View Full Version : Finding a water leak- Tom King?

Dec. 21, 2010, 03:03 PM
I just received notice (via a huge bill!) that I have a water leak somewhere on the farm. Any ideas on how to find it without digging up 1000 ft of lines, some of which go under the driveway? I've got 4 hydrants- is one of them the most likely culprit? I've got a call in to a plumber friend of ours, but I thought I'd ask here, too.

Tom King
Dec. 21, 2010, 03:28 PM
It can be a hard thing to find when the ground is wet, as it usually is this time of year anyway. To isolate what section the leak is in, sometimes you have to dig it up here and there, cut it and plug it, and see if the meter is still spinning while everything that uses water is cut off. Once you have it plugged off somewhere and the meter keeps spinning, the problem is between there and the last place you plugged it.

No fun, and can get expensive, not to mention hard to find someone to do it, but that's the way it's done if you can't see a big wet spot on the ground somewhere.

My 94 year old Mother had a leak in her waterline of about a thousand gallons a day. No water visible on the surface anywhere even when the ground was dry. Her house is on a hill, with a slab floor over a pretty large fill of rock under it (it's a converted old dancehall-how I got started building houses-but that's another story), with two very large Pin Oaks on the down hill side.

It turned out the leak was in a line that went under the brick pavers going into her garage and the water must have been going under the slab and about a thousand gallons a day was sucked up by the two huge Pin Oaks. It took two guys with shovels a whole day to isolate the leak.

Melissa.Van Doren
Dec. 21, 2010, 03:31 PM
If you know where your couplings are, I'd start there.

Dec. 21, 2010, 04:10 PM
If you know where your couplings are, I'd start there.

Now that's a comforting thought, since we used PVC and there's a coupling every 20 feet! This sucks!

Tom King
Dec. 21, 2010, 05:33 PM
I forgot to answer the most likely culprit question. The most likely spot in a PVC water system is anywhere there is a plastic female threaded adaptor (the reason I don't use them).

If a lot of water is leaking at the bottom of a hydrant, I would think you would have a really big wet spot around its base.

If there is a plastic female threaded adaptor at the base of a hydrant that you can move with your hand, that's where it's leaking.

Also, if you find the leak and fix it, notify the water supplier and usually they will make a one time adjustment to the bill to eliminate the big one month's fee.

Dec. 21, 2010, 07:32 PM
I can't remember what type of adapter we used, hopefully DH can remember when he gets home from work. Everything is glued at the factory bell ends, with the exception of at the hydrants and entry into the house. I'm just hoping it's the "troublemaker" hydrant- the one that likes to break and/or freeze on a semi-regular basis.

The water company told me no on the adjustment, but I'll try again after we find and fix the leak.

Tom King
Dec. 21, 2010, 08:32 PM
If it is, only put back in a galvanized "street elbow" with the male end into the bottom of the hydrant, and a male threaded adaptor on the PVC pipe into the female threaded side of the street elbow. Don't forget teflon tape on the threads.

Dec. 24, 2010, 07:18 PM
When we moved in 10 years ago, we planted maple trees along both sides of the driveway. Later an underground water pipe started leaking. Even today, the tree next to where that leak was is much much bigger than all the others!

Dec. 24, 2010, 07:31 PM
We have shut off valves that allow us to isolate each of our five hydrants .... you might want to dig up the main feed install a shut off there...then see if the leak has stopped. If it has it is before the hydrants, if not then segregate each line until you find the offending line.

You can use slip couples to install the shut off in the existing PVC line; the slip coupling allow you to push it onto the existing pipe then pull it back to make up the coupling

Dec. 24, 2010, 09:26 PM
I had this problem the summer I moved to my new place ('09). I knew the leak was from the house to the barn but the bad thing was I had no idea how this line was run.

I begged the water people to come out and mark my water lines (however it is they do that) but the line got a little off around the area of the leak. It was really rainy at that time but my SO blew dye back into the barn faucet and we saw where it came back up. Never did find exactly where the real leak was, though. We finally just went from one accurately marked point to another, rented a ditch witch and put in another line.

Good luck! Underground leaks are a real pain.

Dec. 24, 2010, 11:11 PM
When we had a water leak somewhere between well and barn, our friend (also our contractor who built our house and barn) was going to have some company come out that finds leaks. I don't know how they do it exactly, but would be able to isolate it to an area to dig, so you didn't have to dig up the whole pipe.

