Preventing Leaks, Wasted Water, and Property Damage

We all recognize that water is an increasingly scarce resource in the desert Southwest. Coop members try hard to conserve. These efforts help to preserve a vital resource and reduce the cost of water. However, any of us may experience leaks and other sources of wasted water. Because members are responsible for the cost of all water delivered to their property, wasted water soon becomes expensive.

Other Websites

The City of Scottsdale, Arizona has an excellent video, Looking for Water Leaks Outside Your Home.

The Alliance for Water Efficiency supports a very useful website, Home Water Works, that has an excellent page, with short videos, on finding and fixing Leaks.

The HomeAdvisor website has a page on very useful general suggestions, Water Conservation Throughout the Home.

There are also many other websites and videos about finding water leaks. Go to your favorite search engine (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) or YouTube, and search for something like: finding home water leaks.

For example, this video, “Finding A Water Leak” shows how to use a water meter to help isolate a leak.

Locating a Problem

Finding a leak or cause of unexpected water use can be a real challenge. Here are most of the things that can cause problems that may not be immediately obvious.

  • Drip and irrigation systems

    A number of things can go wrong with these, such as:

    • Broken or critter-chewed 1/4″ tubing (“spaghetti”)
    • Broken or missing emitters
    • Split or cracked distribution (1″) tubing or fittings
    • Broken underground piping, such as from tree roots
    • Leaking valves – water in the valve box is a good clue
    • Sticky valves – when signaled by the controller, a valve may open properly, but (sometimes) may not close completely or at all, so the water runs for hours or even continuously
    • Leaking vacuum breaker – device(s) above ground, usually close to the valve box, will only show a leak while the drip system is active
    • Improper controller programming – such as, rather than set to run once a week, it’s set to run once a day
    • Failed controller

    Strategies for dealing with these kind of problems:

    • When you turn your system on in the spring, and have it working properly, read your water meter before and after running each irrigation zone, and note the amount of water used. Then if there is a problem later with high water use, you can check again to see which zone is using too much.
    • On a regular basis, walk around and look and listen when each zone is running.

    The City of Scottsdale, Arizona has an excellent video, Looking for Water Leaks Outside Your Home.

  • Toilets – particularly one in an unused bathroom or casita
    A leaking flapper valve may cause the toilet tank to periodically refill. A mis-adjusted fill valve may cause water to constantly flow.
    This page has several short videos about fixing toilets: Leaks
  • Evaporative Air Conditioner (Swamp cooler)
    Typical failures include:

    • Improperly adjusted float valve will cause the cooler to overflow. Look for water running off a canale or standing water on the roof.
    • Leaking supply line or fitting will also cause water on the roof and may be enough to drain off a canale.
    • Leaking supply line shutoff valve – these are typically in the utility room(s) where the water heater and/or heating system is.
  • Inside faucets, showers, and valves
    Even a small continuous leak can add up over a month. Check the non-obvious valves, such as washing machine shutoff, toilet shutoff, etc.
  • Outside faucets and hydrants
    In addition to the dripping hose bib, pay attention to any frost-free hydrants that have the valve underground, since a leak in that valve may go unnoticed.
  • Fountain, spa, hot tub, swimming pool etc.
    Anything with an automatic fill valve can cause a problem and needs careful attention.
  • Reverse Osmosis (RO) system
    Pay attention if it seems to be running continuously or more often than you expect. A leaking or malfunctioning valve could cause it to continuously send water down the drain.
  • Icemaker
    Note that some refrigerators and icemakers are designed to have some continuous water flow, which Beacon will consider a leak.
  • Water softener
    A failed or mis-programmed controller could cause it to cycle or regenerate either too often, or even constantly. A leaking valve could cause water to constantly flow into the sewer system.
  • Pressure relief valve on water heater
    Look at the drain tube for dripping water, which would indicate the valve is leaking.
  • Pressure relief valve on heating system boiler
    Look at the drain tube for dripping water, which would indicate the valve is leaking.
  • Supply line between meter and house
    This may be very hard to identify and locate. If your house has a water shutoff valve in the house, try turning that off. Then check the meter to see if it shows any flow at all, which it should not. Many houses in the this area do not have a shutoff valve (in which case the only way to turn off the water is the valve that is present at every meter). Or if there is a shutoff valve, it may be very well hidden, such as behind a water heater, inside a closet, etc. Ironic note: Turning a shutoff valve that has not been used may cause it to leak, so be prepared.
  • Leak inside a wall
    A small leak inside a wall may be hard to see directly. This could be caused by a poor pipe joint, a screw or nail into a water line, etc. that may have been present since the house was built or remodeled. Look for unexplained dampness, mold, etc.
  • Leak under a floor or slab
    This could be in the radiant floor system, in which case, makeup water has to be regularly added to the radiant system. An underfloor leak in a hot or cold water supply line will result in a small but constant flow. Most likely, a professional leak detection company will have to be engaged. They inject pressurized gas, which they can detect.

Finding problem(s)

  • Check meter: When you think you have all the water turned off (not running dishwasher, etc.), look at your water meter by lifting the lid and looking at the display down in the meter can. Is either the “speedometer” needle or the leak indicator (small triangle or star) moving? Note the meter (“odometer”) reading, and the position of the needle. Check again in a while – ten minutes or an hour. If anything is moving or has changed, and you think that there should not have been any water used, you have your first clue.The smart meters collect usage on an hourly basis, and report once a day. So if there are not any leaks, there should by periods (say 3 AM) where the smart meter website, EyeOnWater shows zero use.Since the smart meters only report once a day, a fix you make may take a day or two to be reflected in the EyeOnWater website.
  • Inspect: Just walking around, looking and listening can frequently find a problem.
  • Isolate: Try shutting off potential problem areas. For example, you can turn off a water softener controller for a few days; some softeners may have a bypass valve that takes the softener out of the plumbing loop. You may be able to shut off water to a casita.
  • Test: Try things like running one particular irrigation zone, carefully looking at it, and watching for how much water it uses. Or flushing a toilet and verify that the fill valve shuts off completely.

Note the the new smart water meters that the Coop is installing have LED displays, and let you see your usage from a computer or smart phone, but not instantly. You’ll still have to look at the meter itself to see current flow. The meter and display is in a underground pit, frequently close to the gas meter, phone terminal, or electric transformer. You’ll have to lift the meter lid and look into the hole. The display has a hinged cover that you may have to lift up.

Plumbing First Principles

  • Water goes on the inside of the pipe.
  • It’s always trying to get out.