specialists. If you have a leak in your home, give us a call. We’ll help you find it and fix it, fast. Time is of the essence, so click the button below and fill out the form to schedule service with us.