Is your house leaky? According to the EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency), household water leaks account for up to a trillion gallons of water wasted each year. According to their calculations, the average home leaks about ten thousand gallons annually or more than 90 gallons every single day. So how do you tell if your home is leaking?
First, pull out your water bills from the past year. Organize them by the months of colder weather when you’ll use less water for landscaping purposes and hotter weather when you’ll use more. In the winter months, December through February, the monthly average for a family of four should be under 12,000 gallons. If it’s more than that, you may have a leak.
Where does the leak come from?
The most common source of leaks is a worn toilet flapper or a dripping faucet. When you hear a hissing sound from the toilet tank, or it flushes randomly, you need to update the flapper. Dripping faucets start slowly, but unless you correct the problem, the leak only gets stronger. In fact, homeowners can save around ten percent on their water bills by merely fixing a few leaking fixtures.
How do you find them?
Turn off all the running water in your home, then read your water meter. Wait for two hours with no water use and then reread the meter. If the meter changes, it’s likely that you have a leak. Note that some water utilities have electronic meters with smartphone apps so you can track water leaks while you’re away from your home.
To determine if your toilet leaks, you’ll need some food coloring. Add one to two drops to your toilet’s tank. Wait for about 10 minutes to see if any of the colored water appears in the bowl. If you see it, that means your flapper does not seal properly and needs replacing. Once you’ve determined if it’s leaking, you should make sure to flush your toilet right away to completely expel the colored water from the tank to avoid staining your toilet bowl. A leaky faucet or showerhead is more straightforward. Often, you’ll see the drip coming from the fixture. Other times you’ll see a rust stain on the sink bowl or tub from the slowly dripping water. Other leaks can come from the connectors under sinks and behind toilets. If the valves are damp it could merely be condensation, so wipe them dry and leave them exposed to the air (leave cabinet doors open). Recheck them in an hour or two. Also, check for mold or mildew build-up since damp, leaky areas promote their growth.
Another area to find a hidden leak is in your landscaping. If your grass is greener in one area, or the ground sinks in when you step on it, you may have a broken sprinkler pipe. Landscaping and sprinkler professionals can trace the leak for you so that you can have it dug up and repaired.
How do you fix them?
If you’re handy, you can purchase a new flapper seal at your local hardware or DIY store. You’ll find instructions on YouTube, other websites or you can inquire about it while in the store. Leaky showerheads and sinks might need new gaskets, so start there. If your faucet’s fittings are inside walls, or it’s a complex system such as a touchless fixture, seek professional help in tracking down the leak and replacing seals and gaskets. Some leaks in valves and pipe joints only need plumber’s tape or pipe glue, but others might require replacing. To avoid flooding your home, let a professional handle the more complicated repairs.
For a referral to a plumbing or landscaping professional near you, ask your knowledgeable real estate agent.