Spring is usually a wonderful time, with the new life and growth exploding out of seemingly everywhere. Here in Salt Lake City, however, we may find that our homes need a bit of maintenance due to the wear of winter. This is equally true for your plumbing, especially if you have uninsulated pipes outside. Pipes underground are mostly naturally insulated by the ground itself, so they are a bit different from exposed outside piping. If you only have a small leak, it may not be immediately obvious you have a leak. Sometimes a small leak may not seem like much, but there can be some big problems from even a small leak in a seemingly harmless place (such as a constantly running toilet or a drip from a faucet). Once detected your plumber can fix the leak for you, but the longer a leak goes unfixed the bigger the damage it causes.

What kind of problems can leaks cause? Well, the first is the loss of water itself. In a desert environment like Salt Lake City, especially in a drought like we are, water is a very precious commodity. How much do you stand to lose to a leak? A slow leak of about ten drips per minute wastes about 43 gallons a month, and yearly you are losing about 525 gallons.  To give you an idea about how much water that is, the average bathtub holds about 30 to 50 gallons of water. Using 40 gallons as a basic estimate, the 525 gallons of water converts to roughly 13 bathtubs worth of water lost a year for only a small leak! How much could this leak cost you? That depends partially on where you live, what season it is, and what other damage is caused by the leak.

In Salt Lake County, for example, they charge at the lowest rate during winter. Currently that rate is set at $1.21 per unit (or 748 Gallons) used during the billing period. Which doesn’t seem like a big deal, at first. After all, that would seem to only be an extra dollar or so a year, right? But that is only the winter pricing. During the summer months, the prices change slightly, according to a representative at the Salt Lake City Public Utilities. During the summer, when people typically use the most water, Salt Lake City Public Utilities uses what they call a block system. For the first ten units of water you use, you are still charged the $1.21 for that amount of water. Anything used after that is billed at a different rate. For example, from the Eleventh unit to the thirtieth, they charge $1.73. Currently the price goes up to $2.53 at the highest tier. Some other counties or cities nearby have been forced to raise their prices higher due to water shortages, but these are the rates Salt Lake City currently charges. So you have anywhere from a dollar to a couple extra dollars on water for a small leak. Obviously the bigger the leak the more it costs, and the cost can grow exponentially the bigger the leak and the longer it is left unfixed. One way to stop water prices from rising is to not run water you don’t need, like turning off the faucet in between rinses when brushing your teeth, or filling the sink instead of letting the water run when you do dishes. Another way is to quickly contact your plumber to get your leaks fixed, even if they seem like a small problem at first.

After the charge for the water itself, there is the cost of whatever has been ruined. The usual casualties to a leak include drywall, flooring, whatever material the ceiling is made out of, wood, insulation, electronics, and if the leak is outside it can also ruin lawns and gardens if not caught in time. Leaking water can also lead to mold. Your plumber does not fix drywall, flooring or ceiling materials, that is usually handled by other professional services. Obviously, the more repair people you need, the more you are going to have to pay. Getting your plumber in as quickly when there is a problem helps to limit the damages done to your belongings and home.

Over time leaks can even lead to black mold,  which can be dangerous. Why is black mold dangerous? Most mold can be dangerous in some ways. Black mold, however, has been linked to several health issues. First, some people are allergic or sensitive to mold, or can become allergic to it through exposure. Normally a minor reaction to mold (the more common symptoms) are the same as regular allergies or “hay fever”. The more severe reactions to mold can include fever and shortness of breath. Immunocompromised people and people with conditions that affect the lungs like asthma and COPD are at an increased risk for infections from mold and may even get fungal infections in their lungs. Mold, weather black mold or otherwise, is not something plumbers handle, so you will end up having to have the mold treated by a different service. Sometimes mold remediation companies can get rid of mold without getting rid of what the mold was growing on, but often the material it was growing on has to be replaced as well.

