How To Test For A Water Line Leak Or Water Main Break – A Helpful GuideNovember 4, 2011 • By David Balkan
Accurately determining if you have a water line leak requires no special tools or equipment. But it does require care and a step-by-step process. A homeowner can perform the test themselves but calling a licensed plumber and your local water authority is usually the best bet and you will incur little or no cost.
What follows is a commonsense and easy to follow guide on how to check for various types of water leaks.
The 1st Step To Check If You Have A Water Line LeakTypical water meter
Almost 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 the house and have a ground clamp for the electrical supply for the house attached to it (There should not be any electricity flowing through the electric ground wire. It acts as a backup for the main electrical ground).
On the top of the meter is a dial with 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. If all the water is turned off in the house and the dial on the meter is still moving then you have some sort of a water leak inside the house.
How To Check If The Main Water Line Is LeakingLeaking Water Service Line
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 sound on the pipes inside your house. This is typically most noticeable at night when the house is quiet.
The proper way to 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.Typical water meter set-up
The next step is to 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.
The last and final step to check for a main water line leak is to listen to the line as close to the point where it exits the house as possible. Ideally 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. If no water is present or running inside the house plumbing there should be absolutely no sound on the water line itself. Any sound on the water line would indicate that the main water line is leaking outside the house.
Checking For A ‘Running’ ToiletRunning toilet with dye present
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.
A running toilet frequently is audible and annoying. But it is also very costly – and even more annoying when you get your next water bill!
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 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.If you hear a sound of running water that steadily decreases then disappears after you close the main control valve, it is likely that the leak is from a pipe under the floor or slab.
Testing For A House Sewer LeakSewer Trap
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.
A leaking sewer joint near the outside of the foundation wall can result in water being present on the basement floor – this can look just like a water main break.
A definitive way to test for a sewer line leak outside the foundation wall is to do 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. After waiting for no more than an hour if the source of the water leak is from the house sewer the dye will be visible on the basement floor or foundation wall.
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