How to find water leak?

I have a water leak from an outside pipe. I shut off water going into the house, leaving only the outside plumbing on, and the water meter indicator spins, indicating water being used somewhere.
Is there any way to tell where the leak is coming from short of digging up my water pipes? I only have two outside faucets (yes they are turned off, no they don't leak), but the pipes leading to them go all the way around the house, probably over a hundred feet of pipe. Somewhere along this hundred foot section of pipe there is a leak. I can dig the entire mess up if I have to, starting at the water meter, but is there an easier way to find the leak?
I live in the southern Wilamette Valley, Oregon. It rains. Every day. Day in and day out. The ground is mud from October to June, so looking for a wet spot or green spot is not really an option.
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Any chance it could be a water softener or toilet losing the water? I had a water softener stuck on back flush at one time.
Larry
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If you have to dig, I would dig around each faucet first. Maybe one of the faucets got hit by something and the leak is at one of the elbows coming up or otherwise associated with one of them... i.e., the most likely spots to be damged by some above ground accident.
I'm not sure there's a way to tell if there's a leak along a long run of pipe in the ground, but if you have to dig, maybe dig only every 20 feet, or where there's likely to be a joint in the piping.... My second guess at where a leak would be is a joint.
Is there a driveway, of some kind, along the pipe's path? Maybe driving over that area caused the leak at that spot. A tree root nearby, that may have caused a break in the line as it grew larger?
Sonny
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On 5/3/2012 12:17 PM, Sonny wrote:

plastic pipe?
binary search. dig somewhere in the middle. cut and install a valve. turn off. does it still happen? if so, it's somewhere between the valve and meter. if not, it's the other half.
repeat until you get down to a length where it's not such a burden to dig up a longer length of pipe to find out exactly where.
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In the USCG electronics school they called it Sectionalize, Localize, Isolate.
He's already Sectionalized it: Outside plumbing vs. Inside plumbing.
Cutting the system in half would Localize it (it may take a couple of localization steps, as you noted)
Eventually, he'll Isolate it.
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On 5/3/2012 1:23 PM, DerbyDad03 wrote:

depth with a ground rod or some such. See if any water comes up the hole. Should be clear water.
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Yup. That's the approach I would use. I don't understand the layout either. It sounds like the outside piping to spigots is tied to the meter? Rather odd, at least around here. Normally the water service comes in the house and then gets branched out from there.
In any case, isolating sections is the way to narrow down the leak. There are also pro leak finding services, but what they charge may not be worth it for this.
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Meters are usually inside for areas where it freezes, exactly how does turning the shut off just b/4 the meter, help with digging outside?Just like calling for an _OOPS_. Not calling can be dangerous, things like electric & gas lines lurk below surfaces.
I once had a total remodel job, because someone shut off the kitchen sink shut offs, to replace an upstairs tub faucet!
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In warm climates, meters are often at the street. Outdoor faucets can branch off on the way to the house. In this case, the leak is between the meter and house and that can be a long distance.
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That is exactly how it is. The meter is at the street. There is a 25 foot pipe, 3/4 inch, metal, that goes from meter into house - it comes out in the basement. There is a shutoff valve at the meter. There is a shutoff valve where the pipe comes into the basement, so I can shut off the entire house.
Somewhere along this 30 foot section, it T's off to the outdoor faucets, but I have no idea where - a rather obvious place would be close to the house - like within a foot of the wall. If I can't find a leak at the faucets, I would be very tempted to just cap that pipe. I use a well to water the yard, and I have pvc running all around the house for that. I never use city water for the yard - water is terribly expensive here. I'd sooner cap the pipe than dig up 100' of pipe looking for a leak.
I called the water co. They were worthless. As far as they are concerned it isn't their problem and I should call a plumber. Absolutely no help at all.
I live in a small town close to nowhere. Nearest real city is about an hour or so away, if you can call them cities. Actually, Portland is about 90 miles from here. No one closer than that has any acoustic leak finders, and it would prohibitively expensive to have them come here to check for it.
So I'm going for the listening stick approach first. If that doesn't turn up anything, I'm going to dig up the meter and see if the pipe coming out of that leaks. Then I dig up the faucets. Then I look for the T and decide if I just want to cap it, or try to follow the pipe. Capping it is sounding better and better if I can't find the leak in obvious places.
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Ook wrote:

