A Guide to Leaking Pipes
There is probably nothing more stressful than a leaking water pipe in the house. And on top of that is the fact that a leaking pipe has the potential to be catastrophic or possibly cause serious long term damage, such as wood rot, mould infestation or structural damage.
The important thing with a leak is to fix it as soon as it is detected, and before any more water damage is done. A leaking pipe can often be easily repaired, but the problem can sometimes be finding where the leak is.
Locating a leak
Locating a leak can take some time and is not necessarily an easy thing to do, so you should be prepared to spend a few hours on the task. There is also the potential to save money that you would have spent on getting a plumber to locate the leak before the repair is carried out. Listening as well as looking can be very helpful in finding a leak. Whilst many plumbing repairs can be carried out on a DIY basis there may be a point where you need to call a plumber.
Under no circumstances should you try to repair a leak with the water still turned on. Doing this has the potential to make the situation much worse.
If you are not sure whether the leak is coming from inside or outside the house and you have a water meter, shut off the stop cock inside and then check whether the meter is still turning. If it is then you have a leak between the meter and the house. Look for signs of a leak, which may show itself by soft muddy areas or patches of grass that are growing faster than elsewhere. This type of repair can be more costly as it requires excavation to assess the problem but it may be worth getting a plumber to assess whether you can make the repair yourself.
If the meter has stopped moving after you have turned the stop cock off then the problem is inside the house.
A pipe that is leaking inside a wall can be notoriously difficult to locate. The point on the wall where the water is coming through is not necessarily where the leak is. The fact is that water emerging from the bottom of the wall on the ground floor may be the result of a leak from a pipe in the bathroom on the first floor much across the other side of the room.
It can be helpful to carry a notepad and pencil whilst you are searching for a leak and sketch the basic details of pipe locations as you go, as memorising where the pipes are running may be too much to ask.
Remove the top from the cistern and listen for any hissing noises. This may help to locate where the leak is coming from. An interesting way of finding a leak in the toilet is to put a little food colouring in the cistern to allow you to follow the water trail.
A simple leak can be repaired with a few basic tools and a new fitting. Below is an example of how to repair a leak in a pipe run.
1. Turn off the water supply at the stopcock.
2. Use a hacksaw to cut out the damaged section and cut out just enough for the new fitting.
3. Remove any burrs from the inside of the pipe and clean the outside with an emery cloth.
4. Place a nut from a compression slip coupling on the end of each pipe.
5. Slide the compression slip coupling over the exposed pipe
6. Wrap some waterproof PTFE tape around the ends of the pipe and over the threads of the coupling.
7. Tighten the nuts onto the slip coupling so that they are hand tight and make one more quarter turn with a spanner to tighten the coupling to the pipe.
8. Turn the water supply back on and check for any leaks.
As with any leak the first thing to do is to locate the stop cock and turn that off. It may also be necessary to isolate the tank or boiler by turning the valves off either side. Also make sure that the heating itself, including the boiler, are turned off. The most common form of leak in a heating system is from a compression joint. If this is the case the joint can be tightened slightly, but be careful as over tightening can make the situation worse. You can also loosen the joint and re-apply PTFE tape to the joint before re-tightening, but you would need to drain the water from the system before attempting this.
Remember that a heating system is a complicated piece of machinery so if the problem appears to be more than you can handle it may be worth spending the money on a good plumber before making the situation worse.
When new pipes are installed you should always run water through them first and watch closely for any leaks before covering any of them over. Make sure that pipe work is secured properly as movement is the enemy of pipe joints. Remember that hot and cold will cause pipes to expand and contract, so don’t forget to allow for that when securing the pipe, especially when the pipe bends around corners.
Dealing with an emergency
If a pipe does burst you may be able to take some immediate action to avoid further water damage. The first thing to do is to attempt to shut off the stop cock. If you are unable to locate this then one possible course of action is to take a hammer and hit the end of the burst pipe until it is flattened or grab a pair of mole grips and use them to squeeze the end of the pipe closed. This will stop the water from coming out of the pipe. Although this action may cause a small amount of cosmetic damage around the pipe it could be far less than the potential water damage itself.