Your home’s underground pipes are out of sight, and just as likely to be out of mind. However, being happily unaware of them can lead to big problems should they start leaking. Difficult to detect and extremely destructive if left unrepaired, such a leak always requires an extensive amount of work – and considerable expense – to uncover and replace the affected section of pipe. Some situations can’t be sugar-coated. This is definitely one of them. The best to hope for is detection early enough to prevent damage to your home’s foundation if the leak is in close enough proximity, or damage to your driveway, lawn or pavers. As we covered in our blog post – “Spot a Wet Spot in Your Yard? It Could Be a Sewer Leak!” – a neglected underground pipe leak can even cause a sinkhole on your property.
What pipes are usually placed underground?
Each pipe in your home is connected to a large pipe called the lateral connection, which runs under your home at an angle into the municipal sewer system. The wastewater lines from each toilet, sink and tub run under the slab to the pipes that run beneath your yard. These are the sewer lines/pipes that run through your lawn and moves your home’s waste to the main sewer. The sewer pipes that run under the lawn and slab are two separate systems that work collectively to remove solid waste and waste water from your home to the city’s main sewer unit.
Water entering your home feeds from the municipal main line (also known as the water main), moving through a large (¾ inches or larger) pipe headed toward the home. This pipe, called the water or supply line, carries water from the mainline to your house. The supply line is buried deep underneath the property, and runs from the ground directly into the home. Supply lines are usually made of plastic, galvanized iron or copper.
For those who want to learn all the details, this link to Florida Residential Code 2014 provides comprehensive requirements for residential plumbing.
Possible causes of underground water leaks
Sewer pipe leaks can be caused by decay due to aging, and sometimes reasons like tree root intrusion – which can cause leaks or a burst pipe. The life of a cast iron sewer pipe is 25 to 35 years, so pay extra attention if you know your pipes are within or nearing this timeframe. Sewer line leaks and burst pipes can also result from long-term obstructions. Ground tremors due to major construction activity near your house can also result in sewer pipe line leaks or bursts.
Water main leaks can be caused by improper installation, corrosion, the wear-and-tear that occurs over time, shifting soil, and ground freezing and thawing – although the last is not a factor in Central Florida. Keep in mind that even though sewer and water pipes connect to municipal utility systems, the homeowner is responsible for the expense of maintaining, repairing and replacing pipes on their property.
Older homes that have polybutylene (PB) piping are more prone to underground leaks. Popular in homes built from 1978 to 1995, polybutylene pipes become brittle with age and crack, making them very susceptible to leaking.
How to find a leak in underground plumbing
As mentioned earlier, since you can’t directly see the leak, it’s difficult to determine whether or not you have a leaking pipe under the ground. Keeping your eyes open for evidence of trouble spots is the best approach. Walk around your property at least once a week, and look closely for any changes. Our blog post on the topic of sewer pipe leaks describes the signs in detail, but here’s a summary:
- A slow drain – This can be an indication of a blockage somewhere in the sewer line which might cause sewage backup.
- Smelling sewer gas odor in or around your house.
- Frequent sewage backups and blockages.
- Extra lush green patches in the lawn – Sewer water is, after all, basically fertilizer.
- Mold growth – If you see mold behind your walls, call for repair immediately. Mold is a serious health hazard that needs to be eliminated by a mitigation company, separately from calling for repair to the sewer pipe.
- A puddle of septic wastewater in your yard – If you notice a puddle anywhere in your yard, it can be a sign of a broken sewer line.
- A crack in the foundation slab, sinkholes or foundation settlement – These are extreme signs which means a sewer leak has been left unattended for long. If there is a leak in the main line under your slab, a void is created under the foundation, which results in foundation cracks, foundation settlement and even sinkholes.
- A hollow space in your lawn or under the pavers.
- A sudden drop in water pressure.
- The sound of air pockets and/or sputtering water flow while running water through faucets.
- Higher than usual water bills without an increase in water use.
To determine if there is a water leak, Don Vandervort – founder and CEO of HomeTips – offers this simple test. However, it will only indicate if there is a leak – the results will not help you locate it.
- Turn off every faucet, fixture, and appliance that uses water—even the ice maker. Do not turn off the main shutoff valve.
- Open the water meter’s cover so that you can see the gauge.
- Mark the rim of the gauge where the needle is pointing (if there are several dials, mark the one that indicates 1-cubic-foot increments).
- Leave the water shut off for 30 minutes, and then see if the needle has moved from the mark. If it has, your plumbing is leaking somewhere.
Should you see or experience any of the above indications of an underground pipe leak, call a professional to locate and repair it. This is not a DIY job! Our experienced technicians at Certified Leak Detection use modern technology and techniques we have developed over 20 years in business. Most leaks on pressurized lines are located acoustically by listening through the slab, foundation, or wall with electronic equipment to determine the leak location.
Trusted by homeowners and business owners throughout Central Florida, our team is ready to answer your call. Contact us for quick, reliable service.