As the weather warms up and more time is spent outdoors, now is a great time to check your outside plumbing to make sure everything is in working order.
Here are a few quick checks you can perform…
Frost Proof Your Outside Faucets
Although many outside faucets are “frost proof” by design, they can still have a freeze break if a water hose is left attached during a freeze. A frost proof faucet works by shutting the water off inside your home and allowing the water close to the exterior wall to drain out of the actual faucet so there is no water left to freeze. However, if a garden hose is left attached, it doesn’t allow the water to drain out, leaving the possibility of it freezing and bursting the pipe.
Most times, you won’t know the pipe is busted until you go to turn the outside faucet on for the first time. Then, surprise, you’ve got water dripping/running out of the faucet, the bricks or unfortunately sometimes, back into the interior walls! You can perform a quick test on each of your faucets by turning them on for a bit, then turn them off. If you see water in places it shouldn’t be – you’ve got yourself a busted pipe in the wall that will need to be replaced.
So, what if your outside faucet is just dripping? If you can actually catch the leak soon after it starts, there is a possibility that you can repair the faucet by replacing a washer inside the faucet. However, if it has been leaking for more than a couple of weeks, replacement is probably likely. This is because, over a short period of time, water creates a groove inside the faucet that is not repairable. In this instance, you’ll need to replace the entire faucet.
Know Where Your Water Box Is
So what exactly is a water box and why is this important? Most houses are equipped with a shut-off valve close to the house that can shut off the main water supply coming into the house. These are typically located in a valve box in a flowerbed (or possibly under some bushes or shrubbery). It is important to know where yours is located in the event you need to shut the water off to your house quickly to prevent water damage in the event of a leak. Taking a few minutes to find yours and ensure it is in working order might save you some heartache later on.
If you can’t seem to locate your valve box, one hint is to locate the round meter box near the street and follow a straight line towards the house. You might need to dig around a bit to uncover it. Once you’ve located it, remove the lid and take a look inside. If you see water in the box (and it hasn’t rained recently), you might have a leak. You also want to make sure this guy will work when it needs to. Old valves tend to rust out, sometimes leaving no handle at all! If you find yours in this condition, it’s time for a new one.
If you see a round handle, this is most likely a ‘gate valve,’ which shuts the water off by lowering a “gate” as you turn the handle. These guys are notorious for sticking (either in the open or closed position). Handle with care, as you don’t want to turn it off only to discover you can’t get it to turn back on! We recommend replacing this type of valve with a quarter-turn ball valve with a lever handle.
Quick Tip – if you do need to operate an old gate valve, do so with care and by turning two turns down, one turn up…two turns down, one turn up until you get it turned all the way off. This can help break up the calcification, but it is not a long-term solution for operating an old valve.
Check For Yard Leaks
Check to see if you have any wet or soggy spots in the yard, or possibly a wet sidewalk. These are telltale signs of a water leak in the yard. Did you find some water? You will need to determine if the leak is coming from your main water service to the house or your irrigation system. Although water travels in the path of least resistance, if the soggy spot is nowhere near your main water line, there is a good chance the leak is in the irrigation system. One way to find out is to isolate your sprinkler line from your house line. First, open your meter box to reveal a counter or series of dials.
Most modern meters have a red triangle that readily spins when water is flowing through it. Is the triangle spinning? That means that water is running somewhere on your property. Next, find the irrigation box (or double check valve box), which is typically found close to the street near the round meter box. If you turn that off and the meter stops spinning, you know the leak is on the sprinkler system & you need to call an irrigation company. However, if the meter continues to spin, the leak is on the main water line to the house and you need to call a professional plumber!
Quick Tip – when shutting the water off to the home, be very careful when turning back on the water and go slowly. Changing the water pressure on old plumbing valves can cause them to leak. We recommend having someone inside monitoring fixtures and shut off valves (behind toilets, under sinks, behind washing machines, water heaters, etc) to ensure no leaks spring up.
What if I have a water leak?
If you find that you have a significant water leak outside, you can always shut the water off when you don’t need it (at night or while your away at work) to conserve water. A special tool called a meter key is required to shut off the water supply at the meter. We believe every homeowner should have one of these, which can be purchased at your local hardware or plumbing supplier. This can buy you some time to get estimates for plumbing repairs or replacement of the line while minimizing usage and inconvenience. By the way, most utility companies will be lenient in their assessment of fees if you let them know that you are intending to make the repairs in a timely fashion. This is especially important when the only indication of a leak is revealed through an extraordinarily high water bill.
Have more questions?