Ask the contractor: Littlest water leak can cause big problems

Q: I think we have a little water leak. What are some simple steps to take to investigate this before I have to call in a plumber?-Ed in Chino Valley

A: The smallest water leaks in your home add up quickly to gallons of wasted water and potentially hundreds of dollars per year on your water bill. Leaks are not always obvious and can go a long time before being noticed.

A toilet that continues running after you flush or a sink that drips after it is turned off will waste thousands of gallons of water a year. If the drip is hot water, you are paying for energy, too.

Dripping faucets and running toilets are pretty easy to detect. Underground leaks are invisible but can literally wash away the structural integrity of your home.

Here are five steps to detect a water leak.

• Locate your water meter.

• Turn off all indoor and outdoor water-using devices including evaporative coolers, water softeners and icemaker.

• Record the reading from your water meter.

• Wait 30 minutes and read and record the water meter again.

• If you have a different reading, there is a water leak.

If the water meter test indicates a possible leak, begin your search with the toilet. To check the toilet, put 10-15 drops of food dye into the tank. After 10-15 minutes, check the bowl for color. If there is color in your bowl, your toilet is leaking. The most likely culprit is the "flapper." The flapper is what keeps water in the tank from flowing into the bowl. Make sure the flapper fits properly on the valve seat. It should fall straight onto the valve seat. A worn flapper won't seal properly. To replace the flapper, turn off the valve and flush the toilet to drain the tank. Clean the seal and follow instructions for installation of the new flapper. Now run the dye test again. Approximately 90 percent of the leaks in a home are due to the toilet flapper. Tablet-type cleaning products placed in the tank can shorten the life of the flapper considerably.

Dripping faucets are not only a nuisance, they are a waste of precious water. Likely the problem is from the on and off handles, loose fittings or a worn washer. Standard stem faucets with separate handles for hot and cold water use flat washers with a hole in the middle for a washer screw. Replacing a washer is easy and requires the use of a wrench, screwdriver and, of course, a new washer.

Faucets dripping at 60 drips per minute equals 192 gallons per month or 2,304 gallons per year.

Faucets dripping at 90 drips per minute equals 310 gallons per month or 3,702 gallons per year.

Even a low-flow showerhead can waste water if it drips. A leaky showerhead might be caused by an old washer in the faucet handle.

Check your water supply to all of your appliances that use water. Sometimes the water leaks in these appliances are obvious, and other times the leak is hidden.

Some leaks are caused by carelessness. Make sure you give all sink and shower faucets a good tight turn to make sure they are completely off. Often, pipe leaks occur at the fittings. Look for leaks at pipe connection points for all of your household water use appliances. Do not forget to check the connections on your hot water tank.

If a hose bib or outdoor faucet leaks, and a good hand-tightening won't fix it, replace the old washer. Look for wet spots in the landscape to help locate broken pipes and leaky or broken sprinkler heads. It is important to inspect water lines, sprinklers, emitters and other components for possible leaks every month. Install a shut-off nozzle on your hose.

Installing a drip system is efficient and directs the water exactly where it is needed. Be sure to check irrigation timers on a monthly basis to ensure efficient operation.

If you have investigated all of the household plumbing fixtures and irrigations systems without finding a leak, it is possible there is a leak in the plumbing underneath the floor and these are often critical and a difficult to locate. Locating and finding a slab leak needs more investigative work such as looking for telltale symptoms that you can feel, see and hear Look for moist areas on the carpet or flooring; if it is a hot water leak, feel for areas on your floor that seem warm or hot to touch.

Watch your water bills and if you see a spike or increase in your bills, this is a good indication that you have a leak.

Also, if you have an evaporative cooler, a leaky cooler wastes a tremendous amount of water. Make sure the water level in the water pan is below the top of the overflow pipe. If the level is too high, bend the float valve arm downward (similar to adjusting the float ball in toilet tank).

Yavapai County Contractors Association (YCCA) is a professional association representing licensed, bonded and insured contractors, suppliers, distributors and business entities. Call YCCA for information on hiring a contractor at 778-0040. Submit questions to ycca@cableone.net or through www.ycca.org.