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Question DetailsAsked on 7/1/2017

I came home to the sound of water in the walls. Trying to figure out where the leak is.

Turned off the water and still hear the sound. I do live in a townhouse so my thought was the sound was coming from the neighbor since my water was off. After I turned off the water, I noticed water pooling in front of the townhouse. Not a puddle, but enough to point to a leak outside. Am I right to assume the leak is coming from the main line? Would that cause the constant sound of water in the walls? I did do an inspection and did not find any water damage. Also, when I turned the water off to the house it lessened the noise in the walls...I assume because the water is now coming out of my lawn. Any help would be appreciated. I like to have an idea of what is going on before I call somebody to repair things. Thanks. :)

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4 Answers

Voted Best Answer

Misplaced my 3000 miles glasses so I can't tell you the problem precisely, but I will throw out some thoughts:

Since turning off the water lessened the sound, I would presume the water running is in your piping till proven otherwise.

First things to look at - do you have a toilet "running" or leaking - water leaking from cracked tank or tank bolts onto floor, or water running from tank into bowl because the fliush valve is stuck open or leaking or warped.

Also check any appliances which use water - water heater, boiler, dishwasher, reefer with ice maker, plumbed coffee maker or such, washer to be sure none of them are leaking - might not make a visible pool or leak if they have a drain plumbed catch basin or floor drain under them.

With water turned on, check you have water flowing out of both hot and cold faucets, and listen at water heater (and boiler if you have one) to be sure they are not having water flowing through them fast because of a leak in their piping and are not leaking, or they may boiling because of low water level. (Sometimes a heater or boiler going dry and boiling can sound like water running - if that is the case, turn off the power/burner to it till the inflow shortge is solved.). If you hear water surging/flowing fasat through boiler then your heating system has a leak, if water heater sounds loud likely the leak is in hot water piping. Course, if your heating appliances are real close together you may not be able to discriminate between the sounds.

If you still hear the sound more than a few minutes after turning off the water (to let the water in the pipes drain down, during which time the sound should taper off - hold ear to faucet or faucet handle to listen), could be your shutoff valve is not fully closing and is letting some water through. With the shutoff closed, try opening the lowest elevation faucet in the house on both hot and cold sides (or blended temp setting if single handle) to let the water in the pipes drain down. To accelerate the process, open a top floor faucet too on both hot and cold sides - to let air in so the water in the pipes can drain down faster. If, with the shutoff valve closed and after the pipes have drained down, water continues to flow out that lower faucet, then your shutoff valve is not fully shutting off (common, with them rarely being used) so you would still get some sound in the pipes. If it tapers off to nothing or just a slow drip, then if the water flow is in your hot or cold pipes that should stop the noise - if not, then leak is in your steam/hot water heating system, in an adjacent unit and you are hearing their pipe noise, or is leaking on the street side of the shutoff valve.

Assuming the in-house flow is down to nothing or a trickle with the main shutoff off, if you still heat the water flowing loudly/strongly, then it could be there is another source connected, or it could be neighbors are running water and that is what you are hearing.

The pooling is certainly suspect (assuming it has not recently rained or had sprinklers on) - look around the foundation for water running out from under the siding. And feel if water in puddle is warmer than outside temp or not to gtell if hot water leaking. However - see if you can get your neighbor to stop using any water to see if the sound stops then - and if not, see if it stops when they turn THEIR shutoff off - could be you are hearing a leak in their unit.

You said no visible leaks - did you check basement/crawlspace/under-unit garage or storage space, if you have such ?

If there is a leak, if the sound dropped off but did not stop (presumably to zero if neighbor(s) stops using any water for awhile and the sound continues), then the leak is on the house side of the shutoff point. If it does NOT make a difference in the sound when you shut off water off, then presumably in neighbor's unit or on the street side of the meter - a goodly leak you would still hear through the pipes, say if it is leaking under the drive and that is where the pooling is.

You can use a piece of pipe or a metal rod, with your ear held to it (or a stethoscope even better), moving it around starting near where the water line enters the house, and walk towards the street water shutoff valve (typically has 4-6 inch manhole or bolted-on cover which should say WATER or maybe have the water utility's name cast on it - usually 3-10 feet your side of the edge of the street) checking every few feet for where the sound is loudest - can commonly find any but very small buried pipe leaks with a few feet or so that way.

One other possibility, if you have steam or hot water heating (baseboard or in-slab loops type) - if you have shared heating, or all the heating units are in one unit basement, could be you are hearing a heating system leak which may (or may not) be in your unit - could be in a wall, or if you have heated slabs (including lowest level) could be leaking from the slab direct into the ground. Use above rod method or ear direct to slab to listen around for in-floor heating leak location.

