May 19 2008
The unstable soil in North Texas can turn even the stateliest mansion into a mobile home. Heavy advertising by foundation repair companies constantly reminds homeowners of the possibility of destabilizing foundation cracks, but a related danger gets little mention.
Left out of the discussion: plumbing leaks. Most North Texas homes are built on concrete slabs because the soil is considered too unstable to risk building a basement. But household plumbing buried beneath or within the slabs is vulnerable, too.
The consequences of a concealed leak can be severe. A broken water line beneath a home can cause the slab and flooring to erupt and flood every room on the ground floor, ruining floor coverings, furniture and appliances. Or the reverse may happen when a leak beneath the slab erodes the soil and causes the slab to cave in.
Extreme examples? Not really, according to master plumber Bill Stevens. "Every springtime we get a rash of calls from homeowners who suspect they have a leak," Stevens said. "While qualified plumbers can pinpoint the source of such problems and repair them, a great deal of damage may be done if the leak isn't fixed promptly."
Stevens says you may have a plumbing leak if:
- You hear the sound of water running when no taps are open
- Your water meter changes when you aren't using water
- Your water bill increases over a period of weeks or months for no apparent reason
- You see foundation cracks
- Vegetation grows unevenly, or soil shifts visibly
- You have warm spots on slab floors
- You have discolored floor coverings (darkened hardwood, for example)
- You can smell bad odors coming from floors or walls
If a problem goes undetected or untreated until it results in major damage the cost can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. The cost of wasted water can be significant, too:
- A leaky toilet can use up to 90,000 gallons of water in one month, costing $300 - $400
- A pinhead-size leak can waste 360,000 gallons of water a year; enough to take 12,000 baths, at a cost of more than $1,200.
Stevens says homeowners can perform a simple test if they suspect they have a leak: write down the reading on the home's water meter, then check it again an hour later, being certain not to turn on any water taps during that time. If the meter registers a higher reading the second time, a leak is almost certain.
"We find many people don't know where their water meter is located," Stevens said. "Usually it's at the front of the property, near the street, but if a homeowner doesn't feel comfortable doing this test, a licensed plumber can handle it quickly."
Stevens recommends regular plumbing checkups when homeowners have their heating and air conditioning systems tuned up each year. "A good plumber can save people a lot of headaches - and money - by spotting problems before they get out of hand," he said.