Potential costs of a plumbing leak
When pipes running behind walls burst or begin to leak, they moisten the drywall; eventually, this moisture makes its way through the walls and produces wet spots. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Gloria A. of Hollywood, Fla.)
The plumbing in your home — under the kitchen sink, behind the shower or running alongside the bathtub — is part of an efficient, simple system.
However, this system needs maintenance to perform optimally, and it may require emergency assistance from a plumber to stop a leak or prevent major damage to your home. If left untreated (or undetected), the costs of a plumbing leak are substantial.
Be on the lookout for leaks
The first step in lowering costs due to damage is keeping an eye out for potential leaks; the sooner you identify a water issue, the smaller its impact on drywall, flooring and fixtures. Problems in a shower, for example, are often signaled by low water pressure, a change in water color or slow draining. Tub plumbing, meanwhile, may be damaged if you notice excess water on the floor, loose tiles on the tub surround or damp walls hours after the bath was run. Kitchen sinks may have discolored water or make a rattling noise when running.
Water damage to walls
If left untreated, a plumbing leak can cause damage to your walls. When pipes running behind walls burst or begin to leak, they moisten the drywall; eventually, this moisture makes its way through the walls and produces wet spots. They're easy to miss this in a bathroom, since steamy showers or hot baths can also cause the walls to moisten, and after a few hours the walls will dry again.
If you notice persistent wetness or a musty smell, you may have a leak. A professional can fix the problem and, if the problem is still in its early stages, replace only a section of the drywall. Over time, however, this consistent moisture may lead to black mold, requiring not only the services of a mold remediation company but also requiring the removal of large wall sections. This can be very costly. One hundred square feet of drywall, for example, may cost as much as $400 to replace, while mold remediation can run anywhere from $500 to $3000.
Water damage to flooring and fixtures
Another concern is damage to flooring. Water always flows downhill, which means any leaks in a kitchen or bathroom will pool on and under your floors.
In a bathroom, you may notice loose tiles next to the tub or shower or along the tub edging. You might also see water on the floor after a bath or shower not due to spills or splashing.
In your kitchen, be on the lookout for warping or discolored floorboards, especially next to a dishwasher or fridge with a water line. Hardwood floors cost between $12 and $30 per square foot to replace, after the affected area has been cleaned and the leak fixed. Replacing single tiles isn't an expensive undertaking, but you can incur significant costs if the sub floor of your bathroom becomes damaged. Removing and replacing swelled floorboards and installing new tile may cost anywhere from $1000 to $1500.
Leaks or water quality issues can also cause damage to fixtures like sink taps and shower heads. In some cases, the fixtures may stop working — for example, if a rubber gasket decays and becomes stuck in the line — or may have severely reduced water pressure. If left untreated, the fixture may need replacement, which can cost $100 to $500, depending on the material and brand of hardware required.
Keeping costs low
To avoid high costs for repair, homeowners need to watch for potential problems. If you see any of the signs listed above, consider hiring a professional plumber. A pro can assess the level of damage and maker the appropriate repairs. Plumbing leaks are always better tackled immediately; time left untreated is proportional to cost.