Accurately determining if you have a water line leak requires no special tools or equipment. But it does require care and patience using a step-by-step process. If you are a homeowner, you can perform the test yourself using this guide. But in most cases calling both a licensed plumber and your local water authority is usually the best bet. Typically you will incur little or no cost for verifying a leak. A water line leak can add substantially to your water bill, so prompt action is advisable. Understanding how to determine if you have a leak, and perform a leak test, is therefore good to know. What follows is a commonsense and easy to follow 3 step guide on how to check for various types of water leaks.
Locate Your Main Line To Check For Water Line Leaks
Virtually all houses in NYC now have a water meter. The meter is connected just on the house side of the main control valve for the service line from the street. The water service line will be the largest fresh water pipe inside your house. It can also be easy to pinpoint because it will have a ground clamp. The ground clamp is for a secondary ground for the electrical supply for your house. There should not be any electricity flowing through the electric ground wire attached to your water service line. The ground on your water line is designed to act as a backup for the main electrical ground.
Each water meter is designed a little bit differently. The top of older mechanical water meters typically have a dial. There are various indicators that move or spin when water is being used. The smallest of these dials is referred to as a ‘leak dial’. If no water is being used in the house this dial and none of the other dials should be moving.
Modern Water Meters
Most water meters in place now do not have leak dials, or any dials at all. Many, like the one pictured below all fully electronic. This particular meter actually has a solar panel, and the reading lights up when water is being used. Therefore, if the meter reading is lit up, you automatically know that water is running inside your house.
How To Check If The Main Water Line Is Leaking
Frequently the 1st sign of a water main leak is not a drop in pressure, or water gushing up from the ground. In most cases the 1st sign of a water line leak is a rumbling or hissing sound on the pipes inside your house. This is typically most noticeable at night when your house is quiet. What follows are the three basic steps to check for a water line leak.
1. The first step involves closing the main control valve
To properly check for a leak on the main service line is to gently close the main control valve on the house side of the water meter. Always close the main control valve closest to the inside of the house, not the street side valve. That way if the valve breaks, you can still shut the water using the other valve, and repair it.
2. The second step involves draining down the plumbing system
Drain down the plumbing inside the house by opening a plumbing fixture on the top floor and the lowest floor or basement.This is done to ensure that no residual water is running inside a toilet tank or from an underground pipe inside or under the house. Residual water would also make a sound on the pipes inside the house. This can confuse the source of the water leak.
3. The third step involves “sounding out” for a leak
To check for a main water line leak requires listening to the line itself. Always try to listen as close to the point where it exits the house as possible. Ideally you should place your ear directly on the water main. If that is not possible get a small metal rod or screwdriver and place one end on the main water line and the other end on your ear.
Please note: There are specialty listening devices available, some are quite simple, others are very intricate and expensive. However, listening devices are are typically not necessary. If you think there is a chance you have a slight or undetected leak, you may be better to call a professional who has more experience in leak detection.
Checking For A ‘Running’ Toilet
There are two simple ways to check to see if a toilet is ‘running’. With no other plumbing fixtures running inside the house see if your water meter dial is ‘spinning’. Then close the valve under the toilet tank and see if the meter dial stops moving. If the meter dial stops moving you have a leaking and running toilet – you have found the problem.
The 2nd way to check for a ‘running’ toilet is to place a small amount of food or clothing dye inside the toilet tank. After waiting about 10 minutes or so look in the toilet bowl and see if there is sign of the dye. If you see dye present you have a ‘running’ and defective toilet.
Signs Of A Water Line Leak Under Your Floor Or Slab
Leaks under a slab or basement floor are perhaps the most difficult to detect. Because they are usually not visible they are frequently misdiagnosed with resulting incorrect work orders and unnecessary aggravation. Testing for leak under a floor begins with some of the same steps mentioned above.
- The 1st step is to see if your meter dial is spinning even though no water is being used inside the house. If it is proceed to the 2nd step.
- The 2nd step as described above is to make sure you do not have a running toilet.
- The 3rd step is to close the main control valve for the main water line as described above.
- Then drain out the house plumbing as described above.
- Lastly listen to the water main after waiting at least 10 minutes.
The reason the sound steadily decreases is that the residual water in the upper levels of house plumbing is slowly leaking out of the broken pipe under the floor. By taking the various steps described you have eliminated other possible sources of the leak such as a toilet or water main service line. If the main water line was leaking the sound on the piping would not go away, it would remain steady.
Testing For A House Sewer Leak
In some cases a leaking sewer joint can be mistaken for a leaking main water line. This can occur if the house sewer is in close proximity to the house water service line, and is also located above the finished grade of the basement floor. This is referred to in the trade as a “hung sewer”.
A leaking sewer joint near the outside of the foundation wall can result in water being present on the basement floor. Many times this type of sewer leak can look just like a water main break.
There is a definitive way to test for a sewer line leak outside the foundation wall. That is accomplished by doing a sewer dye test. A sewer dye test is performed by removing the cap from the house side of the sewer trap (click this link to learn about a sewer trap and the proper way to open it). Then place some food or clothing dye into the open sewer trap. The next step is to flush a toilet or run a sink for a few minutes to force the dye down the house sewer. For a fuller description of a sewer dye test read All About Sewer Dye Testing.
Have A Further Inquiry Or Question?
Any questions or inquiries concerning any type of water main repair or sewer repair issue will be quickly addressed when you contact Balkan Plumbing. Joseph L. Balkan Inc. is dedicated to servicing and educating property owners when sewer and water main issues arise. Balkan Sewer And Water Main Service has been in continuous operation under the same trusted family name for well over 65 years.
No-obligation written estimates and free site visits are available day and night, seven days a week.
Related articles about water line leak testing
- A Queens Plumber That Specializes In Water Line Repair Work Posted on: November 8, 2013
- A 100% Accurate Water Leak Test By Using A Water Meter Posted on: November 28, 2012
- Water Leaks Can Be Hard To Diagnose: A Sewer Leak Test Can Save Money Posted on: August 28, 2012
- NYC DEP Three Day Notice For A Water Line Leak, How Accurate Is DEP? Posted on: February 24, 2012
- Difficult To Diagnose Sewer Line Problem Solved By Balkan's Expertise Posted on: June 9, 2011
About Balkan Sewer And Water Main Service
Balkan Plumbing is the largest and most trusted sewer & water main replacement company in NYC. We are licensed, bonded, and insured. Balkan is a family run business in continuous operation for over 65 years. Our 10 year unconditional guarantee on replacements means piece of mind for our valued customers. We are uniquely prepared to serve you due to our 48,000 square foot facility. In addition, we possess a fleet of trucks, heavy moving equipment, backhoes and pneumatics.
Choose Balkan Plumbing for your next subsurface plumbing issue. Whether a sewer repair, water main installation, water repair, or a water line leak. Balkan can correct DEP violations, and performs specialty work such as new sewer traps, backwater valves, hydrants, manholes, area drains, and trench drains.