Leaks can be sneaky. Not only do they cause damage, but they’re also expensive – utility bills add up. It also wastes a limited and precious resource: water. But a leak can be incredibly difficult to locate. Even after you’ve determined that your home has a water problem, it can be challenging to find where it stems from. To help you in this pursuit, we’ve compiled a few ways that you can trace a water leak in your home:

  1. Check your meter. By checking your water meter, you can identify if the leak is between the meter and your house, or if the valve itself is leaking. First, find your water meter – it may be located inside your basement or garage, or outside your home underneath an iron lid. Use the shut-off valve to cut off all water sources in your home, then record the number on your meter. If the number on the meter increases quickly, you’ll know that you have a sizable leak in your home. But be patient, and wait up to two hours if you can. A slight increase in your meter reading can indicate a smaller leak. Inspect the ground nearby; soggy or muddy ground surrounding the meter is a bad sign.
  2. Inspect your taps. If your home has low water pressure, this may indicate that you have an issue. If one tap is producing a slow stream of water, compare it with the others in your home; this will allow you to isolate a specific problem, or generalize it. A tap that slowly leaks droplets of water can still drive up your utility bill sizably. When a single faucet leaks, it’s usually due to a worn rubber washer and can be fixed easily with a replacement.
  3. Use food coloring. This is a fun little trick. You can use dye to determine if your toilet is the source of a leak. First, take the time to listen to your toilet – this might sound strange, but it’s a proven strategy. Remove the top of the tank from the base of the toilet. Now, listen closely. If you hear any hissing sounds, then you may have a toilet leak on your hands. Are you still unsure? The next step is where the food coloring comes in. Add a few drops to the tank that’s attached to the bowl. Step away for several minutes, then return to inspect the color of your toilet water. Has it taken on the same shade as the dye you used? If so, you can be fairly certain that the flapper at the bottom of the tank is allowing water to seep through into the bowl, creating a leak. To be on the safe side, repeat this process with all the toilets in your home.

  4. Look at your water bill. Compare your recent bills to ones you’ve had in the past several months. Have your expenses gone up, even though your usage has remained the same? This can indicate a leak that’s costing you money – it can add up to hundreds of dollars a year. Even if it’s a slight increase, be wary of a fluctuating utility bill, which is a telltale sign of a water leak.
  5. Have a closer look at your hot water tank. The valves on your tank may be leaking, which can be difficult to trace. To do so, listen to the drainpipe attached to it. Any hissing sound may indicate a leak. You can also check the pressure relief valve on the tank itself; remove it and look for any signs of a leak. If so, you may need to replace your water heater. Catching this problem in time will save you money, which can offset the cost of purchasing a new water heater. Modern models are more energy-efficient, which will go a long way in saving you money on utility bills – just like catching a leak will.
  6. Check your floors and ceilings. If none of the above tips help you find a leak, you may need to have a look around the inside of your home. Inspect any carpets in your home for wet spots or discoloration. If you have hardwoods, look for warped floorboards that have buckled up from water damage. Drooping ceilings can be unsightly, and the sign of a water leak. Look at the bottom of cabinets for stains or distorted woodwork. You’ll also want to check the paint on your walls. Do you see any bubbles or cracks? Water might be traveling down the walls and causing the paint to peel up.

If your home has a leak, you will need to contact a technician to fix it. But if you’ve had bad experiences doing this in the past, you might be wary. That’s why Jody Costello created Contractors From Hell. It’s a site designed to help homeowners with home improvement projects so they can avoid disastrous outcomes. Make your remodel problem-free by reading up on ways to avoid shady and unethical contractors.