Common Signs of Plumbing Problems
Water damage due to a plumbing problem in your home can be life-changing. But there are some common signs that homeowners can look for, and steps they can take, to help avoid a major water issue at home.
Consider this example:
A Travelers insured had a minor toilet issue worsen while away on vacation. The unaddressed problem began leaking three gallons of water per minute. By the time the homeowners returned from their week-long vacation, more than 30,000 gallons had poured into their home. The water ruined furniture, fixtures and irreplaceable family valuables, and rendered the property virtually uninhabitable for an extended period of time.
But this is just a cautionary tale. The following guidance is meant to help you learn about the potential water issues from common plumbing problems and how you can take steps to help prevent disaster.
What Can Cause Common Plumbing Problems
Plumbing problems can occur anywhere in your home. Frequently, lack of maintenance is the root cause of these problems. However, other causes can include:
- Manufacturing and design defects.
- Installation errors.
- Exposure to cleaning products (for example, by storing chemicals under the sink or by cleaning surfaces of plumbing components).
If caught early, many plumbing problems can be addressed before serious damage occurs. For this reason, regular inspection of your home’s visible plumbing parts can be critical. Knowing the lifespan of parts and appliances is also important, as is properly maintaining the other parts of your home and its features and systems.
See the Signs and Know Where to Look
Want to help prevent plumbing complications from damaging your home (and potentially resulting in expensive property damage or loss)? Start by visually inspecting your plumbing on a regular basis. Look for drips and slow leaks. Be sure to check the areas surrounding your pipes as well. If you see water damage on cabinetry or other nearby materials, there may be an active leak that you’ll want to locate.
Your entire home plumbing system may not be visible, but there are certain places in your home where you can readily inspect plumbing components:
- Under sinks and washtubs.
- Inside access panels near showers, sinks or appliances.
- Attachments to toilets, water heaters and appliances.
- Basements and crawl spaces.
You will want to look at any piping, valves and fittings in the areas listed above. Leaks are most common at connection points, so pay close attention to the plumbing connections on faucets, washing machines, refrigerators, dishwashers, water heaters, water filtration systems, shut-off valves and toilets. Your home’s piping system may also have multiple connections between various sections of pipe. Appliances and fixtures themselves can cause problems, so be sure to inspect those as well, and keep up with any regular maintenance recommended by the manufacturer.
The signs of a problem will vary by component. For example, problems in copper piping may look very different from problems in PEX, a common type of plastic piping. In general, you want to look for signs of corrosion, cracking, hazing, discoloration and mineral deposits from a water leak. Below are a few examples to help you understand what some of these problems may look like.
You’re looking for two things with copper tubing: discoloration or deposit buildup. The deposits will look like they’re growing off the copper pipe. Minor surface corrosion or discoloration may not need to be addressed. If you are unsure, contact a licensed plumber.
The crystal-like deposit buildup may appear white, blue or green. These are often telltale signs of pinhole leaks, which could indicate a water chemistry problem. If you spot these, have your water tested and treated to prevent further damage (check with your state’s Department of Public Health or Department of Environmental Protection for approved laboratories). Any significantly damaged areas or active leaks will need to be repaired. These pinhole leaks can start out very small, but they can grow over time if left unaddressed.
Braided Stainless Steel Supply Lines
Braided stainless steel supply lines are commonly used to connect appliances and fixtures to your home’s piping. We frequently think of stainless steel as impervious to corrosion. However, commonly used stainless steels are susceptible to a very specific type of corrosion – stress corrosion cracking. Before a catastrophic failure occurs, signs of trouble may be visible to the naked eye. You might see rust and broken or frayed strands of stainless steel. Numerous individual strands frequently fail first before the lines burst.
Significantly corroded brass components can fail catastrophically. Signs of corrosion include crystal-like deposits that may be white, blue or green in color. Problems with brass parts often stem from bad water chemistry, design and material flaws, or exposure to household chemicals and cleaners.
PEX Tubing and Connecting Parts
Plastic plumbing parts are growing in popularity – particularly PEX. PEX piping is commonly being used instead of more traditional copper piping. Problems with PEX parts often occur because of exposure to chlorinated, hot water. Overall water chemistry or exposure to household chemicals can limit the life expectancy of PEX components.
When PEX parts begin to degrade or oxidize, they often exhibit cracking or discoloration, which can sometimes be seen by the naked eye. This makes regular visual inspection even more important.
Frequently, these plastic components are connected using metal fittings. These metal pieces can corrode or degrade, similar to the brass valves and braided stainless steel supply lines previously mentioned. Visual inspection of these components is recommended.
Challenges can arise with CPVC (chlorinated polyvinyl chloride) parts, usually due to chemical or heat exposure. Signs of a problem include discoloration or cracking. This type of piping is commonly used for home fire sprinkler systems, though it also can be found in other areas of a home plumbing system.
Toilets can have a number of unexpected problems. Tanks are made of brittle ceramics, which can crack and cause catastrophic damage. Cracks sometimes spread slowly and can be caught before major damage occurs. Staining or discoloration on the outside of the tank may indicate a hairline crack. Also, regularly check the flush mechanism in the tank, as it can degrade over time. Look for signs of damage, corrosion or cracking, and replace periodically.
If you spot any of the above signs with your plumbing, consult a plumbing professional as soon as possible. If your water supply comes from a well, you may also want to get it tested. Water chemistry is often at fault for many common plumbing problems.
You might also want to learn about your home’s systems and appliances to better understand how to maintain them and what their general lifespans are.
Finally, consider installing a leak detection system or water sensors. These can help spot leaks early and may help in preventing significant damage – and costs – in the long run. They can even be connected to your smartphone.
Are you protected if a plumbing problem crops up in your home? Double-check your homeowners insurance to ensure that you’re properly covered for non-weather-related water damage. Contact your agent today to get started.
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