8 Common Causes of Household Leaks (and How to Prevent Them)

Learn how to locate and prevent these common sources of leaks.

Running water and sanitary sewer systems are key household advancements that have improved quality of life. However, if a problem occurs with pipes, drain lines, plumbing fixtures, or any water-using appliance, leaks can develop, leading to significant household damage, including rot, mold growth, wall and ceiling discoloration, sagging floors and ceilings, peeling paint, increased water bills, and a decrease in the water pressure.

Preventing leaks is possible by taking the appropriate household maintenance steps. But if an accident happens or an unseen issue causes a leak, it's important to stop the leak and resolve the situation as soon as possible. Use this guide to learn more about common causes of household leaks and how to prevent them.

kitchen faucet sink with blue cabinets

Adam Albright

Signs of a Household Leak

Once a leak starts, it may create a range of problems throughout the home, leading to costly repairs. For this reason, it's important to learn how to spot signs of a leak, so you can take action to locate and fix the leak before the problem can worsen.

There are a wide variety of signs that can point to a household leak. Consider if your home shows any of these signs if you suspect a leak.

  • Inexplicable water bill increase.
  • Sudden decrease in water pressure when no other fixtures are being used.
  • The sound of running water, rattling, or hissing when the plumbing fixtures are turned off.
  • Mold and mildew accumulation.
  • Peeling or blistering paint or wallpaper.
  • Warped, stained, or sagging floors and ceilings.
midcentury modern bathroom

Emily Followill

1. Faulty Faucets and Toilets

If they don't create rot or water damage, leaks can go completely unnoticed if you aren't paying attention to your water bills. Instead, the water runs directly into the drain, such as when a toilet continues to run or runs intermittently. A similar issue occurs with leaking faucets that constantly drip into the sink.

Fixing a running toilet can be as simple as shortening the flapper chain or replacing the flapper. Replacing the washer in the faucet may prevent it from dripping, but if the water keeps leaking into the sink, it's a good idea to invest in a new faucet. This is a relatively simple repair that most DIYers can handle.

2. Loose or Broken Hose Connections

Leaks can occur outside the home as well, so if you notice any wet spots or areas in the yard that appear to be sunken down, it can indicate an underground leak. Loose or broken hose and irrigation system connections can cause puddles, soil erosion around the foundation of the home, and sink holes if left unresolved.

Fix this problem by locating the leak, then tightening the connection to stop the leak. If the issue is due to a cracked, split, or otherwise damaged connection, the connector and any other damaged parts of the system will need to be replaced to fix the leak.

3. Cracked Sink or Tub

Tubs, sinks, and basins are used to catch and redirect the flow of water into an open drain, but if the body is cracked, water can leak out, causing mold, mildew, and rot. Cracks can occur as a result of frequent use, general wear and tear, impact damage, or corrosion.

If you see a crack forming in the bathtub or notice a small crack spreading across the sink, it's necessary to stop using the damaged item. To fix this problem, either take on the job as a DIY project or hire a plumber to replace the damaged tub or sink.

4. Worn Out Seals

Sinks, toilets, and tubs aren't the only items that can lead to a leak. Dishwashers, refrigerators, and washing machines frequently use water during regular operation. If the seals or washers on these appliances become old, worn, or misshapen, it can cause the appliance to leak. Fixing this problem isn't necessarily difficult, as long as you can find a replacement seal for the appliance. If you're having issues sourcing the correct parts, consider hiring an appliance repair professional to resolve the problem quickly.

5. Clogged Drain Lines

When a drain line clogs, the water that would usually drain into the sewer or septic system has nowhere to go. Instead, the drain line fills up as more and more water is poured into the drain, until it completely backs up into the sink, tub, appliance, or laundry basin. In some cases, a clog can even lead to a burst pipe, so if you notice one sink, tub, or even an entire part of the home isn't draining properly, stop pouring water into the drain.

You may be able to clear a clogged drain with a mixture of baking soda and vinegar, but if this chemical reaction is not enough to break up the clog, a plumber's snake or a drain auger may be required. If you aren't sure how to snake a drain, consider hiring a plumber to clear the clog.

6. Corroded Pipes

While most homes now have copper or plastic pipes, this wasn't always the case. For many years, galvanized iron and even lead pipes were the primary options used for pumping water into the home. Not only can these substances contaminate water, they can also degrade pipes over time, leaving the exterior of the pipe as thin as paper.

If the corrosion isn't dealt with, the pipes may start to leak, especially near old, deteriorated joints and connections. While you might be able to mitigate the damage caused by minor leaks, these pipes can also collapse entirely, flooding the home. It's recommended to repair leaking or damaged copper pipes and replace old galvanized or lead pipes and fittings with new copper or plastic plumbing lines.

7. Ruptured Water Heater

A standard water heater typically lasts about eight to 12 years before it needs to be replaced. However, if there is a significant amount of sediment in the water, it could cause the tank to corrode at a faster pace. Even a small leak in the water heater will cause water to constantly flow out of the tank and into the home, leading to significant water damage, rot, and mold growth.

Make sure to have the water heater regularly inspected and maintained to avoid any surprises. If you spot a leak in the tank, turn off the flow of water to the water heater, and contact a professional plumber or water heater technician as soon as possible to replace the water heater.

8. Invasive Tree Roots

Another issue that can create a leak outside the home or lead to problems inside the home is encroaching tree roots. Trees tend to seek out high-moisture areas, growing roots toward these locations to draw in water from deep underground. A leaking water line can create a high-moisture area in the yard that attracts any nearby tree roots.

Over an extended period, the tree roots can wrap around or even pierce through the water line, causing a leak in the yard. If you see new wet patches or sinkholes in the yard or experience a sudden drop in water pressure, it's recommended to have a plumber check for tree root intrusion.

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