During the construction of residences and businesses, water and sewer lines are frequently installed beneath or within the concrete slabs that form the building foundation. For a variety of reasons, these buried lines can spring leaks and release significant amounts of water into the surrounding area. The commonly accepted term for this situation is a slab leak. Slab leaks have many potential consequences. One of the most hazardous of these outcomes is the onset of a mold infestation. Let’s take a closer look at the connection between mold formation and leaking pipes beneath or inside your building’s foundation.
How Do Slab Leaks Form?
Slab leaks have a range of possible causes. For example, a water or sewer line underneath or within your foundation can spring a leak if the original installer did an inadequate job laying that line or used substandard line materials. Other likely sources of this problem include:
- Excessively high pressure levels inside a buried water or sewer line
- Excessively high pressure placed on the exterior of a buried water or sewer line
- Corrosion on the interior or exterior of a buried metal line
- Ongoing abrasion or friction on the exterior of a buried water or sewer line, and
- Highly acidic or alkaline water that damages the interior of a buried line
What Is Mold?
Mold is the common name for a vast family of fungi capable of growing on any damp surface. (Experts refer to the early stages of mold growth as mildew.) The various members of this family actually play a vital role in the day-to-day health of the planet by breaking down all kinds of organic material and enriching soil. However, most people know mold as a serious indoor hazard. Within one to two days of first forming in damp environments, a mold colony will start reproducing by releasing large amounts of tiny spores into the air. When these spores land in suitable conditions, they will also establish themselves and grow.
Since it feeds on organic material, mold must spread if it’s going to survive when its current food source runs out. Practically speaking, this means that a mold infestation can grow rapidly and lead to progressively larger amounts of property damage. Unless you take steps specifically designed to halt this growth, the fungi will keep spreading as long as they can find something to digest. Exposure to mold can also trigger a range of mild, moderate or severe health problems, including:
- Coughing and wheezing
- Asthma attacks
- Burning, tearing and other forms of eye irritation
- Nose irritation capable of triggering sneezing or a bloody nose
- Hives, rashes and other forms of skin irritation
- Otherwise unexplained body aches and pains
- Memory disruptions
- Headaches, and
- Otherwise unexplained changes in your normal mood
From a health standpoint, the most dreaded form of mold is toxic or black mold, produced by a species called S. atra. The telltale sign of the presence of S. atra is mold with a slime-like texture and green-black color. Black mold usually develops in wood or cellulose products (including paper) that receives repeated exposure to moisture.
How a Slab Leak Can Lead to Mold Formation
Slab leaks often occur just a short distance from one of the most common construction materials: drywall. Unfortunately, the gypsum and paper used to make drywall act as a very efficient sponge for the moisture released by a leak. In turn, wet drywall acts as a near-perfect breeding ground for various species of mold. Taken together, these facts mean that a slab leak that reaches the drywall in your home or place of business can quickly lead to the onset of a rapidly spreading mold problem. Unless identified and corrected, this chain of events can potentially lead to thousands of dollars of material damage. It can also lead to a “sick” building and intolerable indoor conditions.
How Can You Tell If You Have a Leak?
If you notice indications of mold growth (e.g., a mildewy smell or visible mold spots) in the interior of a building that has a concrete slab or foundation, you should consider a slab leak as the possible source of the problem. A number of additional issues can point to the presence of such a leak, including:
- Unexplained pools of water on the floor
- Warped hardwood flooring
- Damp carpeting
- Wet or stained baseboards
- “Hot spots” on the floor of your building
- An unexplained loss of water pressure
- A continually running water heater, and
- Gradual or rapid increases in your water bill that don’t have another known cause
Steps Needed to Correct the Problem
If a slab leak is the source of your mold problems, you must find and eliminate the leak source. Not too long ago, this meant cutting through a concrete slab in numerous locations to track down the leak. However, modern-day detection methods now allow trained plumbing professionals to pinpoint the source of a slab leak before any digging begins. You can potentially halt mold growth in any affected drywall by disinfecting with a bleach solution or a commercial product designed specifically for this purpose. Unfortunately, if the mold damage is severe, you will likely have to remove and replace one or more drywall sheets.
Correction of a slab leak also means repair or replacement of the damaged water or sewer lines. If the problem appears in just a single section of line or pipe, your plumbing professional may be able to perform a spot repair that calls for minimal removal of the slab/foundation material. However, multiple leaks or serious line degradation typically indicate the need for a replacement. In the past, a plumber could only replace a line buried within or beneath concrete by ripping up the material along the entire path of the job. Today, your provider may instead rely on modern repiping methods that cure the leak while limiting the collateral damage to your slab or foundation.
A slab leak can lead to hundreds or thousands of dollars in expenditures. Typically, costs are lowest for isolated leaks that only developed recently. Before undertaking any work, a reputable plumber like the experts at Orange Coast Plumbing will explain the situation in detail and provide you with a range of options on how to proceed. The best option may not be the cheapest, but we will do everything possible to minimize the damage to your bank account.