Whether you rent or own your own home, there’s a good chance that, at some point, you’ve found yourself lying awake at night listening to the drip, drip, drip of water and wondered a) where it was coming from and b) just how bad it might be when you eventually work it out.
Maybe you’ve woken to a flooded kitchen because your dishwasher or washing machine has leaked or to a puddle of water and a hole in the ceiling because of a burst pipe.
None of these situations are that surprising, or that uncommon, unfortunately. According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), at least one in four building and contents insurance claims are down to leaky or burst pipes (or what insurance companies call an ‘escape of water’).
Water damage in the home is incredibly costly for insurance companies (they pay out around £1.8 million a day), and it could be costly for you if you’re on a water meter or need to pay for a plumber to fix the problem.
While you can’t avoid all leaks, you can take steps to reduce the risk of significant damage to your home or your bank balance.
How to detect a water leak
Sometimes leaks aren’t as apparent as a constant drip, drip, drip that keeps you up at night. In fact, they’re generally much more subtle until the drip becomes a flood, which is why detecting them early is key.
How to detect a water leak in your house
You can detect a water leak in your house, even if you can’t see any water by:
- Checking your water usage regularly so you can see any sudden increases that you can’t account for (having visitors, for example, or watering the garden more in hot weather), which could be a sign of a leak. Sign-up for an online account or ask your water supplier to send you monthly statements so you can keep an eye of the water you’re using.
- Noticing a drop in water pressure when you’re filling the bath or taking a shower, this could be a sign of a leak. You can check by turning off all your fixtures then turning one back on. If the pressure is higher than it was, it’s probably a leak.
Life Hack: However, in a shower, low pressure can also be because of a clogged showerhead thanks to a build-up of limescale or, if your shower is over your bath, you could have a faulty Shower/Bath diverter. Clean your showerhead using a limescale remover and check the Shower/Bath diverter to see if this makes a difference.
- Monitoring when your hot water heater/boiler comes on – if it’s on almost constantly, you could have a leak in your hot water pipe. These will generally be underground and could be harder to find than other leaks.
Wondering how to detect a water leak underground? Look out for pools of water or damp patches on your floor with no visible signs there’s a leak in your ceiling. Smells are a giveaway too – underground leaks tend to take longer to come through which leads to mould and mildew, both of which have a distinctive odour.
If you don’t want to have to keep looking for signs of a leak, consider using a leak detection tool. There are several on the market, and all work slightly differently. With the Leakbot, for example, you attach it near your stop tap, and it uses technology to monitor the temperature of the water going through your taps.
A leak detection tool triggers an alert if there’s a leak, which gets sent to you on a mobile app, giving you a chance to take a look and see if it’s something you can fix, or call a plumber. The time and money a leak detection tool could potentially save you makes them well worth the small, initial investment.
Common Places for Water Leaks
If you think you have a leak and don’t have a leak detector that tells you where it might be, there are some common culprits around the home it’s worth checking first:
- Water tank/boiler: Check the valves that take water into/out of your boiler or water tank. You should quickly be able to see a leak. If there isn’t any water escaping, look for signs of a slow leak including marks on the floor below the valve or a hissing sound. If you have a central heating boiler, this isn’t something you can fix yourself, and a leak may be a sign of something seriously wrong, so contact a specialist.
- Toilets: Because of how much we use them, it isn’t unusual for a toilet to start leaking. This isn’t usually something to worry about, but it can be costly if it’s continuously running. You might be able to fix it yourself; changing a washer out is relatively straightforward, for example, and saves you money rather than calling a plumber.
Life hack: If you aren’t sure your toilet is leaking, a trick is to put food colouring it the tank and leave it for ten minutes. If you go back and the water in the bowl is the same colour as the water in the tank, you’ve got a leak.
- Showerheads: Much like toilets, we use showers on a regular, if not daily, basis. Which means the parts start to wear down and you are likely to find leaks. We’ve already talked about how low pressure could be the sign of a leak (as well as a clogged showerhead), so it makes sense this would be one of the first places to look if you think you have a problem.
- Appliances: Through everyday use, appliances can shift slightly from their original position, which can loosen valves and pipes and lead to leaks. Check them regularly to make sure all the attachments are secure.
Water leaks can happen inside or outside the home. We’ve already looked at where to look for leaks inside, but what about outside – where do you start?
How to detect a water leak outside
If you can’t find any visible signs of a water leak inside your home, you can determine if it’s inside but hidden (underground, for example) or outside by checking your water meter. First, turn off the stop tap so that no water is going into your house; you can check it’s off by running a tap till no water comes out.
Once you’d done this check the meter to see if the dial is still moving, if it is, then the leak is on the supply line outside your home. If it isn’t, then the leak will be inside, either on an internal pipe or through your appliances.
When you’ve determined that the leak is outside, start looking for signs. If your meter is installed in your garden, this might include seeing if there are muddy patches around the pipe or if the grass seems to be growing better than in other parts of your lawn.
Finding out how bad the leak is may – unfortunately – involve digging your lawn up. This is something you might want to do before calling a plumber to see if it’s something you can fix yourself. If the leak is under concrete, you will need to look for other signs.
How to detect a water leak under concrete
While looking for a water leak under concrete is more complicated than trying to find a leaky faucet in your bathroom, it isn’t impossible. We’ve already mentioned looking out for damp patches on the floor (with no visible sign of a leak in the ceiling) and the smell of mould or mildew when you’re looking for underground leaks, and both of these apply for leaks under concrete.
You also want to look out for cracks in the concrete itself, a result of water escaping, or uneven surfaces, meaning the concrete is being pushed up by the leaking water below.
What to do if you do spring a leak
If you do find a leak, the first thing you need to do is work out if it’s serious. Is it going to get worse quickly and cause significant damage? Alternatively, is it limited to a particular appliance, a toilet or washing machine for example?
If it’s a small leak that you can fix, you can turn off the water to the appliance while you get the supplies you need to make repairs. If it’s a more significant leak, however, you will need to turn off the water at the stop tap, which will mean no water is going into your house and the leak shouldn’t get any worse. You should also turn off the electrics to any part of the house affected by the leak.
It’s worth mentioning that, often, people go to turn off the tap only to find it’s stuck because it has been so long since it was last turned. If you can’t turn off the tap, you can’t stop the leak so make sure you turn it regularly, rather than risk damage to your property.