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Inaccessible water leak - advice?

(18 Posts)
letsgomaths Thu 01-Nov-12 08:44:14

We have a slow leak. We know it's there, because the meter is always going round slowly, and you can hear it hissing. When the main water valve is turned off, these both stop.

Two plumbers have failed to find it; despite extensive looking and listening, not a trace of water is to be found anywhere it shouldn't. Therefore we think it is under the house, and might cost thousands to fix. I contacted a few companies who claim to use thermal imaging to find leaks, but they were quoting £500 just for the survey.

I'm reluctant to contact the (huge band of rogues) water company, because they might "order" us to fix the problem, at our expense. (Does anyone know if they have the power to do this?)

We have plumbing emergency insurance, but I'm reluctant to even ask about this, because they might then say "it's a known problem" if we then try to claim on it, having found out the hard way that insurers refuse to pay at any excuse.

At the moment I'm turning off the water main at night, and when we're out, to minimise the cost of leaked water.

Does anyone have any advice on how to deal with this? With my environmental head on, I would want to get it fixed immediately, but I am worried about the cost, and don't want to play into the hands of greedy insurers and water companies!

PigletJohn Thu 01-Nov-12 09:04:27

is your ground floor concrete or wood?

letsgomaths Thu 01-Nov-12 09:09:00


mycatlikestwiglets Thu 01-Nov-12 09:09:30

When did you buy your insurance? If the policy started before you knew about the leak, you should be covered (subject to the terms of the policy and how they define a plumbing emergency). It's only if the policy started after you started investigating the leak that you might have an issue. This is why you pay for insurance, a slow leak can cause an enormous amount of damage so it's worth taking a hit on your renewal premium to get it sorted out properly now.

There's probably no point in contacting the water company - if you know the leak is somewhere within the boundaries of your property, it's likely to be your responsibility to fix it.

PigletJohn Thu 01-Nov-12 09:17:01

have you got access to dig a trench at the side of the house (never mind "difficult" or "inconvenient")?

how old is the house?

does the water main come up through the kitchen floor, and is there an internal stopcock? where? is it at the back or the front of the house?

Pudden Thu 01-Nov-12 09:18:31

agree that you shouldn't contact the water board about it. A few months ago we got a note shoved through our door by the water board. An engineer had been sniffing round the neighbourhood look for leaks and found a mimiscule intermitant drip coming from our boiler overflow pipe.
When I rang the office they said that I had to address the drip otherwise I would be subjected to a) £1500 fine and b) enforced higher water rates!!!

Was easily fixed in the end (failed valve) but cost £105 to fix <sigh>. Meanwhile I look at the burst pipe over the green that has been gushing gallons again every second and wait for them to eventually come and and fix it ...again (ongoing problem over last few years) Gits!

letsgomaths Fri 02-Nov-12 07:18:56

The water pipe comes up through the kitchen floor, at the back of the house (which is about 1960's). I think there's an internal stop cock, but it's very stiff indeed. As for digging, it looks like the meter was only installed a few years ago, before we bought the house: in the ground around it in the back garden, the concrete around the meter hatch has a different texture.

lightrain Fri 02-Nov-12 07:24:02

I had a similar thing and was covered under my buildings insurance for a specialist company to come out and identify the source of the leak. I had to pay a small excess (£50 I think) but it was completely worth it.

chickydoo Fri 02-Nov-12 07:30:47

We had a slow leak under the kitchen.
We didn't even know until the kitchen floor started buckling.
We decided to call the insurance company to see if we were covered. We were but only if it was a leak from a main( I think)
We were told we were only covered after the event if a leak and it had to have stopped before we could claim.
We had the floor taken up, plumbers in leak fixed ( all at our expense) The insurance company then organised for people to come in, repair damage, new floor & damp course. They also decorated.
This in total took about 5 months....
I have just noticed the floor starting to buckle again.... I don't think the leak could have been fixed properly I can't stand the thought of it all happening again sadI

ToothbrushThief Fri 02-Nov-12 07:53:01

When you say main water valve.. Do you mean internal stop cock or valve by meter?

If the leak is in supply pipe (outside the house) the meter will still turn even when internal stop cock closed.

That will tell you if leak is before or after stopcock.

Where do you hear hissing?

If it were me I'd be analysing exactly where the leak was before acting. I had a similar issue and took out appropriate insurance. I then claimed on it 14 days later. They never queried it.

VivaLeBeaver Fri 02-Nov-12 07:58:32

You need to find out which side of the internal stop tap it is by turning the internal stop tap off. Replace the internal stoptap if you can't turn it off if its too stiff.

