Slab leaks are one of the most specialized plumbing services in the industry. Because of this, it can often be an expensive fix. Some companies “specialize” in slab leaks, but this does not necessarily make them the best. We find a lot of specialized slab leak companies are the “ambulance-chasers” of the plumbing industry. At Earl’s Plumbing, we’re unapologetically unfiltered, and we call it as we see it. If you’ve got a licensed plumber that’s only willing to do the big jobs, do you really want to work with them?
At Earl’s Plumbing, we do our own leak detections and locating work. We don’t rely on a 3rd party provider that specializes in leak detection and location services. We purchased our own leak location equipment so that we would not have to wait two to three weeks for a 3rd party provider. In many instances, we can do the leak detection, testing and leak locating the same or the next day that you call. If you suspect you have a slab leak, please give us a call!
The answer is: sometimes. Some insurance covers slab leaks and some do not. Before you move forward with slab leak repair, please ask your homeowners insurance provider the following question:
Does my policy have the required endorsement for coverage of slab and foundation-related damages caused by water leaks from both water lines and sewer breaks?
Surprisingly, about 35-40% of the homeowners that we do work for do NOT have this important endorsement. It typically costs less than $100 for the year to add the endorsement to your policy. Our owner, Brant Stacey, has a policy through USAA for only $75 for the year. This policy covers up to $15,000 of excavation or “access work.” Any interior home damage to flooring and furnishings should be covered by the regular homeowner’s policy.
Because we believe in calling it like we see it, we typically see the bigger, more well-known insurance providers cause the most problems for homeowners. They’re less likely to inform you of the slab leak or foundation endorsement and are more likely to issue denial letters. Their payouts are also typically smaller. One advantage of a bigger insurance company, however, is they tend to have more policies. Regardless of who you go with for your homeowners insurance, be sure to do your research, and make sure your policy has the slab leak or foundation endorsement.
The important takeaway here is that before you have a major problem and significant out-of-pocket expense, get yourself covered. A typical slab leak repair runs between $5,000 and $20,000 with the average being somewhere in the middle. And that’s just for the plumbing work part! Without the endorsement or coverage on your homeowner’s policy, this could be your out-of-pocket expense.
More often than not, a true slab leak doesn’t appear inside the home or cause damage to the interior of your house. In fact, it’s rare that a slab leak makes it to the interior surface before you know that something is not right. A slab leak will eventually show up on the interior of your home if left untreated, but you will likely notice one of these signs first:
At Earl’s Plumbing, we don’t like to jump straight to the conclusion that you have a slab leak. When we get calls for slab leaks, we like to ask a few clarifying questions to determine our next course of action. This is because, in our experience, about 40% of the calls we get for slab leaks are actually much smaller problems. Some of the most common are:
In some cases, when it’s not completely obvious there is a slab leak, there are some initial testing and observations that need to take place to rule out the above items, as well as some other less common problems. Unfortunately, for that testing to be conclusive, all water supply shut-off valves must be in working order. Be sure to check out our guide to water supply shut-off valves.
The initial process for a slab leak determination when it’s not obvious usually consists of a series of tests on the different parts of the waterline system. We need to rule out all other leak possibilities that are far less costly to repair. That is done by isolating and narrowing the scope along with a multiple system pressure test.
About 99% of the time, our techs are going to start by checking the most likely and easiest to identify source of potential water loss. That is typically going to be visual observations of the water meter, toilets, toilets tanks, interior faucets, water heater(s) and hose spigots. At that time, they would also take a quick assessment of any shutoffs that may be problematic for a full test to be performed.
If the water meter is still moving after we’ve shut off all the water, there are a few more steps we need to take, including:
If after all this, the water meter is still moving, we’ll head for the next step.
Our next step will be to perform a static pressure test on all of the domestic water lines in and under the house. To do this, we attach a pressure gauge to a fully functioning hose spigot. Then, we allow the home to fill with water. This may require more water shutoffs in the home.
