Leaking pipes are a problem which every household has to contend with at some point – and whilst the temptation might be to dismiss a leak as a minor problem, that can prove costly down the line.
At first, a leaking pipe is an irritation more than anything else. Leave a leak untreated though and it can soon grow into something much bigger. We are talking burst pipes, failing systems and structural damage to property.
Thankfully, most leaking pipes can be fixed quickly and easily as long as you act upon noticing the problem. Most do not even require the services of a plumber thanks to the ever increasing range of DIY pipe repair products on the market.
Here are five of the most common causes of leaking pipes and how you can fix them.
Seals are found in places where pipes connect with a fixture, such as a sink. They are put in place during installation to prevent water escaping from connections. Over time, these seals can degrade and as they lose their effectiveness, so water can start leaking out.
If you spot signs of a leak such as wetness or puddles of water around an appliance, then it may be an indication that a seal is damaged.
The good news is that a leaking seal is straightforward and cheap to fix. The tool you need is plumber’s putty which can be purchased from any good DIY store.
Plumber’s putty is easy to use. Take the required amount of putty, rub it between your hands to form a sausage shape and then push it into and around the connection which needs sealing.
Unlike epoxy putty, plumber’s putty will not set rock-hard or offer extra strong adhesion. It contains oils which mean that it remains soft.
This is important as should you need to remove the fitting in question at a later date, plumber’s putty allows you to do so whereas epoxy putty will have bonded the connections together.
The oils in plumber’s putty do come with a downside – they can stain certain materials. If you are working with fittings made of plastic or granite which you do not want discoloured because they are visible, then plumber’s putty is best avoided.
Loose pipe joint
The points where your pipes are connected together are often the weakest spots in a waterline. Over time, these connections can become loose and that can eventually lead to water leaking out.
Spotting loose pipe joints can be difficult. If there are no obvious indications of loose joints through dampness or escaped water, then listen out for strange noises, particularly when the hot water is running.
Ticking or banging noises coming from pipes can be one sign that connections within the system have loosened up. If you are concerned that you have loose pipe joints but cannot understand from where, then you should ask a qualified plumber to take a look for you.
Just as with broken seals, leaking pipes caused by a loose connection can be repaired with a standard product available at all DIY stores – thread sealant tape, also known as plumber’s tape, PTFE tape or Teflon tape. Yes, it has more names than Prince.
Essentially, thread sealant tape will tighten the connections between pipes, preventing water from leaking through gaps. To use thread sealant tape correctly, you must make sure that you wrap it in around the pipe in the opposite direction to the way the pipe turns into the fitting.
Overlap the tape by about half its width, working up the pipe until you reach the end of the seal. The tape should be wrapped tight enough so you can see the threads’ ridges through it.
Continue for one full wrap past the bottom of the final thread before breaking the tape. Smooth the loose end down and you will have a pipe that is ready to be screwed back into its joint, now with a watertight seal.
High water pressure
The higher the water pressure, the more stress that pipes come under. By law, water companies in the United Kingdom must supply a statutory minimum of one bar of normal mains water pressure to your home.
Once water leaves the public network and enters a domestic property, the average pressure in a home is between one and two bar. Should the pressure be significantly higher than this, then pipework can struggle to cope as water crashes into the internal structure, damaging it.
Which is why it is important to keep an eye on your water pressure. Too much pressure can cause issues from sporadic leaking to full blown bursts if pipes are put under stress levels that lead to them fracturing.
Should the worst happen and you suffer a burst pipe, then a leaking pipe repair kit can enable you to carry out an emergency fix without the need for a plumber.
Pipe repair kits are easy to use. They seal the initial leak with a sealant material – a waterproof pipe repair tape if you cannot turn pressure off or epoxy putty if you can – which is then overwrapped with a composite repair bandage.
The bandage is impregnated with a water-activated resin. When water is applied, the bandage begins to harden. As it does so, you wrap and smooth it down over the pipe, where it will cure to provide a rock hard, impact resistant layer for a permanent pipe repair.
Damaged caused by corrosion
If your pipework system is old, then your leak problem could be the result of corrosion. Over time, metal pipes will begin to suffer from internal corrosion and as the walls of the pipe begin to weaken, they become more susceptible to small holes and cracks developing.
Epoxy putty can be used to plug these holes. Mixing epoxy putty together starts off a chemical reaction which turns the putty from a soft material which can be shaped into a rock hard substance. As it cures, it is pushed into holes and cracks, filling the damage to seal the leak.
The putty can then be overwrapped with a composite bandage for a permanent repair. Both products are available as part of the pipe repair kits already described in the high water pressure section.
Whilst repairing corroded pipes in this manner will seal the leak, the fact that the pipe is corroding often means it is reaching the end of its lifespan.
You may find yourself being faced with more leaks as further sections weaken and in the end, replacing the old, impacted section of pipe can be the best long-term solution.
Trying to prevent corrosion from happening in the first place is often the best approach. As a naturally occurring chemical reaction, that can be hard.
Keeping the oxygen levels of water low and the pH level between 6.5 and 8.5 can limit corrosion, as will temperature control – hotter water is more corrosive.
Cleaning pipes out regularly with suitable chemicals will prevent microbiologically induced corrosion, which is where corrosive bacteria eats away at metalwork.
Pipes expand and contract as temperatures increase and decrease. It is generally cold weather which cause the biggest headache as not only do you have the pipework itself impacted by the temperature, but the water inside it expands as it freezes too.
Imagine you are wearing a particularly tight pair of trousers before eating 24 KFCs in a row. As your fill up on fried chicken, your expanding stomach will put pressure on your trousers until pop, off flies the button. Water freezing in pipes has the exact same effect, which is why burst pipes are so much more common in the winter.
Fixing a burst or leaking pipe is not overly difficult – again, a pipe repair kit is your best friend. It is more the inconvenience which comes with carrying out a repair in the depth of winter when the weather may not be kind.
Clearly, protection is better than a cure. Protecting your pipes before winter arrives with insulation and eliminating draughts and cold air flows in spaces such as garages where there is exposed pipework will reduce the chances of freezing.
Letting your taps drip during particularly cold periods can also prevent freezing. Even such a minimal amount of flow keeps pressure in your system and when there is pressure, there is movement – and movement means much less opportunity for water to freeze.