You’re a conscientious homeowner who keeps up with maintaining your plumbing. You clean the faucet aerators and shower heads to remove mineral deposits. You inspect tub and sink drains for debris and unclog if necessary. You clean the garbage disposal by grinding ice cubes, then flushing with hot water and baking soda. Yet a pipe begins leaking for seemingly no reason.

As our colleagues at Mike Diamond frame the situation, “If you didn’t damage your pipe, then why should it start leaking all of a sudden? Are your pipes faulty? Is the leak a sign of something gone horribly wrong?”

There are many causes of pipe leaks, but most are the result of age and wear-and-tear. Keep in mind that you should consider yourself fortunate if the leaks occur in the plumbing pipes you see. The most insidious leaks occur within walls and under the foundation slab, where they continue unnoticed until they eventually result in significant damage to drywall, floors and even your electrical system. Our blog post – “How Little Leaks Can Lead to Big Repair Costs” – covers the effects of water damage in greater details.

Finding, repairing and preventing pipe leaks is all about knowing where they come from and what to do – as well as how to prevent or postpone them for as long as possible.

What Causes Pipe Leaks?

As mysterious as pipe leaks may seem to homeowners, there are factors leading up to that point. We can drill down the general categories of age and wear to more specific causes, which include the following:

Broken seals – Most of your appliances have seals installed at the point where water flows into them. Like any other part of a fixture, these seals can break or wear out over time. When that happens, some of the water that should flow into the appliance may instead leak out.

Clogs – Clogs cause water to back up, which places the insides of a pipe under a great amount of pressure. Over time, all that pressure wears down on seals and the sides of pipe walls. When the pressure becomes too much for the weakened pipe walls or seals to take, they’ll break and create a leak.

Corrosion – The inside of pipe walls may begin to corrode or rust over time. This happens faster if you have hard water, a high pH level (acidity) or particularly high water pressure. As pipes corrode, they can’t handle the pressure or force of water flowing through them. Eventually, that pressure and force may create a leak in a particularly corroded section.

Bad or loose pipe connections – A poorly made repair or replacement can result in bad connections, as well as the afore-mentioned effects of water pressure on pipes already compromised by clogs and corrosion.

Overuse of drain-cleaning chemicals – Although liquid drain cleaners are typically the go-to solution for clearing clogs, they can eventually harm your plumbing infrastructure. Owners of older homes – especially homes with cast-iron pipes – need to be especially cautious. Using a snake or similar tool to pull out debris is preferable. Our blog post – “What Should You Do If Your Shower Drain is Clogged?” – provides additional easy, non-chemical methods.

Tree roots penetrating your sewer pipes – Trees growing near the underground sewer line on your property send out long feeder roots in search of nutrients. Because a sewer pipe contains water and organic waste, it’s a natural target. Our blog post – “Are Tree Roots in Your Sewer Line?” – addresses this issue in detail.

Physical shifts in the ground – Although Florida isn’t known for earthquakes, it is known for torrential summer afternoon thunderstorms and the occasional tropical storm and hurricane. Heavy rainstorms can cause the ground to shift when it has absorbed all the water it can, thereby affecting underground pipes.

Signs of a Pipe Leak

Now that you know the many causes of a pipe leak, being aware of the signs of a hidden leak can help you avoid additional expense in repair of the leak itself and the resulting property damage. In addition, an undetected leak promotes mold growth, which is a serious health hazard – especially for the elderly and those with respiratory issues. The presence of black mold (the most dangerous) requires not only the services of a mold remediation company, but also the removal of large wall sections.

Our colleagues at CroppMetcalfe Services provide the signs you should watch for:

Ceiling stains – For homes with a second floor, the internal pipes that carry water to that second-floor bathroom can leak. A stain or discolored area in the ceiling just below is a red flag. Call a plumber immediately! 

Rusty pipes, fuse boxes or appliances – Discoloration, stains, dimpling and flaking are all signs that your pipes may be corroding. If you notice rust around pipes, this is a clear indication of water damage. If you notice your fuse box is starting to rust or collect moisture, that’s another indication that water is running free inside your walls. 

Damaged flooring – Bathroom floors rarely suffer water damage unless there is a leak. However, if you notice your floor buckling, staining or cracking, hidden water may be the source. Wet spots, spongy or soft flooring and loose tiles could all be signs of water damage. Whether the water came from a pipe underneath the floor or traveled there from another area, look into it as soon as possible before the current water damage causes a bigger issue. 

Paint or wallpaper discoloring – As moisture seeps into your walls, the paint will start showing signs of damage. You may notice peeling, discoloration, blistering or even cracks and warping. Since drywall and wood readily absorb moisture, water breaks down the fibers and causes them to feel spongy and soft. If you notice chalky textures, changing wall paint or signs of peeling, water damage is most likely the culprit – and a leaking pipe the cause. 

Persistent odors – The most common odor associated with water damage is a musty, mildewy smell. While you may be able to detect the source, it’s not always obvious. As previously mentioned, the presence of mold creates an unhealthy environment. Trying to mask the odor with air fresheners won’t solve the problem, or prevent you and your family members from mold-related illnesses. 

Higher-than-usual water bills – If you notice a sudden increase in your water bill, but haven’t been using more water than usual, you may have a plumbing leak.

Can You DIY, or Should You Call a Plumber?

The plumbing leaks that the typical homeowner can repair on their own are very few. If luck is with you, and the leak is caused by a loose fitting, you may be able to fix it by gripping the fitting with a plumber’s wrench and tightening it.

However, not every issue is obvious. A lack of skill, experience, professional-quality tools and knowledge about residential plumbing systems put non-plumbers at a disadvantage, and may set the stage for major damage due to a botched repair attempt. Regular readers of our blog already expect our warning against depending on YouTube videos to provide instruction on DIY repairs.

Your home is your most important investment. And while we admit that plumbing repairs aren’t inexpensive, hiring a professional plumber will ensure the job is done right, and will head off future problems.

Our master plumbers at CarbonePlumbing believe the more you know about basic plumbing care and maintenance, the better you’ll be able to recognize when it’s time to call a professional to prevent even more serious damage and major expense. We’ve proudly served Central Florida homes and businesses with the highest level of quality and experience for over 60 years. We are family-owned and operated, and all of our plumbers are state-certified master plumbers. Contact us to get – and keep – your home’s plumbing in top repair.

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