Slab leaks are a common problem in homes that are built with a concrete slab foundation instead of a traditional foundation with either a basement or crawl space. Most houses in colder climates have a basement or crawl space with solid concrete walls, as this provides better insulation and protection against winter temperatures. Since cold really isn’t an issue in California, most homes are instead just built on a concrete slab that’s somewhere between 4 and 8 inches thick. In fact, surveys have shown that more than 95% of all houses in the state have slab foundations. The main reason for this is simply because slab foundations are a whole lot cheaper to build compared to any other type.
The only issue with a slab foundation is that much of the building’s plumbing is buried underneath the concrete slab, which can make detecting leaks in any of the water lines or drain lines much more difficult to spot. In a basement or crawl space foundation, the only parts of the plumbing system located underneath the foundation are the main water line and the main sewer line that empties into the municipal sewer system. While these lines can still leak, the chances of leaks are much less than with a slab foundation where most all of the water lines and drain pipes are underneath the concrete.
Having a slab leak underneath your home has the potential to cause serious damage to your house and its underlying structure. Slab leaks can be extremely difficult to spot and can often go undetected for weeks, months, or even years. In this article, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about slab leaks, including what exactly they are, how they can occur, and how to spot the signs that can indicate you have a slab leak underneath your home.
What Is a Slab Leak?
Leaks in the water or drain lines within a house are typically referred to as pinhole leaks, whereas any leak that occurs underneath the foundation is called a slab leak. Slab leaks can occur in the supply or pressure side of your plumbing system, which means in any of the cold or hot water lines. They can also happen in the drainage side of the system, which refers to all of the drain lines that carry wastewater away from your sinks, showers, toilets, and other plumbing fixtures.
Leaks in the supply side are typically much easier to identify, as they will often result in your water bill being much higher than normal. However, this is not always the case if there is only a small leak in one of the water lines. Slab leaks in the drainage side of the plumbing system can be far more difficult to spot since they will not lead to an increase in your water usage. A drainage leak can also be a more serious issue since it will lead to contaminated wastewater and even sewage seeping out underneath your home.
If a slab leak goes undetected, all of the water seeping out can cause the foundation to settle and potentially lead to the slab cracking. In extreme cases, a slab leak could cause so much damage to the house’s structure that the residence is no longer safe to inhabit. All of the water can also attract termites and lead to a major infestation or quickly cause issues with mold and fungal growth. A slab leak can cause serious water damage and ruin your wood flooring, carpets, drywall, and other furnishings. All of these potential issues are why it is imperative that you immediately contact a licensed plumber if you ever suspect a slab leak under your home.
Common Causes of Slab Leaks
Slab leaks most commonly result from copper water lines slowly corroding over time, and this is especially common when hard water is present. As a house settles, the pipes can rub against the foundation and slowly develop leaks over time due to abrasion. Abrasion can also occur simply due to the normal contraction and expansion of copper pipes. Poor construction or improper installation of the plumbing lines can result in slab leaks quickly developing as well.
Understanding the Potential Signs of a Slab Leak
The fact that slab leaks can be so hard to spot means that they will often remain undetected until the foundation actually starts settling or the home begins to shift. When this happens, you may notice that your doors no longer close properly or you suddenly have large cracks in your walls.
More serious slab leaks can sometimes be easier to spot, as you will often hear the sound of running water underneath your floor. If you do hear running water, you should immediately shut off all of your plumbing fixtures so that there is no water running in your household. If you still hear the sound of running water when all plumbing fixtures are closed, you can usually be fairly certain your property has a slab leak.
Slab leaks can also sometimes result in hot spots on your floor, and this is most common when there is a leak in one of your hot water lines. Carpet that is wet or starts to develop mildew is another fairly sure sign of a slab leak. The same is true if your water bill suddenly spikes from one month to the next or you notice standing water pooling around the perimeter of your home.
Your water meter can also help identify slab leaks in the supply side of your plumbing. If the dial on the water meter continues to spin when all plumbing fixtures are closed and no water is running inside or outside, it is an obvious indication that there is a leak somewhere in your water lines.
You can also check for more minor leaks by checking the meter reading before going to bed and then again in the morning. As long as you did not flush a toilet or use a sink during the night, the reading should be the same in the morning as it was at night. If the reading is not the same, then you can be almost there is a leak in the supply side of your plumbing system.
How Professional Plumbers Detect Slab Leaks
If you do notice any signs that can potentially indicate a slab leak underneath your home, it is important to contact a professional plumber immediately. Plumbers have several different methods that can be extremely effective at identifying slab leaks and pinpointing exactly where the leak is. The most common method is to use special listening equipment to detect the sound of running water or even minor drips. A camera inspection can also be used to check for cracks or damage in any of the drain lines that can cause them to leak. Some of the other options include using thermal imaging cameras to detect hot or cold spots under the foundation or a moisture reader to check for the presence of water under the concrete slab.
The expert team at We Care Plumbing, Heating and Air specializes in slab leak detection and repair. We can quickly determine if your home has a slab leak and what the best option is for fixing the leak. We can also take care of all of your other plumbing repair and installation needs or assist if you need any air conditioning or heating services. For more information on our slab leak detection services or to schedule an appointment for any plumbing or HVAC service in the Orange, Murrieta, or Temecula areas, contact us today.
Author Bio: Rusty Cochran
Rusty Cochran is the President of We Care Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning. We Care began humbly, operating in his family’s living room. Under Rusty’s strong leadership, We Care has grown from 2 employees to over 200 employees. We Care Plumbing, Heating and Air has gained recognition across the HVAC industry, receiving numerous awards and certifications, including being named the ACCA Contractor of the Year, The Map Presidential Award several times, Angie’s List Super Service Award, NATE certification, and multiple Dave Lennox Awards. LinkedIn Profile