Interesting information. That's a clearer description of the piping layout that you have. I think the good news is that, at worst, you would need to replace the 25-30 foot line going from the meter to the house. At least that's better than having to deal with 100 feet of underground pipe.
About how deep is the water pipe that goes from the meter to the house? Hopefully it's just a few feet deep -- less than 5. If it is not too deep, digging the whole 25 foot trench by hand down to the pipe may not be that big of a deal. And, if it is something like 4 feet deep or less, it would probably be safe enough where you could pay a high school kid $10-$15/hour to do the dig and the fill-in if needed.
I assume, of course, that you did what others suggested about turning off the water at the main shutoff inside the house and then opening a faucet inside the house just to be sure that the main shutoff valve really does shut off the water completely.
I think your idea of digging at one end -- such as at the meter -- first, and then if that doesn't do it dig at the other end -- near the house -- is a good plan. My preference may be to dig near the house first because the T to the outside faucets is probably there. I would guess that they ran those lines while the foundation ditch was still open so the lines probably run along the house near the foundation wall to the outside faucets. If you dig there first, you could cut and cap the faucet pipe line that comes off the main first and see if that solves the problem.
I never heard of a listening stick and I can't picture it really working to detect what I assume is a slow leak. But just because I never heard of it doesn't mean it isn't a good tool and trick to try. If you do try it, let us know how well it seems to work. And let us know what the final outcome is once you do solve the leak mystery.
Good luck.
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Re: How to find water leak?:

Well, if the meter is "inside", and the leak is before the meter, then it's the water companies problem isn't it?
--
Work is the curse of the drinking class.

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On 5/3/2012 3:39 PM, Monk wrote:

please try to keep up.
1: it's in oregon, and it rains the entire year. it doesn't freeze there.
2: if the leak is before the meter, then it's the water companies problem.
3: if the leak is before the meter, then turning off the shutoff valve on his side of the meter won't spin the meter dial unless the leak is between the valve and the meter, and they're likely to be within an arm's reach, so he could see it, and not be in the 100' of pipe that he said is already the problem.
4: he may not have to call the city to get his services mapped. he might already know. i built my house, and know where everything buried is. you don't know that the OP doesn't already have this information.
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You don't really say what the "outside" plumbing is? I believe there are acoustic tools. You need to find someone that specializes in located underground leaks.
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You might try this: http://www.duanecard.com/dowsing/dowse.htm
or
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On 5/3/2012 11:39 AM, Ook wrote:

house, leaving only the outside plumbing on, and the water meter indicator spins, indicating water being used somewhere.

water pipes? I only have two outside faucets (yes they are turned off, no they don't leak), but the pipes leading to them go all the way around the house, probably over a hundred feet of pipe. Somewhere along this hundred foot section of pipe there is a leak. I can dig the entire mess up if I have to, starting at the water meter, but is there an easier way to find the leak?

and day out. The ground is mud from October to June, so looking for a wet spot or green spot is not really an option. What do you mean by "water meter indicator spins"? If you can see it move, you'll probably soon have a sink hole that'll be easy to find.
There's an ultrasonic listening device that translates ultrasonic sounds down to audible frequencies. Works on small/fast leaks. Might be able to poke a rod down into the ground and listen to it.
Call the utility and see if they have any advice. But you gotta get past the robot and the first human line of defense. I've had some success walking into the city water department engineering office and whimpering. People are often willing to help. It's the corporation that gets in the way.
At some point, it's cheaper to call a plumber. But you still gotta be careful.
My neighbor had a leak under his driveway. They were about to take air hammers to the driveway when I intervened and convinced them to put in a whole new pipe around the driveway.
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On 5/3/2012 2:39 PM, Ook wrote:

house, leaving only the outside plumbing on, and the water meter indicator spins, indicating water being used somewhere.

water pipes? I only have two outside faucets (yes they are turned off, no they don't leak), but the pipes leading to them go all the way around the house, probably over a hundred feet of pipe. Somewhere along this hundred foot section of pipe there is a leak. I can dig the entire mess up if I have to, starting at the water meter, but is there an easier way to find the leak?

and day out. The ground is mud from October to June, so looking for a wet spot or green spot is not really an option. Could be the meter itself...enough access to check it?
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On Thu, 03 May 2012 16:22:51 -0500, Vic Smith

house, leaving only the outside plumbing on, and the water meter indicator spins, indicating water being used somewhere.

off and you open a tap in the house you won't get water if the valve is really shut. If you still get a steady flow of water, the valve is not closed. If you don't it is. Why is everyone making it more difficult than it really has to be. When you hear hoofbeats in Oregon you don't go looking for Zebras, or Unicorns!!!.
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On Thu, 03 May 2012 20:49:30 -0400, snipped-for-privacy@snyder.on.ca wrote:

house, leaving only the outside plumbing on, and the water meter indicator spins, indicating water being used somewhere.

So you agree with making sure the flow had stopped to the inside before deciding it's leaking on the outside. Good. No indication the OP did that.
--
Vic

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