So what can be done about leaks? How can damage be prevented as much as possible? The first step is to keep your plumbing regularly maintained. The second is to regularly check places you know develop leaks. Some of the usual suspects include dripping faucets, constantly running toilets, areas where plumbing meets the wall, sink, fridge, and washing machine. Swamp coolers also gain a tendency to leak if not maintained properly, so those should be checked as well.  Here are a few of the signs your plumbing has a leak:

          1. An unexpected increase in the water bill.

If the leak is somewhere you can’t see it, like in the wall, you may not know there is a leak until the problem gets worse. If you are seeing a rise in your water bill that you didn’t expect, whether that is at the Salt Lake City rates or not, there is a simple way to check for a leak. First turn off all water you are using in the house. Not the main waterline itself, just any faucets, washers, showers, or other sources of water you may be using. Including outside water if the source of your house water is the same source as your yard water. So no running hoses or sprinklers, for example. Next locate your water meter. I have yet to see one of these located inside a house, and it is usually located outside in either the back or side yards close to the house. If you cannot find your water meter, you can call the Public Utilities Department in your area and they should be able to tell you where your water meter is located. The phone number for the Salt Lake City County Public Utilities Department is (801) 493 – 6900. Once your water is not in use and you have located your water meter, you will need to check the meter to see if water is still running. For most meters this is fairly simple. Most meters have either a disk or a triangle that moves when water is flowing into the house, like when a faucet is turned on or a toilet flushed. If the meters indicator is moving, water is still being used somewhere in the house. If you check your appliances and faucets and cannot find water in use, you have a leak. Your plumber can help locate the leak if you are unable to find it. Sometimes leaks inside the wall can be tricky to locate before they show obvious signs of a leak. A video inspection of your pipes is a simple test your plumber can do to help find a leak quickly.

          2. Mold and/or a strong musty smell

Since mold tends to form where it is moist, it can often be one of the first warning signs (besides actual water) that a leak is nearby. It’s true that mold can grow in a shower, sink, fridge, or toilet if not cleaned often enough, but if mold forms somewhere else, it is most likely an indication of a leak. For example, a previously mold-free wall far from the bathroom or kitchen might suddenly sprouting up little patches of mold for no apparent reason. Most likely this stems from a pipe inside the walls having a leak. The same is true for ceilings as well. Technically it is also true for the floor, but here in Salt Lake City the floor of houses are usually covered up by padding and carpet, or tile, or linoleum, etc. So the mold may still be there, but you are unlikely to see it until far too late. So if you have mold that shows up on a wall, ceiling, or floor, by the pipes under the sink, or around any places pipes connect to the wall, be sure to check thoroughly for a leak by sight and by using the water meter test mentioned above. Getting this taken care of as soon as possible is important because any wall, insulation, and/or other materials that have grown the mold will need to be treated for mold, and/or replaced depending on the severity. Your plumber probably does not handle mold, so you will need a separate service to get rid of mold. The longer the leak continues, the worse the spread of the mold and the more you are going to have to pay to have the mold removed. Even if you cannot see the mold, for example if the mold is in the wall, it can be detected by the strong musty smell it produces after a time. A video inspection of your pipes is also a good option to find leaks if you are smelling that musky odor but cannot find the source.

          3. Paint bubbles, cracks, or sagging of paint

Sometimes before and sometimes after mold appears on the wall, you may notice some odd behavior in your previously flat wall or ceiling paint. If the paint seems to form bubbles (after the setting of the paint and not something caused by the way it was painted), it is an indication that water is getting between the paint and the wall somehow. You might also see the same reaction if rain or sprinkler water were to come in from the window and drip down a wall for a long time.  The paint bubbles caused by a leak are usually big enough to be noticeably different from other surrounding areas.  After the initial “bubbling stage” has passed, the bubbles may dry out and crack, especially if the water has found a new path. If the bubbles get too full of water, air, or loose the bonds with the other paint around it and the wall then the paint may sag down and away from the wall slightly.

          4. Sagging of drywall, or other wall/ceiling/flooring material

This one is mostly self explanatory. It should be noted, however, that if the actual material of the walls, ceiling, and flooring are buckling, warping, sagging, etcetera, than it is either a very big leak or has been ongoing for quite some time. Diagnosing the size of the leak and how long it will take to repair is a simple matter for your plumber.

          5. Spraying/standing water

Again, this one is mostly self explanatory. If you find a bunch of puddles in your yard where you haven’t been watering, if a geyser is shooting out of the lawn or the wall, or the ceiling. You have at least a leak, if not outright broken pipes. The severity of the spray, or amount of standing water is a strong indicator to how big the leak is, or if the pipe may actually be broken. You may also notice your carpet is damp or soaked in places where it should not be, this can also be an indication of spraying or standing water that is coming up from a leak below the floor.

Once the leak has been detected, be sure to contact Your Plumber Salt Lake City to get the leak fixed right away. Remember, the longer the leak goes unfixed the more damage it does to your home, and the more your plumber and other professionals will need to fix.