Many Northern transplants to the Sunshine State are surprised to find that most homes are built on a concrete slab foundation. We will soon get into the reason for this, but the fact is that finding the best construction solution to Florida’s unique soil conditions in turn created a major problem for homeowners: slab leaks.
Homes built on a concrete slab-on-grade foundation have water supply and drainage pipes routed beneath the foundation slab. Unlike homes built with a crawlspace, these pipes are only accessible by breaking through the slab when repair or replacement is necessary. You don’t need to stretch your imagination to understand that this process is extensive and expensive. For this reason, homeowners tend to put the possibility of a slab leak out of mind, until the evidence that they might have one becomes hard to ignore.
The good people at Barker and Sons Plumbing & Rooter describe the situation as follows.
“Slab leaks can be found either on the pressure side or the drainage side of your foundation. If the slab leak is on the pressure side of the drains, it can typically be unearthed prior to triggering a lot of destruction. While these leaks are usually found quickly, they can cause significant damage. Leaks on the drainage side can be considerably more veiled, making them trickier to spot. They can leak for ages, showing no external indication.”
Why Slab Foundations are Common in Florida
Before we go further, it’s important to understand why slab foundations are common in Florida. The ground in Florida consists of loose, sandy soil and low water tables. Add to that Florida’s summer rainy season, with its almost-daily afternoon thunderstorms. To facilitate the process of drainage, there is a layer of sand under the concrete slab. This prevents water from collecting under the foundation. The sand also acts as a cushion between the ground and slab.
What Causes Slab Leaks?
As if you don’t already have enough worries keeping you awake at night, a foundation slab leak can occur from any of the following causes.
Poor installation and faulty pipes – Improper installation of pipes and damage during the construction process reduce their useful life.
Foundation or ground shift – While Florida isn’t known for earthquakes, our afore-mentioned rainy season can cause shifts that gradually affect the underground pipes.
Abrasion – Pipes expand and contract when water flows through them. For the pipes to expand and contract, they should have sufficient space. If there isn’t adequate space, the pipes can rub against other pipes, gravel, or concrete, resulting in a slab leak due to excessive wear and tear.
Corrosion – The pipes under the foundation corrode over time because they are in constant contact with the soil. Corroded pipes can start to leak sooner or later. This is especially common with copper pipes.
Signs That You Have a Slab Leak – What to Look For
As a homeowner, it is crucial to know the signs of a slab leak. If you don’t know the signs, you can’t address the problem. And the longer you leave a slab leak unrepaired, the more damage it can cause, and the more expensive it will ultimately be to repair. Here are some signs you should look for, courtesy of iMold.us.
Warped, buckled, or separated floorboards – are your hardwood floors buckling? Did your tiles suddenly start cracking with no explanation? These are both signs of excess moisture under your floor. Your hardwood or tile floors absorb the moisture from the leak below. The extra moisture causes them to change shape or even break.
An increase in your water bill – Has your water bill recently spiked? A sudden increase in your water bill when you aren’t using more water is a big red flag. This means you are unknowingly using water, somewhere. Most likely, the culprit is an undetected leak.
Damp or wet carpet – Same as the floorboards, carpet absorbs the moisture from the slab leak below. This moisture wicks up into your carpet, making it a small swimming pool for ants.
Random hot spots on the floor – Slab leaks can cause hot spots. A leaking hot water pipe may be the cause. Your pets may notice a hot spot before you do. Has your cat been lying in a particular spot on the floor lately? It may be worth it just to put your hand on the floor there to test for warmth. Some hot spots are only detectable with thermal imaging cameras used by plumbers.
Mold or mildew – You may see or smell mold or mildew. This is an unmistakable sign of water damage from a leak. The presence of mold is a major health hazard. Call a leak detection company or plumber immediately. Trying to mask the odor with air fresheners won’t solve the problem, or prevent you and your family members from mold-related illnesses.
Your water heater is always running – A hot water pipe may be causing your leak. If the slab leak is occurring over that pipe, it will cause your water heater to run more than necessary.
A decrease in water pressure – A slab leak will suck the pressure out of your shower. This is because the water in your pipes is flowing freely through the leak. Nothing is stopping the flow to create pressure.
A puddle of water – In extreme situations, the water wicking up from the leak is so severe that puddles form inside the house. This is a sure sign of a slab leak.
Cracked driveway – A crack in your driveway, accumulation of water in one place, the sound of running water, a thick patch of grass, or loss of water pressure are all indications of a slab leak. Our blog post – “Got a Cracked Driveway? Here Are the Causes & Signs of Driveway Leaks” – covers this issue in detail.
The Take-Home Message
There is no sugar-coating the effects of a slab leak, considering its expense to repair. However, as mentioned, ignoring it only leads to greater damage that’s even more costly to repair, not to mention the increased risk to health if mold is involved. Your homeowners insurance may cover part of the cost, but read your policy and ask your insurance agent to be certain you understand the terms of your coverage.
Again, early detection is key to limiting damage. Should you suspect trouble, Certified Leak Detection is experienced in leak detection and repair for Orlando, Longwood, Lake Mary, Sanford, Kissimmee, Clermont and Winter Springs. Trusted by homeowners and business owners throughout Central Florida, our team is ready to answer your call. Contact us for quick, reliable service.