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How To Plumbing Series: Water Leaks

How To Plumbing Series: Water Leaks

See the first post for a brief introduction on this How To Plumbing Series

In the first two installments of the How To Plumbing Series we looked at plumbing emergencies and toilets. In this post we examine troublesome water leaks.

There is nothing more frustrating than completing a plumbing project, turning the water back on . . . and finding a drip-drip-drip leak.

Don’t panic. No need to call a Decatur or Hartselle, GA plumber just yet.

Retrace your steps. If it’s just an under-the-sink repair, unscrew the PVC fastening nuts, remove the pipe section, inspect. Look for cracks, misaligned washers. Does everything fit together without twisting or torquing the pipe? Even the slightest misalignment can cause a tiny leak. Refit and refasten . . . and there’s still a leak.


You still don’t need to stomp off in a huff and call a Decatur or Hartselle plumber. Take a deep breath. You might not be doing any wrong. Sometimes fittings are low quality or defective and there is nothing to do but throw them away and try another.

If the fittings are fine, make sure you are taking the appropriate steps to get a water-tight connection.

What Are Common Causes of Basic Water Leaks?

Pipe are Joined by Mis-threaded Fittings

Threaded fittings, whether metal or plastic, can leak if the threads are damaged by mis-threading it onto its mate.

Once some force — or too much force — has been applied to get the pieces to fit together, the male or female piece may be damaged beyond use. It does not take a lot to screw up a fitting.

Take your time, align properly, and carefully thread the fittings. Inspect visually and use a sensitive touch to ensure the pieces are threading properly before applying any more force to tighten fittings. There’s no reason to mash pieces together other than you’re in a rush to get done.

Even when threaded fittings are joined properly, the space between the threads is wide enough to allow water to trickle out. Use either pipe compound — better known as pipe “dope” — or Teflon tape on the threads to create a watertight seal.

Both are commonly used by Decatur or Hartselle plumbers and are cheap and readily available at area home improvement centers, hardware stores, or plumbing supplies. Chances are you have 10 rolls of partially-used teflon tape and three tubs of aging pipe dope in a toolbox in the garage you’ve forgotten about.

Another culprit for mis-threaded fittings comes when you are making a change to the piping infrastructure — cutting a new piece of pipe to replace a segment, shortening a length of pipe, or making an extension. If the joins are not accurate, you may be forcing the pipes together at the joints and a leak results from the stress. It doesn’t take a lot — even an eighth of an inch off can introduce a small leak, forcing you to correct the problem.

Integral Parts or Washers are Worn

If the fitting uses an integral part or washer, make certain that the part is undamaged (not dinged, bent, cracked) and properly inserted and seated in place.

A fitting with a washer that is not properly seated may feel tight but the dinged, bent, cracked (or even missing) washer will allow water to seep around it and cause the joint to leak.

As noted, when it comes to plumbing, even the smallest gap can lead to a leaky pipe and, if left unattended, can lead to bigger and more costly problems that may require the expertise of a Decatur or Hartselle plumber to fix properly.

Soldered Copper Joints are not Installed Properly

Most homeowners don’t mess with copper pipes, but every now and then (especially in older homes) a need arises and a fix or retrofit must be made.

The most basic fix can be made by Do It Yourselfers experienced and comfortable with residential plumbing. However; if you’re unsure of your plumbing skill or the job looks too complicated, definitely call a Decatur or Hartselle plumber. It’s not worth the mess, hassle, and added expense to do it on your own.

Soldered copper joints can leak for a variety of reasons.

  • The pipe and fitting must be thoroughly clean. A dirty surface will interfere with the solder flow and prevent a proper seal from being made. It’s easy for homeowners who do not solder pipes often to forget to clean the joints or to “blow through it” and not do a good job.
  • Homeowners also ignore the need for applying flux to the pipe and fitting. The acid flux prepares the surface and creates the best conditions for solder to flow into the joint.
  • Another common cause of leaking sweated solder joints is the mistaken belief that the solder is melted into the fitting. The heated joint melts the solder and capillary action draws the soldier up into the joint.
  • When soldering a copper fitting, make certain to heat the pipe evenly, all the way around before applying solder. The solder must flow in all at once, all the way around or the solder may leave gaps that allow water to leak through.
  • Overheating a soldered joint can cause the pipe and fittings to distort or deform, in which case a tight fitting joint is impossible. If a joint is overheated, the fitting should be thrown away and the segment of pipe cut back a few inches before making a fresh attempt. Heat the joint so that the pipe becomes a bright copper but not changing color to black or sooty. Ease off as the flame passing pipe starts to turn blue-green.

Plastic Pipe Fittings are Not Installed Properly

Plastic pipes with slip-fittings use solvents — like a purple primer —to soften the plastic of the two pieces and then fuse together. Leaks from these joints can be the result of a crack in the fitting, improper preparation, the wrong type of glue, or just not enough glue.

  • Plastic pipe should be cut with square ends, all burrs should be removed, and the pipe should be cleaned with an appropriate solvent for the type of pipe you are working with.
  • After the parts have been cleaned with a solvent, apply the pipe glue. Use the included applicator to swirl around the pipe two or three times and covering the entire stub that will go into the fitting.
  • Quickly insert the pipe into the pipe into the fitting while giving a quarter to half turn. This should yield a sturdy, watertight joint.

How to Test for Water Leaks

Leaks due to mis-threaded pipes are one thing. What happens if your plumbing system is leaking water? And we’re not talking a dripping faucet or running toilet here.

What about the plumbing lines underground or in places you might not notice?

Testing your water supply system is something you can do and does not require the assistance of a Decatur or Hartselle plumber.

  • Turn off all water-using appliances, including dishwasher, washing machine, faucets, sprinkler system, and ice maker.
  • Don’t flush any toilets.
  • Next, locate the water meter for your home.
  • At the meter, open the cover and look for the meter dial (it has numbers on it). It may be under a little metal or plastic lid. Write down the numbers. Also, look for a little triangle (often red) or small dial. This indicator moves whenever water is flowing and will move even when a small amount of water is flowing.
  • Wait at least 30 minutes, even better a couple hours.
  • Remember not to use any water, including flushing a toilet.
  • Then check the numbers on the meter.
  • If the numbers have changed, water is flowing somewhere and probably being wasted.

Isolating the leak can be done with a little plumbing detective work.

  • Once you have ruled out the main supply line, turn on the water supply again.
  • Go around the house and turn off the water supply valves to toilets, sinks and appliances then check the meter again.
  • If the meter didn’t change, then one of those services is leaking water and you can turn each one on one-at-a-time until you find the culprit.
  • If the meter did change, it could be your yard irrigation system, a leaking pipe somewhere around your home or something such as an automatic pool refilling system, fountain or another similar water using device.

If you cannot find the leak reasonably quickly, reduce the guesswork and your frustration by calling a Decatur or Hartselle plumber or plumbing contractor for assistance.


Knowing the DWV (drain, waste, and vent) system and septic tanks in order to better understand clogs and what to do about them.