Detecting Hidden Leaks: A Guide to Unseen Pipe Damage (2024)


Detecting Hidden Leaks: A Guide to Unseen Pipe Damage (1)

A hidden water leak is one of the most serious problems a homeowner can face. Unfortunately, a water leak behind a wall can also be difficult to detect until there’s major damage, usually meaning major expenses.

There are several signs of hidden water leaks that you can look for. Recognizing those signs and taking those steps might be the difference in preventing a bad problem from becoming a very expensive mess.

Detecting Hidden Leaks: A Guide to Unseen Pipe Damage (2)

Why Pipe Leaks Behind Walls Are So Serious

You might already know why a leaking pipe behind a wall is such a serious matter, but in case you don’t, let’s briefly cover that.

Wood, drywall, wallpaper, and insulation will absorb excess water and moisture, leading to bubbling, stains, deterioration, and warping. That’s not even the worst.

If not caught early, the leaking can lead to one or both two severe problems. The first is structural damage, including the potential collapse of ceilings and walls, which is a mess, a big expense, and a major safety risk.

The other is the growth of mold and mildew, which thrive in dark, damp places. They can also cause structural damage and release spores into the air that, if breathed in, can be harmful to people.

Signs of a Water Leak Behind Walls

Now, let’s talk about trouble signs you can detect with your eyes. If you see one or more of the following, don’t delay to call a plumber. Even if you don’t already have an emergency on your hands, you might soon.

Stains on Walls

Sheetrock and drywall soak up leaking water, resulting in a stain. If you see a small stain on a wall, it might not indicate that you have an ongoing leak.

However, it’s time to call a plumber if the stain is large or growing.

Warping on Walls

Sheetrock that absorbs too much water will curve and bend, causing warping in a wall.

This warping in turn, leads to expensive structural damage, so if you see warping on a wall, take it as a clear sign of a leak behind the wall and contact a plumber.

Peeling Paint or Wallpaper

When sheetrock behind a wall absorbs too much water, it can also make peeling and bubbling appear in wallpaper and paint.

To help find the location of a hidden leak, you can check wallpaper for separation along its seams, and you can also check spots where the paint is flaking.

Ceilings or Floors With Stains or Buckling

This is yet another possible outcome when sheetrock absorbs too much water. The water can spread to connected floors and ceilings.

Stains and buckling on ceilings and floors are often signs of a roof leak, but especially when the stains or bucking are closer to walls, the problem could be a leak behind a wall instead.

Either way, it’s a situation you need to contact a plumber for right away.

Baseboards and Walls With Mold

Mold isn’t always an indicator of a leak. Places such as basem*nts, bathrooms, and kitchens that feature a lot of moisture and humidity can develop mold due to those factors.

However, if you’re taking steps to remove the mold and provide better ventilation and mold still keeps growing, you shouldn’t rule out the possibility of a leak.

On the other hand, mold on baseboards, ceilings, and walls in rooms that aren’t as subject to moisture, especially in places not near plumbing fixtures, is a clear warning sign that there’s a leak.

Musty Odors

When excess moisture is absorbed into drywall, sheetrock, or wood, a musty odor can result. Mold growth inside wall cavities will also produce a musty smell.

A strong, musty odor in the near vicinity of a wall is a sign that there may be a leak behind it.

Other Ways To Check for Water Leaks Behind Walls

Now that we’ve gone over the can’t-miss signs let’s look at ways to check for hidden leaks when there aren’t obvious signs.

  • Your water meter.

    Check your water meter and record the number showing how much water you’ve used. Then ensure no toilets or faucets are leaking, turn off the water supply for 3 hours, and check the water meter afterward. If the number has gone up, you have a leak somewhere.

  • Moisture meters.

    These measure moisture levels in materials, and plumbers usually carry them. The downside is that it can take a while to locate the location and depth of a leak if you’re not already skilled with them.

  • Infrared cameras.

    These devices detect heat from walls and use different colors to represent the possible range of temperatures. Wetter and colder spots show up as blue or purple, which may indicate a leak.

  • Cutting into the drywall.

    If you do not see the clear signs and you’ve tried the above with no success but still think there’s a leak, this can be a step of last resort. Removing a piece of drywall will let you see what’s happening behind it. One massive drawback is that you might cut into where damage is occurring but not where the leak originated.

Contact a Reliable Plumbing Service

For your Fort Lauderdale plumbing needs, 4 Star Plumbing Services is up to any job. If you suspect a leak or need any other kind of plumbing services, we’re here for you.

With 4 Star Plumbing Services, you’ll be working with a fully licensed and insured company that only sends uniformed, professionally trained, and certified technicians out to you. All of our technicians also have to pass criminal background checks and drug tests so that you can feel safe about letting us into your home.

Do you need plumbing services? Contact us for a quote!

Detecting Hidden Leaks: A Guide to Unseen Pipe Damage (3)


Sean Hasle is a third-generation plumber, serving the South Florida area with his family. He is a licensed plumbing, underground utility, and fire contractor.

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