If the leak is between the meter and the internal stoptap your water company may repair it free of charge even though its on your property and technically your responsibility. A lot of water companies will do it under what's called a beyond the box agreement.

mycatlikestwiglets Fri 02-Nov-12 09:37:15

I'm not sure that the suggestion you should commit insurance fraud is a helpful one. I'm sure people get away with it everyday, like ToothbrushThief, but all that does is make everyone's premiums higher. In your case you have obviously already had people out investigating the cause of the leak. I would be very, very wary about buying new insurance in the hope it would cover this - particularly since it sounds as though you should be able to claim on your existing cover in any event.

mankymummymoo Fri 02-Nov-12 09:46:33

you may not need to find the leak.

i work for a plumbing company and we get lots of these jobs referred to us by the local water authority.

in most cases we re-lay a new pipe from the connection in the road, through to the house and connect to the existing pipework. then cut off the old redundant leaking pipework.

the cost depends mostly on the length of the re-lay (but also on the complexity of the connection inside) - but is usually in the hundreds rather than thousands. in some cases the water authority agree to pay for the external works and the customer just pays for the internal connection.

i would suggest you contact your local water authority as they should have recommended contractors.

the insurance company probably wont pay out as the damage 9/10 is caused by natural deterioration of the pipework rather than specific damage.

hope that helps.

ToothbrushThief Fri 02-Nov-12 09:46:51

As someone who has never claimed on house insurance and rejected all the ambulance chasing after car accidents I am perturbed to be considered as the sort of person who makes everyone's premiums higher.

The circumstances I describe, I can add detail to. I had a water meter installed. I intended to take out this insurance (as recommended by water board at time of having meter installed)

Unfortunately that same week I had a sudden and from my pov fairly catastrophic accident/head injury, was hospitalised and returned home to recover pretty slowly.

When the meter is installed they are supposed to check for leaks. They obviously didn't! I checked meter a month later and it was obvious there was a leak so I took the insurance immediately and then claimed after the obligatory 14 days grace.

Had I not had an accident....had they checked for a leak I would not have been liable. What I did was wrong...not disputing that. Did I feel guilty or like I was committing fraud. No. I felt desperate and like circumstances had conspired against me.

I sympathise with OPs plight. Possibly my advice to commit fraud is terrible. I see it very differently to advising someone to make a claim for a non existent injury or to increase their house insurance claim by falsely claiming on items they didn't lose. It's still wrong. I accept that

mankymummymoo Fri 02-Nov-12 09:48:29

Sorry, also. the water company cannot order you to repair the leak unless you have a shared supply with your neighbours and it is affecting their pipework also.

letsgomaths Fri 02-Nov-12 16:01:13

Thanks everybody for answers so far. To answer a few questions:
- Hissing: it's heard from pipes inside the house, sounds loudest in the kitchen, and bizarrely in the attic, although we doubt the leak is there, or we would have seen dripping water by now.
- There is a valve on the meter: this is the one I have turned off.
- Shared supply: it is indeed a shared supply, as they once had to turn off the whole terrace to mend someone else's.
- New pipe to "bypass" the leak: I like that idea, if it works. The main is in the back garden, rather than in the road, but I daresay it could work.

ToothbrushThief Fri 02-Nov-12 16:57:53

If you turn the water off at the meter then it should not spin at all because no water can pass through it?

If the meter is spinning with that valve off it suggests there is a fault with the meter.

You do need to be able to turn off your stop cock. That's an emergency basic requirement - get a plumber to look at it if you can't do that.


It's still not clear where your leak is. What you have described doesn't really add up. I don't understand why the visiting plumbers haven't ruled out the supply pipe into the house (by switching stop cock off and observing the meter) and if the meter is spinning despite the 'meter' valve being turned off why they haven't said this is an issue?

Ofwat info on leaks

Ofwat info on shared pipes

tricot39 Sun 04-Nov-12 07:49:13

Hi. We had a slow leak a couple of years ago. I was pregnant and could hear water running in the pipes when i was getting up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. We had had a meter installed in the pavement but were not on metered supply and we also had the old stopcock in the garden path as well as another internal one below stairs. After a lot of fiddling about we narrowed it down to the length of pipe between the path and the under stairs valve. "luckily" we noticed that the valve housing in the path filled with water when the supply was on but empty when off so we could see it was a leak close to that box.

I called the water company and they came out and confirmed my assessment. They gave me a certificate. I used the list of approved contractors from their website and got our lead/bust pipe replaced (luckily the internal pipework had already been replaced to the front door in copper so their was minimal disruption indoors) with plastic between the boundary and the house.

Using the certificate from thames water and the receipt from the contractor (plus an additional claim form) i submitted the papers to thames water and we got about a £500 rebate on our future water bills. That probably left us with a bill of about £350-400 to pay.

It could have been thousands if we were on metered supply as we would have also been billed for the leaking water. So do not delay if you are metered!! If you are metered you might be best to tell the water.board as they might give you a bill rebate while you.get the leak sorted. Certainly you need to tell them if you want a repair rebate (need the certificate before the contractor starts work) anyway.

Look at the water board website. They will have guidance on what to do and to use as we were told that we should only use the ones on their list. I was cynical but they turned out to be great - clean , quick and courteous.

Good luck - a new mains supply from the back sounds like a very.good/economic plan.

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