Then, using the main water shutoff valve again, the house would become isolated. Any drop in pressure would then indicate a leak. A true slab leak is indicated by pressure falling immediately and steadily until it reaches zero. This test is performed for 20 minutes, and sometimes multiple times to rule out water heater and hot water line leaks.
For our slab leak locating service, Earl’s Plumbing uses the same leak detection equipment and processes as a well-known nationwide franchise that specializes in just “leak location.” Most plumbing companies outsource slab leak detection. In fact, we used to do this, but it could extend the project by up to three weeks. Now, we have the training, specialized equipment and expertise to perform slab leak detection in-house.
The leak location begins by listening for and finding the loudest two points in the house. It’s called a “points test.” Once this is identified, a frequency transmitter is attached to the water line. This produces a specific frequency that another locator device senses and detects. Understanding this locator and its various readings allows you to create a “blue tape map” of the water lines on the floor.
From there, we use acoustic leak detection equipment to listen through the slab. The best way to describe this is an amplified stethoscope. We have some controls to adjust sensitivities and measurement meter that allows us to gauge the loudest spots. The accuracy is largely based around the operators’ skills and experience but also how directly we can get our device and probes over the buried water line.
If the leak happens to be located inside a concrete beam and/or spraying in a different direction, it can be harder to pinpoint. In addition, the size of the leak and volume of water as well as the flooring type, cabinets, walls, and fixtures (tubs and showers) can all play a part and possibly interfere with getting an exact location. Our goal is to be exact but as long as we are within two to three feet, we can make that work.
It should be noted that we will occasionally be using other devices and methods to pinpoint the location. The most common are:
It’s very rare, so rare that we’ve only seen it twice, but occasionally there is a second smaller leak on the system that doesn’t present itself until the first leak is repaired. Therefore, the initial repair quotes will always have some language that allows for additional repairs steps and pricing flexibility.
Earl’s Plumbing makes slab leak repairs in three different ways, and all are dependent upon the situation and location of the leak. These three time-tested processes are the only ones that we know definitively address and permanently correct & repair the leak problem. Those three are listed below in order of preference:
Tunneling is used in about 85% of the slab leak repairs that we complete. The reason that this is the preferred method is because:
There are some unknowns that cannot be determined until the work begins that create difficulties, thus affecting the final price is:
Tunneling may sound crazy and hazardous, but other than the confined space and limited airflow, it’s really not that bad. Typically, on longer tunnels we bring fans in to push and pull air into the excavated area so that the high temp torches will reach their max ability. The other issue is water accumulation, which sometimes requires pumps to remove the water. Regardless, we’re equipped to handle the job.
The second most likely option for a slab leak repair is via a slab penetration. This is typically less than 15% of the repairs we make because of the many inconveniences that go along with the job.
This requires the removal of the flooring in that area (which may already be damaged) along with jackhammering a hole through the concrete slab. Once the slab is removed and hauled away, an excavation is usually required to get to the pipe that is leaking, and that is all dependent upon the location of the leak and the entry hole. It’s rare that excavation work is not required, especially if the leak is under a wall, cabinet or on one side of the beam when we’re trying to avoid flooring damage that is unaffected.
Although a tunnel repair is usually the best option, a slab penetration might be better for the following reasons:
Slab penetration repairs typically take longer to complete. Depending upon numerous factors, a slab penetration is at least 3 days and sometimes 4-5 days spread out. Factor in the flooring repairs and you could be in for a very intrusive couple of weeks. We do our best to keep the area clean, but dust tends to come off of the slab penetration, no matter what.
Other factors and unknowns that may affect the total price for the insurance provider or the homeowner during a slab penetration that need to be considered:
Waterline reroutes are really only realistic in single-story homes. And even then, much consideration must be given to how many fixtures may get dropped and need to be included in the reroute. Each fixture drop will require multiple drywall patches performed by a third party, adding additional costs and logistical work for you. This process also usually requires tile removal. This is certainly not our preferred method, but it’s something we’re capable of performing.
Whether you have a slab leak or not, we’ll be the ones to help you every step of the way. We’re always honest about the real problem your home is facing, and we’ll fix it right the first time. If you’re in the Frisco, McKinney or Allen area, give us a call!