Slab leaks are hardly minor issues. Affecting the very foundation of your home, these are leaks that can lead to shifting and uneven floors, cracked walls, foul odors, and changes in water pressure. If left unchecked, slab leaks can even cause homes to sink. Moreover, once they develop, these leaks become part of the necessary disclosures for selling your Dallas, Texas home. Following are five common causes of slab leaks, along with a few tips for avoiding them.
1. Highly Acidic Water
Although not all hard water is acidic, some hard water can be. Depending upon where your home is located, it may be extremely acidic. Slab leaks are leaks that develop in water pipes that travel below your home’s foundation. High levels of acid in water wear these pipes down. If you have copper pipes beneath your home, you may begin to see light blue or light green areas of discoloration in your bathtubs, toilets, shower pans, or sinks. These are indications of acidic water and resulting corrosion.
Some homeowners attempt to correct this problem by having water softeners installed. However, although water softeners can minimize or eliminate minerals like calcium and magnesium, certain water softening processes can actually make water more acidic. While installing a water softener might extend the life span of a few pipes throughout your plumbing system, it could have a detrimental impact on those that lie below your foundation. To prevent slab leaks caused by acidic water, have your water tested by professionals who can provide a needs-specific water-softening strategy.
2. Friction and Abrasion Caused by Shifting Earth
The most common cause of slab leaks is shifting earth. Expansive soils are soils that are rich in montmorillonite and other clay minerals. When these soils come in contact with water, they swell. This movement causes underground pipes to scrape against the foundation of homes or brush up against abrasive materials within the soil itself, including dirt, gravel, and even other pipes. Over time, this friction wears pipes down and causes small-sized leaks to form. As more water is added to the surrounding soil, soil expansion increases.
Dramatic changes in your home water bill despite fairly static water use, wet or warped flooring, and decreased water pressure are several signs of a developing leak. Scheduling slab leak detection services as soon as a problem is suspected can minimize the amount of damage that ultimately occurs.
3. The Gradual Degradation of Specific Pipe Materials
Interactions between the minerals in underground pipes and the minerals in the surrounding soil can result in the gradual degradation of plumbing and the development of slab leaks. Each pipe material has its own unique range of benefits and drawbacks in underground applications. Moreover, each material also has a special set of installation requirements. For instance, cast iron pipes are subject to corrosion by soil minerals and water, but they tend to hold up well beneath slabs if coated in protective materials. If you have an older home with unprotected cast iron pipes beneath its slab, the risk of an eventual slab leak is fairly high.
Aging, galvanized steel pipes are subject to interior damage. The coatings on the inside of these pipes are worn off by the constant movement of water. This leaves them vulnerable to build-ups of minerals, clogs, and rust that can eventually lead to leakage. Irrespective of where they’re used, cast iron pipes should generally be replaced after approximately five decades.
Although slightly more costly than either coated cast iron or galvanized steel pipes, copper pipes are superior in underground applications when they have the thickest possible walls. Rigid copper pipes are both resistant to corrosion and long-lasting. However, these attributes are only effective for preventing slab leaks with proper installation. Even small dents can cause these plumbing lines to wear thin over time due to the constant movement of water.
Plastic also has its advantages in underground applications. It’s corrosion-resistant, and it has a level of flexibility that makes proper installation a relatively simple and straightforward process. However, although there are multiple options for plastic plumbing lines, not all of them are suitable for this purpose. For example, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene or ABS pipes are prone to leaking at their joints. In fact, leaky ABS joints are so common that many municipalities no longer allow these pipes in underground applications in new buildings. If you have plastic underground plumbing and a fast-spiraling slab leak, leaky ABS joints are a likely cause.
Homes built between 1945 and 1972 may have Orangeburg pipes beneath their foundations. These pipes are comprised of bituminized fiber and were once valued for their high levels of corrosion resistance. Although the original life expectancy of Orangeburg pipes was 50 years, many of these systems began to warp and deform after just 30 years of use.
4. Excessively High Water Pressure
Very high water pressure in your home is problematic for many reasons. To start, when your water pressure is high, most of the water that you’re paying for is actually flowing down your drains unused. High water pressure reduces the life spans of water-reliant appliances such as dishwashers, ice makers, and washing machines. It can additionally take a toll on your plumbing fixtures.
If the potential for these damages isn’t incentive enough to have your water pressure addressed, excessively high water pressure can also cause the pipes below your slab to rupture or collapse. Having your water pressure level tested before the signs of a slab leak arise is a great way to protect your home investment. When no other problems like soil expansion and pipe deterioration exist, having a pressure-reducing valve installed could keep the building foundation intact.
5. Seismic Activity
Seismic activity can cause slab leaks too. Although major earthquakes aren’t common in Texas, even the small tremors that occur throughout the years can result in slab leaks. These events cause soil shifting, pipe friction and abrasions, and movement of groundwater that can result in soil expansion. The Dallas-Fort Worth area is believed to be especially prone to earthquakes and minor “tremblers” due to its high population density. According to researchers, faults that lie below the Fort Worth Basin are sensitive to above-ground forces. Thus, preventing slab leaks and the pipe damage that cause them isn’t always easy as choosing the right plumbing materials and having them installed correctly.
It’s important to note that slab leaks are always progressive issues. The same factors that cause pipe damage will continue affecting the integrity of your home’s plumbing system until they are identified and resolved. Expansive soils will continue to expand as long as water from leaky pipes is added to them. Moreover, the property damages that result from slab leaks are progressive as well. Although evidence of an existing slab leak can be as minor as a rising water bill or a persistent, musty odor, these leaks can eventually lead to severely buckled flooring and a house that sits askew.
On Time Experts proudly serves residents of Dallas, Texas and the surrounding area. Our clients can count on us for superior heating, cooling, plumbing, and indoor air quality services. We also offer slab leak detection and slab leak repairs. Call On Time Experts today to schedule an appointment!