Another possibility - temperature and pressure relief valve on a water heater or boiler has opened and stuck open and the water is going down a pipe direct to a drain so there is no leakage visible. (Located near top, typically on side or back of unit, with a typically 3/4" or 1" pipe leading to a drain or almost to the floor).

Also if you have a boiler or a high-efficiency heat pump type water heater, listen if the pump on that unit is making the noise - you might be hearing a noisy circulating pump rather than a leak.

Another common cause - leak at pool or lawn irrigation system, which you could commonly hear through the house pipes.

Commonly, if you have a surface pooling or suspected leak, the water utility will come and help locate the leak source for free.

Plumbing would of course be your Search the List category to find a plumber to work on locating and fixing this - or in some areas Heating and A/C is the more common vendor for boilers and sometimes for water heaters too.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD


Three other thoughts -

1) dishwasher or washer running on an energy saving cycle or delayed start so it is running even though you did not recently start it.

2) water softener (and some water filtration units) with stuck backwash timer or valve, so it is flushing the system continuously rather than going back to normal operation (flushes water through the system into a drain when backflushing/regenerating). Or maybe you have never heard it in the daytime before - usually set to backflush at nighttime if on a fixed cycle rather than every so many gallons, but if an electric timer could have been thrown off by a power outage.

3) this was one of those embarrased-to-the-hilt occassions for a neighbor, but will get a lot of laughs after the embarrassment wears off - thinking they heard a serious water leak almost like a stream or small rapids rushing but no water anywhere. - Apparently a kid had left the volume control way up on a large screen in-wall TV/scene screen which happened to be loaded with a mountain brook scene with sound as its screensaver (served as an outdoor "window scene" as well as TV) so when the kid turned their show or game off and left the house the system defaulted to the stream scene nature screensaver, and was on when Mom came home and sounded like a water leak.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD


Thank you for that informative response. I did check the crawlspace and there was no sign of a leak. It seems to be in the pipes. While listening to the pipes, it seems to be coming from one that does lead up to a spare bathroom. There are no leaks with that toilet. Shower does not seem to leak and I left the water on for some time. It is a fairly big pipe so I am assuming it has to do with the toilet or shower but not entirely sure. I am getting a plumber out tomorrow hopefully.

Answered 3 years ago by dbernard94


Since you say the pipe is large, sounds like a drain line you hear water running in.

Water supply lines typically run from 1/4 to 3/4" in a house - sometimes 1" for long runs or main branch lines. Normally galvanized threaded pipe, soldered copper, flexible PEX plastic tubing.

DWV (Drain, Waste, Vent) pipes are generally from 1-1/2 to 3 inch under appliances and fixtures and 3-4 inch for the main branches and stack. Generally (except in very old houses where they may be cement, wrapped fabric, cast iron, brass, lead, etc) cast iron with leaded joints or plastic (sometimes PVC but normally black ABS if plastic). And of course if you run the water, a water line will be ground temp cold or hot, a waste pipe may get coldish or warm with a long period of flow through it but generally around room temp for the above-ground portions.

If you are hearing water running through the drain lines, then could be water from a running toilet or faucet upstairs (or even downstairs or in adjacent unit if you are not sure you are hearing the gurgling and splashing of water coming from above), or could be leakage from an attic-mounted water heater. A small trickle sound could also be condensate from the attic mounted air conditioner condensate coil - though would only happen starting after the A/C kicks on, and continue not more than a few minutes after the A/C kicks off.

With a condo/townhouse, water running in an adjacent unit could sound pretty loud in your unit potentially, because the sound can carry through the pipes - both the drain lines and the vent piping, so you might have to coordinate testing all adjacent units (shutting off all water use first, then if that does not do it, shutting off the shutoff valves).

One other possible source I did not address - rarely a drain will be installed as an emergency drain in event of overflow (like a floor drain under dishwasher or washer) but is normally dry (so sewer gases could come out) so it may have a trickle feed of water to it to keep the trap filled - though of course if you turn off the main water shutoff (and it is actually shutting all the way off per previously given method to check for total shutoff) then it should stop running at that time.

Couple of others I did not address - an underdrain or wet well french drain sump pump dumping water into the sewer line (illegal in most areas), or a dehumidifier dumping water into a drain.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD


One afterthought I may not have mentioned - mechanical equipment, especially attic fans or such, going out or obstructed and making noise, and the noise being carried down drain vent pipeto the rest of the house.

One other infrequent cause, though would not change when you shut the water off - is a trap (toilet or tub/shower commonly) with hair or paper or such draping over the edge of the trap, so it is slowly draining the water out of the trap (so a cup to four cups typically) and you hear it dripping down in the drain pipes. Can run for up to an hour or even more at a slow drip, but if a running water sound would normally drain it out within 5 minutes or so.

Also - a couple of other links with answers on dripping sound in walls or ceilings FYI:

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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