No leak is a good leak. But some leaks are an annoyance and minor expense; others are category-five disasters.
If a faucet leak is a fender bender, a slab leak is a full-on 50-vehicle freeway pileup — or has the potential to be unless you detect and repair it early. It can put your health at risk and damage your home beyond repair.
Slab Leak Definition
Most Southern California homes and businesses are built on concrete foundations or “slabs.” Water and sewer pipes run through the foundations unnoticed unless something goes wrong.
That “something” is often a slab leak in or under a building’s concrete slab foundation.
- Slab leaks are difficult to detect.
- Slab leaks are difficult to repair (although new technologies make the job easier)
- Slab leaks can completely undermine a building and make it uninhabitable.
A slab leak usually starts as a pinhole in a corroded water pipe, seeps for days or even weeks, but can erupt and flood without warning — unless you learn to recognize the warning signs.
Warning Signs of a Slab Leak
Most homeowners never realize they have a slab leak until they wake up to an inundation or their house becomes a petri dish for toxic black mold.
But alert homeowners should recognize the signs and call a plumber immediately if there’s even the slightest suspicion of a leak in their home’s foundation.
Telltale clues include:
- High water bills
- Cracks in the foundation, driveway, or patio
- Damp carpeting
- Warped floors and baseboards
- Moldy smells
- Flooding in your yard (slab leaks that first appear outside can be among the worst)
Danger #1: Mold & Its Impact on Health
Mold spores hover in the air 24-7, looking for a safe place to land. They’re like the Starship Enterprise in search of a planet that supports life.
Slab leaks create that perfect damp environment for black mold. The leaks often appear near drywall, which acts like a sponge. Wall interiors become a breeding ground for mold, which spreads where it’s undetectable — except by your nose and respiratory system.
Inhaling black mold spores can cause allergic reactions like chest tightness, coughing, wheezing, itchy eyes, asthma, throat irritation, and headaches. In extreme cases (or in people with weakened immune systems), black mold inhalation can result in severe infections of the lungs or brain.
Your mold problems will outlast the slab leak.
Black mold removal is a lengthy and invasive process involving noisy drying fans, flooring and wall removal, chemical treatments, etc. It goes on for several weeks. Specialized crews do the work, sometimes in hazmat suits.
Danger #2: Damage to the Structural Integrity of Your Home
You may know the parable of the house on the rock and the foolish man who builds his house on sand.
Your concrete slab foundation is that rock. A slab leak turns it to sand — perhaps not literally, but it can undermine a foundation to such an extent that your home may be a total loss.
It starts with small cracks in the foundation. Then the foundation shifts, and eventually, it collapses.
Water is powerful enough to carve the Grand Canyon, so excavating a few tons of dirt under your home should be no problem for the water jets of a corroded pipe.
Your home is at greater risk for slab leaks if it was built before 1990 or uses soft copper piping in a concrete slab foundation.
All owners of older homes should schedule regular plumbing inspections. Modern diagnostic equipment can detect any weak spots in pipes.
Advanced techniques like trenchless pipe repair and cured-in-place pipe relining allow plumbers to replace damaged lines faster and more affordably than ever.
Danger #3: Financial Devastation
Early detection and intervention are the keys to affordable repair. The plumber may replace a short section of pipe, seal joints with epoxy, or replace damaged connections.
But foundation damage, mold damage, and damage caused by flooding call for extensive and expensive repairs. Worse, your insurance may not cover it!
If a slab leak causes a foundation shift, you’ll need an engineer for inspection and a construction crew for subsequent repairs. Depending on the extent and cost of the damage, you may have no recourse but to walk away from the house as a total loss.
Plus, water bills can soar if you wait too long to fix a slab leak. A leaking line could run 1,000 gallons or more through your water meter every day before it’s detected. Ten days of that kind of leakage adds up to 10,000 gallons, or more than half the volume of an average home swimming pool!
Don’t Ignore the Warning Signs
A tiny pinhole leak in your concrete slab can burst without warning, flooding your home and turning your life upside down. But even in a home with older pipes, most slab leaks are preventable.
If there’s even a hint of a slab leak in your home, call the plumber. Immediately. Depending on the severity of the leak, you may consider shutting down the main water line to your house until the plumber arrives.
A certified plumber can detect any damage to your pipes in about an hour; repair may take 1 or 2 days. That’s a far more attractive timeline than the two months you’ll need to recover from a flood or several months of structural and foundation work — if your insurance pays for it.
Installing an Inline Leak Detection Device
Orange Coast Plumbing sells and installs the Moen Flo water leak detector, and advanced smart detection system that can flag even the tiniest pinhole leak and automatically shut down the water supply to your home before a trickling leak becomes a torrent. It offers the best protection against slab leaks, bar none, and may even be covered by your insurance plan. As a bonus, it can show where your plumbing is inefficient and monitor patterns of use in your home. Please contact us to learn more.