It is estimated that about 20% of homes have a main service line leak between the water meter in the street and the home. Short run pipes between the home and meter are just as susceptible to leaks as long run pipes. So don’t be swayed by the distance between the two.
Its also important to note that the water utility is responsible for any leak to the meter and the homeowner is liable from the meter onward.
Why will an exterior pipe leak?
Here are the 3 common reasons that the pipe between your meter and home will leak.
1) Tree roots and other vegetation that have shallow and invasive roots will push up against your pipe and crack it.
2) The pH of the soil can cause your pipes to degrade. Whether copper, plastic or any other material, the pH of your soil can cause the pipe wall to weaken and break. Soil pH changes over time because of the pH of the water absorbed by the soil, fertilizer applied to your garden, and environmental contaminants runoff.
3) Soil expansion and compression will also cause your pipe to break. Having soil that is composed of sand or clay will cause “flexing” of your soil when saturated with water. Having concrete or asphalt over your water main service line does not necessarily provide protection. In fact, it may create a hard frame that restricts the movement of the soil when it expands. Thus when water seeps under the concrete or asphalt and saturates the soil, there is limited room for soil expansion. In cold climates saturated soil may freeze and cause soil contraction. Both conditions put pressure on your service line and may cause cracks or complete ruptures.
Is there a leak?
To determine if you have a water main service line leak, you should first shut off your home’s water at the House Shut-Off Valve. Then go visually check the meter. None of the dials or digital read-out should be changing. If any dial is spinning (even slowly) or the digital read out is incrementing, you have a leak.
If there is no water flow registered on the meter, we recommend you take a picture. Go run some errands and return at least 30 minutes later to compare for any changes. Many times slow flowing water does not immediately register on the meter.
If the meter reading has now changed when compared to your previous reading (picture), you have a leak.
Before you call a pro?
Trace the water line to see if you have an abnormally wet spot in your garden. That could be the location of the leak.
Another check is to listen for water flowing. At times if the leak is large, you may be able to hear the water flowing. So walk along the outside of the home listening for water.
If you are fit and motivated to do some work, you should dig up the dirt above the service line to try to find the specific location of the leak.
Locating the leak yourself will save you on the cost of the plumber searching for the leak.
What to look for in a leak detection professional?
Be sure that the plumber is a licensed and bonded; and if you haven’t found the leak make sure they specialize in leak detection.
Check BBB and social media reviews to eliminate plumbers that provide poor service.
Again if you haven’t located the leak, ask the plumber what sort of technology they use to locate the leak. Ultrasonic technology is used for both underground and in wall leak detection. The other technology used is infrared cameras that uses thermal technology to “see” a hot spot or a cold spot in the wall or ground.
As with any home project, get at least three quotes and the details of what will be done for that price. Don’t shy away from a free inspection. Some very good and reputable plumbers use this attention getting approach as a promotional tactic to get your attention.
written by: Emilio Vargas II