Finding a leak early will save you time, money

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The plumbing in your home — under the kitchen sink, behind the shower or running alongside the bathtub — is part of an efficient, simple system.

However, this system needs maintenance to perform optimally, and it may require emergency assistance from a plumber to stop a leak or prevent major damage to your home. If left untreated (or undetected), the costs of a plumbing leak are substantial.

"Water can be your home's worst enemy. Leaving leaks unattended can lead to serious damage to your home," warned Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List. "For example, a leak behind a wall could require drywall repair. A small drywall repair job can cost as much as $400, not to mention if you end up with mold. For example, a mold remediation job can be anywhere from hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars."

To avoid high costs for repair, watch for potential problems. Plumbing leaks are always better tackled immediately.

Angie's List asked highly rated plumbers about leaks.

Common sources for water loss:

  • Leaky toilet tank flapper
  • Several dripping faucets within the house.
  • A garden hose mistakenly being left open for days.
  • A broken main water line in the ground.

According to the EPA, a leaky toilet can waste as much as 200 gallons of water each day, so fixing a leaky toilet is great way to reduce water consumption and your water bill.

Here's a simple test you can perform to see if you're losing water via your toilet's flapper:

  1. Place a few drops of food coloring in the toilet tank and wait about 15 minutes
  2. If the food coloring has entered the toilet bowl without the toilet being flushed you know you have a leak.

"One of the things we find is a lot of homeowners do not go into their crawl space or their attic and we've actually had homeowners that have owned homes for generations and never been in the crawl space but sometimes just a routine inspection of someone going into the crawl space and following the plumbing pipe and checking those pipes often is one good way to do that – to find a leak," explained Justin Dorsey, a plumbing contractor.

Common signs of a leak:

  • Mildew or mold: No matter how well and often you clean, mold or mildew can spring up if you have a hidden water leak. Mold thrives on moist, dark areas, and a pipe, which is typically hidden in a wall or under flooring, provides the perfect starting point for mold or mildew if the pipe springs a leak. A leaking pipe provides plenty of moisture, so the longer it takes you to detect and fix the leak; the easier and faster mold will grow.
  • Damaged paint or wallpaper: A wall with blistering paint or wallpaper is another sign of a water leak. When water and moisture get between the wall and paint, they eliminate the bond and begin to separate the two, causing the paint to rise from the wall and fall off in pieces. The same goes for wallpaper: The adhesive used to bond the paper to the wall becomes less sticky and the paper begins to come loose.
  • Damaged walls: A wall that is warped or stained for no reason is a clear sign that you have a water leak. When drywall is exposed to moisture, it becomes soft and begins to bubble, ultimately warping and breaking into pieces. One hundred square feet of drywall, for example, may cost as much as $400 to replace, while mold remediation can run anywhere from $500 to $3000.  If the leak reaches the ceiling, it causes it to sag and maybe leak some of the water that has accumulated.
  • Damaged flooring: If your floor is buckling, cracking or beginning to stain for no obvious reason, chances are hidden water is the culprit. The water could be from a pipe directly underneath the floor, or it could have traveled there from another area. Hardwood floors cost between $12 and $30 per square foot to replace, after the affected area has been cleaned and the leak fixed. Replacing single tiles isn't an expensive undertaking, but you can incur significant costs if the sub floor of your bathroom becomes damaged. Removing and replacing swelled floorboards and installing new tile may cost anywhere from $1000 to $1500.
  • Stains on ceilings: Any brown, copper or dark stains on the ceiling are a sign of a leak. A sagging ceiling is a sign that water from a leak is reaching the area. If you have a bathroom on a second floor, check the ceiling in the room directly beneath the bathroom for stains.
  • Smell: Old, accumulated water from a leaky pipe tends to smell. If, after thoroughly cleaning your restroom, you still notice a musty or earthy smell, it's likely that you have hidden leaks. Because the water is hidden, it never has a chance to dry.


Angie's List Tips: Hiring a professional plumber

  • Check requirements: Most states require plumbers to be licensed. Municipalities may also have their own plumbing license requirements. Do not confuse a plumbing license with a business license. All businesses must have a business license in the jurisdiction where they operate, but this does not certify that the contractor can legally work as a plumber so ask to see both the business license and plumbing license before making a decision.
  • Comparison shop: Get at least three written estimates from three different plumbers.
  • Costs: Plumbers may charge either by the hour or job. For basic plumbing services, plumbers tell us that the average hourly service charge ranges from $70 to $150, depending on the area you live in. For emergency calls, you can expect to pay time and a half.
  • Think ahead: The best thing you can do is find a plumber or a drain cleaning company before you need one. Research one ahead of time so you know what charges to expect. You can also ask about emergency service and holiday work.

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