How Do I Find A Water Leak In My House?

Drip. Drip. Drip. That’s the sound of any homeowner’s nightmares. When you suspect you have a leak in your plumbing but can’t quite place it, it can be an uncomfortable feeling. If you think there may be a water leak in your house, here’s how to detect it.

Common Signs Of A Leak In Your House

Unfortunately, much of our plumbing systems are hidden under floors and behind walls. This can make finding a water leak in your house potentially tricky. That being said, there are signs and symptoms to watch out for that can alert you to a plumbing leak. If you’re wondering how you can tell if you have a water leak, here’s what to keep an eye out for:

Wet Spots

Starting with the most obvious symptom- wet spots and water stains. If a normally dry wall, floor or ceiling is suddenly showing signs of being distinctly damp, it must be coming from somewhere. Water being where it shouldn’t be is a sure sign that something nearby is leaking.

Sounds of Running Water

The next symptom of a water leak in your house is the sound of running water with no obvious source. This may sound like a drip or, more worryingly, a faucet being turned on.

Musty Smells 

If a leak has gone unnoticed for some time, the area may show signs such as a mysterious “musty” odor. It’s hard to convey what ‘musty’ smells like in writing, but you’ll know it when you smell it.

Mold Growth

Mold may not necessarily mean a water leak in your house, but it certainly might. Mold thrives in damp conditions, so its appearance suggests water getting in from somewhere.

Rising Water Bills

If you notice that your water bill is going up without your usage rising alongside, that water is going somewhere. If your connection is metered and keeps going when the water is turned off, the chances are good you have a leak.

Locating the Leak

Now that you’ve established that there does seem to be a water leak in the house, it’s time to find it. Unfortunately, a lot of your home’s plumbing is hidden away behind walls and under floors and that can present problems. Here are a few things you can do to find a water leak in your house:

Visual Inspection

While much of your plumbing is likely hidden away, you can access at least some of it. The first thing to check if you suspect a leak is around faucets, under sinks and baths or around appliances. A visual inspection, looking for puddles or signs of corrosion is a straightforward matter.

If you think you’ve found the leaky pipe, follow it along with a dry hand until you feel water. That will be the source of your leak.

Food Coloring

If you think the water leak in your house might be located in your toilet, there’s an easy DIY test which can help you find it. Try the Food Coloring leak detection trick:

  • Remove the toilet tank cover
  • Flush the toilet
  • Wait for the tank to refill
  • Add 5/6 drops of a dark food coloring (blue and red work best)
  • Replace the cover
  • Wait 30 minutes
  • Inspect the bowl. If it’s turned the colour of the food dye, you’ve found your leak.

This is a handy way to know if the flapper valve in your toilet is leaking. If water is leaking from there, your tank may never quite fill up, and your bills will rise. It’s a fairly straightforward fix that any DIY enthusiast can handle once detected.

Checking the Water Meter

If you have a metered connection to charge for your water, make the meter work for you. Most models of meter will have a leak detection dial. It’s usually a small triangle (red, white or blue) but could also be a blue snowflake, depending on the model.

Turn all your water off then locate your meter box. Open up the box and if the leak detection dial is spinning, something is escaping somewhere.

While this doesn’t tell you where the water leak is in your house, it does let you know that you probably have one. If it’s spinning and you can’t find it, it’s time to call a plumber.

Advanced Leak Detection

As we mentioned earlier, a lot of your pipework is hard to access. A water leak in your house might be behind a wall or under your floor, you might need professional equipment to pin-point it.

Moisture Meters

Moisture meters, as you may have guessed, detect moisture. They come in two types: non-invasive and pin types. Whichever type you can find is fine, but watch out for metal cornerbeads if using the non-invasive- they can send false positives.

First of all, find a dry area to take a reading from. This will let you know what a ‘neutral’ reading looks like in your home. Next, apply the tool to the area you suspect to have a leak. Water can ‘track’ along surfaces, so if you get a positive, keep testing to see where it’s strongest.

Infrared Cameras

Technically, this method detects differences in temperature rather than leaks. The water in your home is usually either heated or colder than the walls. That means infrared cameras can be a great tool for leak detection.

Simply turn on the infrared camera and ‘scan’ the area. The display will show you a colored heat-map of the area. If the location is noticeably hotter or colder, you’ve probably found the leak. If it’s a really serious one, you may even see it running.

Professional Audio Equipment

Another great, non-invasive, way of detecting water leaks in your home uses audio to locate them. As water makes a noise when it leaks, be that a drip, hiss or splash, a microphone held up to the area that contains the suspected leak can confirm that for you.

As its non-invasive, audio equipment is ideal for when you suspect but aren’t sure.

When to Call A Professional

Often, a DIY repair might be a viable option. Things like tightening a nut, replacing a valve or washer or even a run of pipe is generally straightforward. The most common places for leaks are around joints and fixtures, and most of these should be fairly easy to get at.

That being said, the DIY option does come with risks.

Mistakes do happen, and if they happen in an area that is tricky to access, they can be easily missed. If this happens, the problem can end up being even worse than it was before.

Hiring a professional brings with it peace of mind. Knowing that the person working on your home really knows their stuff is a huge relief for any homeowner. Other advantages of working with a pro include:

  • Guaranteed, insured work: If it goes wrong, they’ll fix it or their insurance will pay out.
  • Thorough diagnostics: A professional plumber will be able to carry out much more detailed inspections than you.
  • Professional tools: While an adjusting wrench will solve a multitude of issues, there are many tools which make jobs easier that the average DIYer doesn’t have.

If you’re not utterly confident in your ability to solve the issue, get on the phone and call a pro. This is especially true if working on ‘live’ pipes or very large water leaks in the house.

Preventative Measures

Often, prevention is better than a cure. Keeping your plumbing in good order can save an absolute fortune and avoid serious issues developing in the first place.

Scheduling regular check-ups and inspections, will help minimize the risk of leaks developing. By alerting you to problems before they become serious, you can avoid expensive emergency callouts. Likewise, replacing aging pipes before they reach the end of their lifespan can save time, money and hassle in the long-run.

Another measure to consider is installing a leak detection device. These are place in-line in your plumbing system and automatically alert you when irregular flows are detected. They come in various models; some give detailed read-outs, some set off alarms on your phone, others automatically cut off the water if they detect a leak. Whichever you choose, they alert you to issues before they have a chance to become serious.

Detecting a water leak in your house is never a pleasant experience, but with a little knowhow it can be an easy one. Knowing how to employ a range of leak finders can help you head-off serious water damage from a plumbing leak.