We actually found the problem ourselves (turned out to be where the water came into the barn) and never had the company come out, but maybe there is something/someone like that you can call? I'm thinking the water company might even have a good suggestion, but of course, won't reach them until Monday.

Dec. 25, 2010, 08:53 AM
We had this happen last winter. My husband was able to locate the leak with a stethescope. He listened at all of our frost proof faucets. Good luck. It was a major pita.

Dec. 25, 2010, 05:58 PM
It's a crap shoot. Many times it's cheaper to just replace the line (e.g., if you've got a 1000 foot line, and new line is $1 a foot, a $1000/month leak (which I had) ........).

Most times, when the leak gets big enough the condition of the ground gives enough evidence to find it, but not always. The big leak I had showed NO EVIDENCE at ground level (deeply buried line and good perc soil).

I hired a company out of Louisville who pressurized the line with helium, then used a mass spec detector to identify where the helium was leaking. At least theoretically - we couldn't find it. Finally turned the water on and pressurized to 125 psig with nitrogen and literally blew a geyser. I don't recommend that, but it worked in my case. The line was nearly 4' deep. The helium/nitrogen cost me almost $700.

As Tom noted, when I applied for a refund from the water company (you need a valid repair bill showing something was actually repaired), the refund paid for the repair - but not the gradually increasing bills for several months before I cried uncle.

Had a leak at another farm which showed as wet soil. Got a "country" plumber, and he went straight to the leak point from the wetting pattern. Excavated and repaired in 30 minutes. Sometimes you just get lucky.

Dec. 25, 2010, 09:05 PM
It's a crap shoot. Many times it's cheaper to just replace the line (e.g., if you've got a 1000 foot line, and new line is $1 a foot, a $1000/month leak (which I had) ........)..

Why not just go down 500 feet install a cut off valve then test the system rather than just replacing the line? Then cut the offending part in half again; it would considerably cheaper than just chunking the entire line.

Dec. 27, 2010, 11:54 AM
I had a company come out and they put helium in the line and where the leak is the air shoots out....

Dec. 27, 2010, 04:50 PM
I had a mystery leak a few years ago. I didn't have to deal with a big bill since it was one of the well lines, but I knew I had a leak somewhere cause my pump kept running even when no one was using water.

My horses found it for me! A couple days of wandering about trying to figure it out, I noticed 2 of the ponies were coming in muddy and it hadn't rained in quite a while. As I glaced out at their pasture I saw them playing in a big ass mud hole they dug up. Yep, it was the leak!! They didn't originally break the pipe, but they sure knew there was water they could get too. Took us about 20 mins to fix since they had already uncovered it for us!!

Dec. 27, 2010, 06:02 PM
You can dowse for the water lines with two pieces of wire hanger. Yes, I know it sound implausible...I thought so too, until my neighbor taught me.

How to dowse for water (http://www.ehow.com/how_6582847_water-line-clothes-hanger.html)

The plain dry cleaner hangers work best...not the coated ones. Honest, it really works. You will amaze your friends!

Dec. 30, 2010, 12:18 PM
Just want to say we feel your pain. Stupid Ky Am Water Co. decided to "check pressure" in the water lines on our farm and surrounding area (in DECEMBER??) and water pipes blew everywhere. The 4" main line feeding our farm & neighbors blew up, leading to no water for any of the horses on either farm. Houses in the nearby fancy-new elite subdivision also developed underground leaks, and no water pressure. After our main leak was fixed, we had 3 other leaks elsewhere on our property; the neighboring farm had 7 leaks and no water for several days.

Perhaps the minor leaks were already there...but why in the heck would the water company surge the weakened pipes with extra pressure in bitter cold freezing weather?? (FYI, "pressure testing" is why the water mains broke downtown Lex at Main & Limestone a few wks before christmas, right when ours did).

Water Co. did pay for our repairs, after much complaints, but we were still the ones stuck in a freezing muddy hole digging up pipe for days. Obvious water puddles and missing snow made the leaks pretty easy to find, fortunately. The MOST frustrating part, the water company did not issue ANY kind of warning before this testing-- had we known there was a chance of broken pipes, we would have stockpiled extra water for the horses. Especially when the troughs would freeze so quickly!