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A Basic Guide to Slab Leak Detection

A Basic Guide to Slab Leak Detection

Are you concerned that you may have a water leak either inside or beneath the concrete foundation of your home?  Leaks such as these are known as “slab leaks” and cause a whole host of problems if they are not detected and repaired quickly.  In this article we will discuss some of the signs to look for if you think you have a slab leak, the possible causes of these types of leaks and the various slab leak detection strategies you can employ to locate the leak and get it repaired fast.

Slab Leaks:  What to Look For

In some cases, a leak under the foundation of the house, or slab leak, can be fairly easily detected because the leak will present with a few distinctive visual clues.  Some of the things to look for if you suspect you have a slab leak include:

  • Moist, soaked or damp spots on the carpeting or flooring of the house
  • Water seeping either slowly or rapidly through the foundation
  • A sudden settling of the foundation
  • A sudden decrease in the degree of water pressure
  • Unusually high water bills (If you are billed on a water-usage scale)

Slab leaks can occur either in the incoming water line to the house, or the outgoing lines which take water and sewage away from the home.  Both can cause problems and serious damage, however, leaks coming from the incoming water lines tend to be much more serious because the flow of water is continuous.

Slab Leaks:  The Causes

Slab leaks can occur for a number of reasons, some more obvious than others.  Below is a list of some of these potential causes:

  • Shifting of the Foundation.  When the foundation of your home shifts—as most homes will do as they age—a poor plumbing design or shoddy installation can quickly be exposed, pulling pipes apart and causing a major slab leak.
  • Water Pressure Is Too High.  Unusually high water pressure, possibly caused by pipes that are too small to handle the continuous flow of water, can cause leaks in the pipes, especially where the pipes are fitted together or where the pipe is bent or turned.
  • Water Chemistry.  The pH balance of the water flowing through your pipes can, over time, have potentially harmful effects on underground pipes.
  • Shoddy Craftsmanship.  Sometimes a leak under the foundation is the result of nothing more than poor craftsmanship and shoddy work.  Pipes that are kinked or nicked during construction can become suspect when forced to handle the continuous delivery of water.

Slab Leak Detection:  A Few Strategies

One of the best ways to determine if you have a slab leak is to locate your water meter and write down the number indicated on it.  After you do this, wait about thirty minutes, without running any water at all in your house, and recheck the water meter.  If the number on the meter continued to rise during this process you may have a leak.

Unless you are particularly handy in the plumbing trade, slab leak detection may be better left to a professional.  However, if you choose to do the work yourself, here are a couple of strategies you can employ to determine if you have a leak.

  • Acoustic Leak Detection.  Acoustic leak detection, as the name implies, is the process of listening for underground leaks.  Regardless of the type of leak you may have, that leak will invariably emit some very distinctive sounds.  A hissing sound, for example, is an indicator of pipe vibration and pressure reduction, while a splashing or river-like sound may be an indication of water flowing on the outside of the pipe.  While these sounds will be more pronounced with metal pipes than with cement or plastic pipes, you can usually get a pretty good idea about the type of leak you have from the sound it makes.
  • Electromagnetic Technology.  Electromagnetic technology is a process used by soil engineers to detect and locate leaks under the foundation, by magnetically following the pipes across the entire floor surface.  This technique is usually better left to a professional.

Slab leaks can cause major structural damage to your home if they are not quickly remedied.  From the clues listed above, if you determine you may have a slab leak under the foundation of your home, you may be wise to contact a professional who can use a variety of slab leak detection strategies to assess the problem.

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