Essential Guide to Fixing a Leaky Pipe

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A leaky pipe can be costly and cause plenty of damage to your home, especially if it is not detected and treated immediately. Our Essential Guide to Fixing a leaky pipe gives you the first steps to avoid water damage and some temporary fixes for your leaky pipe while waiting for the plumber to arrive. If you’re handy, we have details on repairing your leaky pipes yourself. Of course, your action will depend upon the type and location of the leaky pipe you have. 

leaky pipe
Damage Buddy Tip: Have a family meeting and make sure everyone in your home knows the location of your water shutoff valve and how to shut it off and how to shut off the water source to your appliances. Keep the right pipe wrench or whatever tool is required to do that handy. If you detect a leaky pipe, your first step should always be to turn off the water to the affected appliance or to turn off your water supply to limit the water damage as much as possible. The water source should remain off as your work on the repair. 

Why you must fix a leak immediately

A leaky pipe left unchecked can create expensive and dangerous water damage to your home. Even a small leak can escalate into water damage that can cause extensive damage to your walls, ceilings, and floors, and can also lead to structural damage. 

It can introduce mold into your home as quickly as within 24-48 hours. Mold can be a health hazard to you, your family, and your pets. It can compromise your possessions like important papers, documents, and stored items in your basement or attic.

Understanding the different types of leaky pipes

There are all sorts of leaky pipes. It may be a slow pinhole leak that is causing droplets of water that, over time, can damage your ceiling, drywall, or floors, or it could be a significant leak from a burst pipe that is pouring water into your basement or ceiling. You may have a simple leaky toilet that can easily be controlled and fixed if noticed soon. 

Burst pipes from freezing temperatures are very common and cause catastrophic damage to your home when the water is turned back on. Your leaky pipe might be as simple as a loose joint, or more significant like a corroded pipe.

IMPORTANT: Your first step is to minimize water damage by shutting your water source off. 

Your next step is to locate your leaky pipe and determine the extent of the required repair and the potential water damage that may threaten your home and your family. This will also determine the repair’s urgency and whether the repair is something you can and want to take on yourself. 

Finding hidden plumbing leaks 

A significant water leak will not be hard to find! 

If you know you have a pipe that has burst or a broken connection to an appliance, you will soon see evidence of water, and water damage to your home will quickly follow. On the other hand, some leaks may be more subtle. You may notice evidence of water damage, such as staining on your drywall or ceiling or pooling water or condensation on your floors. 

Look for bubbling or cracked paint or wallpaper.

Remember, “Stop, look, and listen.”

If you don’t see indications of a leak, you may hear it or smell it. 

Be alert for a dripping sound. 

And use your sense of smell. Dampness and mold, or a musty odor in your home is another clue. Sometimes you may notice a significant increase in your water bill. Follow our tips to troubleshoot for leaks using your meter.

Damage Buddy Tip: Monitor your water bill each month to help detect hidden leaky pipes in and around your homes. Even a small leak or faucet drip will add up and show on your water bill. You can monitor the water meter itself between statements. Check your meter following the directions below to determine if the leak is inside your home or outside.

Check your water meter, taking a picture with your phone of the numbers displayed on the meter. Turn the water main to your home off for an hour and recheck it and see if the numbers have moved. If your meter is on the street, the leak could be outside of your home. If so, turn off the shutoff valve to your home and test again.

Once you know the leak is inside, start with fixtures under the cabinets in your kitchen and baths to look for any sign of water. Look for water around your washer, dishwasher, and water heater. Check ceilings, walls, and floors carefully.

Water damage can occur even in brand new homes, so every homeowner should be vigilant and keep an eye out for signs of leaky pipes and potential water damage. 

Should I call a plumber, or can I fix a leaky pipe myself?

As a rule, if you face a plumbing issue that is threatening significant damage to your house, you should take steps to shut off the water flow and then call a plumber immediately. Water damage can be costly and even dangerous, and a significant water leak should be treated as an emergency. 

Damage Buddy Tip: Keep a list of emergency numbers including your plumber, electrician, the insurance company, and local authorities handy for everyone in the house, and on your phone. Time is of the essence in an emergency, and that’s not the time to look for a plumber or try to remember “that guy you used the last time.”

