If someone were to ask you how to tell if something’s leaking, you might be tempted to smirk a bit: “Umm, well, there’s water where there shouldn’t be water.” Duh.
In many cases, your smirk would be justified. Leaks are pretty obvious when there’s a puddle on the floor or in a cabinet. But sometimes, you might find just the evidence of a leak, like the water ring on the ceiling that lines up perfectly with the toilet in the kids’ bathroom. And let’s not forget about the non-visual clues, like that musty smell in your laundry room.
Finding a leak is never great news—whether there’s still a puddle or it’s dried to a stain. Fortunately, you can often find leaks before they become a major plumbing nightmare.
Where to Look for Leaks
Obviously, the best time to find a leak is before it starts. As with all things homeownership, preventive maintenance is key, so make a habit of checking for drips and leaks every couple of months.
- Under sinks. Check for water, stains, and odors in every under-the-sink cabinet: kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, wet bar, and so on.
- Floors. Inspect the floor around your dishwasher and, if you have an ice maker, your refrigerator. Also look around toilets, tubs, and showers.
- Supply lines. Look for leaks where your toilets, sinks, and washing machine connect to the wall.
- Toilets. Every once in a while, add a drop or two of food coloring to your toilet tanks. After 30 minutes, check the color of the water in the bowl. If your food coloring has made its way from the tank to the bowl, you have a leak.
- Hot water heater. Anywhere there’s water, there’s a potential for leaks. So include your hot water heater in your periodic inspections.
- Hose bibbs. Every time you water your garden or wash your car, check for leaks in your outdoor faucets. Water seeping along your foundation may eventually cause catastrophic damage.
- Water supply. If your water bill keeps creeping up and up, it’s worth determining if there might be a leak outside your house. Turn off your water at the main shut-off valve, then check the leak indicator on your water meter. If the leak indicator moves, even with the main valve closed, you have a leak outside the house.
- Ceilings, baseboards, and walls. Hidden leaks will eventually leave evidence. Check for warps, bubbles, and stains.
What to Do If You Find a Leak
If you find a serious leak, immediately close your water shut-off valve. If you haven’t tried turning the valve for a long time, it’s worth checking to make sure it hasn’t seized up.
If you have just a minor leak or discover past evidence of a leak, try these DIY tips:
- If your sink cabinets are wet or musty, try tightening the faucet base, re-caulking around the sink and tightening any hardware connecting the sink and counter.
- If your faucet is leaking, replace the cartridge or the whole fixture.
- If you’ve discovered your toilet is leaking from the tank to the bowl, replace the flapper.
- Avoid cranking down on screws and valves. Tightening them might seem like a good way to prevent leaks, but washers and seals fail under too much pressure—which will actually cause leaks. If you see drips and you’re certain your washers are good, snug up the bolts a tiny bit more.
- If your showerhead is dripping, unscrew it and replace the plumber’s tape.
Don’t Ignore Leaks
If you notice a slow drip or see evidence of a past leak, don’t put off having it checked out. Dripping faucets waste 1 trillion gallons of water every year, and insurance claims related to water damage average $8,861.
If you have a concern you’re not comfortable tackling, we’re the Atlanta-area plumber to call. (If you’re finding our site outside the state of Georgia, you should check out this great plumber in Marietta, GA.)