Practical tips to find and stop gas and water leaks
Did you know that most homes and businesses have a gas or water leak right now?
No matter how much work we do to police them, there will be gas leaks for as long as there are gas lines.
They do, it’s just that most leaks do not rise to the level of being a problem. It’s just a fact of the physics involved with liquids and gases… there is always a gap, however and nearly imperceptible, large enough for fluid to escape.
The question to ask yourself is if you have a leak that rises to the level of costing you money or, in the extreme, possibly harmful to your health.
Regarding the possibly dangerous gas leak, most regulations and standards, and the general rule most professional plumbers will adhere to, allow for a minimal amount of escaping fluid or gas before the pipe or connection counts under those regulations as a leak.
The good news is, you should be able to smell a gas leak long before it gets that bad, and water leaks often have warning signs that can be seen or heard.
Occasionally, however, such a gas leak can be trapped in an area where the vapor does not escape a wall enclosure or stranger circumstances. See below about the dangers of a leak that can cause Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.
That’s why it’s always a good idea to have your plumber do a leak check on any trip visit for another unrelated repair.
Here are some practical tips for water leak detection on your own until one of our Chicago plumbers can come by…
- Check the water bill: A family of four will typically use 12,000 gallons per month. Usage in excess of this amount indicates a likely leak. (Your results may vary!)
- Check toilets: Warn-out flappers are a primary water waster. Listen for toilets that refill between flushes. Here is a terrific visual tip: Find slow leaks by dropping food coloring in tanks; if the bowl takes color without a flush, you can be sure there’s a leak.
- Check interior faucets: Drips from sink and tub faucets, and shower heads, are easy to spot, but often ignored. Repair or replace warn parts to curb water-wasting drips. (And lower your water bills!)
- Look outside: Outside hose or irrigation system leaks are often overlooked. Check for drips and moist ground during dry weather to find preventable leaks. Some leaks can happen under ground where the pipes to your home travel to the curb. Look for areas over those pipes to see if the grass grows much faster than surrounding areas of the lawn.
- Get a digital leak detection system installed: The plumbing industry is being changed by mobile computer technology just as any other industry. A flow-based leak detection device, such as that offered from flologic.com will detect leaks as small as a drip per second and automatically shut them off right from your iPad or mobile phone. While the primary function of FloLogic is to prevent property damage, it has the added benefit of flagging hidden leaks to save natural resources and money on water bills. (We are seeing more and more of these projects, and so far, we are very impressed with them!)
- Gas Leak Detection: While you can likely smell a gas leak detection before it gets bad, they shouldn’t be trifled with. As soon as you smell it, call a plumber immediately. While a leak can worsen over time, they can also deteriorate quickly. Don’t take a chance. (Never hurts to ask your plumber to do a leak detection for you to be sure!)
That’s why you should always familiarize yourself with whether your gas supply can be turned off — especially if you’re in a new property or have recently made changes to the layout. If you do not have a digital device that can do the above, you may one day need to shut it off manually, when time is of the essence.
There can also be some clear signs from your household appliances that can indicate a leak, even if you can’t smell gas:
- Always look for a crisp blue flame, rather than an orange or yellow flame.
- Likewise, look out for a pilot light that always seems to blow out.
- On the outside of the appliance watch out for soot or any black or brown scorched areas around your appliances.
- Watch out for excessive condensation on the windows, or a musty smell in the air.
But in the case of a carbon monoxide leak, there are also particular physical symptoms you may suffer from if there is a leak.
If you are feeling lightheaded, ill, dizzy or nauseous you should go outside immediately. If the symptoms go away in the fresh air you could be feeling the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning.
The next step is to get fresh air into your home to help disperse the gas. Open all the windows and doors and leave them open to ensure air flow.
If you can’t open the windows because they’re locked or for any other reason, get outside and into the fresh air as soon as possible.
Here is a shocking story out of Dallas Texas about a recent drought and rain season that has damaged a community’s old steel pipes that transported natural gas:
From The Atlantic: Gas Leaks Can’t Be Tamed
The scent of gas is usually the most common sign of its presence, but pure natural gas is actually odorless. The familiar, rotten-egg aroma that you sense when the pilot light of your furnace blows out is produced by sulfur-based compounds called thiols that were added to natural gas to aid in its detection. This began after the 1937 New London School explosion in New London, Texas, considered the deadliest school disaster in American history. The explosion killed 295 people, many of them children. Ever since then, we’ve doctored natural gas to try to keep better tabs on it.