Some emergency steps to take when you have a leaky pipe

  • Turn off the water source immediately. If it is a toilet, turn off the valve. Remember to turn the valve clockwise to turn it off. “Righty, tightly, lefty, loosey.” 
  • Turn off your water heater (after the main water valve is off.) You want to avoid damage to the unit from heat building up inside and bursting or overheating. Turn the gas off first if it is a gas heater. 
  • Look for any (and all) leaks. There may be more than one. Use plumbers tape to control small leaks, and place buckets under leaks.
  • Turn off outside faucets to drain the water that remains in your pipes after you shut off the water main.
  • Don’t forget to call the plumber. They may have extra tips for you to follow while you wait for them to arrive. Ask!

How to stop or seal a leaky pipe

There are three temporary fixes for a leaky pipe until a permanent repair can be completed.

If the leak is on a straight piece of the pipe, there are several temporary fixes you may want to do yourself if you are handy and have the necessary tools. 

  • Apply an epoxy putty over the leak. Turn off the water in the pipe and drain any water from the leaky line. Tear off enough putty for the area, and knead it in your hands to make it pliable. Following the manufacturer’s instructions, apply it, and allow it to cure. Turn on the water to test it. 
  • Grab a pipe repair kit at your home supply store. Turn off the closest water source and empty the pipes you are working on. Follow the directions to activate and apply the fiberglass tape by wrapping it around the leaky area. 
  • For a more extensive repair, use repair clamps. Turn off the water and drain the pipes you are working on. File any rough areas that might penetrate the patch you are using. Apply the patch and clamp to overlap the leaky area and tighten the clamps. Turn on the water to test. 
  • These fixes are temporary. Plan for the permanent repair to prevent a recurrence that may be more serious. 

Repairing a leaky faucet

A leaky faucet is often a common and easy problem for a homeowner to manage. Here are the steps to follow:

  • Start by turning off the water shutoff valve under the sink
  • Drain out any water remaining in the faucet.
  • Close the sink stopper and line the sink bowl with a towel in case you drop any tools or parts.
  • Determine if the leak is in the hot or cold faucet and whether it is leaking from the tap or the handle.
  • A leaking tap will require replacing a washer.
  • A leaking handle will require you to replace faucet stem or O-ring. Remove the decorative top from the faucet handle, remove the screw this will reveal, and then remove the handle. Remove the handle stem assembly by turning the locknut counterclockwise and lift it off. You’ll see another screw at the bottom of the stem assembly. Remove it and the washer it sits on. Take the washer to a home supply store and get the exact same thing. Replace the screw as well if it looks worn. Clean off any corrosion, replace the water and screw and reposition the stem. Put on the locknut, attach the faucet handle, and the decorative top. Turn the water back on at the valve and test!

Your repair may be more extensive and include replacing sections of pipes, soldering copper prices, managing leaks that are under cement floors, or other more complex work. Do not hesitate to call in a plumber to have the job done professionally and avoid further damage later.

Who do I call to fix a leaky pipe?

If you have a leaky pipe, you should call a plumber immediately unless you know what the source of the leak is, that the water flow is minimal and has been contained, and you are handy enough and have the tools to repair yourself.

If you have and are experiencing substantial water damage, you should immediately reach out to a water damage repair and remediation specialist. They will have the experience and the equipment to contain the damage, prevent additional damage, and dry out and restore your home.

Remember to call your insurance company and be sure to document all damage and related expenses as you go along.

What is the cost of fixing a leaky pipe?

The cost to repair a leaky pipe will depend upon several factors, including the location, the cause of the leak, and the required repair. It can range from $125 for a leaky faucet repair to up to $800 or more to repair a pipe. Plumbers usually charge by the hour and average between $45 to $150 per hour. They also often charge a service fee that may or may not be applied to the repair.

Does my homeowner’s insurance cover repair cost and water damage from a leaky pipe?

Homeowners insurance usually covers “sudden and unexpected water damage” due to a plumbing malfunction or broken pipe. The resulting damage is often included as well. But warning, if the damage was from a slow leak, or flooding it is another story. Some policies also exclude coverage or limit coverage for mold. Be sure to call your insurance agent promptly and keep meticulous records of damage and expenses.

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