Handy Tips to Fix Plumbing Leaks and Reduce Water Waste
Are you ready to chase down those plumbing leaks? Household leaks can waste more than 1 trillion gallons of water nationwide each year, so each year we hunt down drips during Fix a Leak Week!
Mark your calendars for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) tenth annual Fix a Leak Week, March 19 through 25, 2018. This is an annual even first launched in 2009 by WaterSense, a partnership program sponsored by the EPA. WaterSense seeks to protect our water supply through a variety of water-saving education programs and products. The WaterSense label can be found on a variety of plumbing products that meet standards for reducing water waste.
The month of March is full of plumbing holidays, and just incase you missed it this year; next March 11th you’ll have a chance to celebrate World Plumbing Day!
World Plumbing Day is an international event, initiated by the World Plumbing Council (WPC), held on March 11th each year to recognize the important role plumbing plays in societal health and amenity.
The WPC, through its member countries and its partnerships with bodies like the World Health Organization, works all year round to promote the benefits of safe plumbing, but in 2010 it decided to launch the concept of embedding a single day on the world’s calendar dedicated to plumbing. The idea was that on March 11 each year, people all over the world would pause to reflect on the vital role plumbing plays in preserving their health and way of life or in building sustainable disease-free futures for millions in the developing world.
Now, let’s get into this blog’s topic on fixing plumbing leaks and saving a few bucks.
Leaks Can Run, but They Can’t Hide
Water’s relative low cost creates a common misperception that leaking fixtures are harmless. In fact, among the more than 23,000 houses that participated in a recent water use study, 10 percent were found to waste at least 90 gallons of water each day with leaks. That’s enough to fill a large whirlpool bath.
The most common types of leaks in the home are worn toilet flappers, dripping faucets and other leaking valves. These types of leaks are often easy to fix, requiring only a few tools and hardware that can pay for themselves in water savings.
Of course, the fastest sign you have a leak is that annoying drip, drip, drip you hear coming from one of your plumbing fixtures. However, some leaks occur in hidden places under the sink and behind the wall. Determining if you have a water leak can be tricky. Try conducting a simple test to find out if you have hidden leaks in your home:
- Turn off all the taps and water-using devices in your home.
- Take a trip outside to the water meter (or perhaps it’s in the basement) and write down the numbers that you see on the meter.
- Don’t use any water for the next two hours. Place signs on the kitchen and bathroom sinks as reminders to family members.
- Re-read the numbers of the water meter and compare them with the numbers you wrote down two hours ago. If the reading is different, you more than likely have a plumbing leak somewhere in your house.
Believe it or not, you can also use your ears to find leaks. Turn off all the faucets in the house and anything else that makes noise, like radios, TVs and computers. Then just listen. Move through the house. Visit the kitchen and every bathroom. Stop by the utility room and your water pump, if you have one. Find the place where water drains out of your home. Listen carefully. If you hear water moving through the supply pipes or the drains, you may have a leak.
Tip: A family of four will typically use 12,000 gallons of water per month. Usage in excess of this amount could also indicate a leak.
“Is your toilet running? Well you better catch it!”
That may be one of the oldest jokes in the book, but it is also quite true.
According to the EPA, an average of 200 gallons of water can be wasted every day by a running toilet. Sometimes you can have a small leak that only wastes about 30 gallons of water a day, however, these leaks are more difficult to detect and therefore can last longer. Thirty gallons of water a day can certainly add up quickly when you are unaware there is a problem.
Hint: You can identify toilet leaks by placing a drop of food coloring in the toilet tank. If any color shows up in the bowl after 10 minutes, you have a leak. (Be sure to flush immediately after the test to avoid staining the tank.)
(No, not a 1920’s fashionable young woman intent on flouting conventional standards of behavior.)
A worn-out toilet flapper is the number one cause of most toilet leaks. The flapper is the large rubber piece at the bottom of the tank and is usually connected to a chain which is then connected to a metal or plastic arm. The flapper sits on top of the flush valve, sealing the flush valve to prevent water from entering the toilet bowl until the toilet is flushed. As this rubber flapper ages, it can become brittle, crack, or warp, preventing it from providing a full seal with the flush valve and allowing the water to leak into the valve. Also, debris or sediment from water can build up in the bottom of the tank preventing the flapper from sealing properly.
- Try jiggling the handle. This can help the flapper reset. However, this is often only a temporary solution.
- If jiggling the handle doesn’t work, take the lid off the back of the toilet and see if the flapper is all the way down against the flush valve or if it is hanging open. If it is hanging open, try moving the arm that is attached to the flapper and see if it falls back down to the bottom of the tank. Check to see if anything is blocking the flapper from returning to the bottom such as the chain or sediment. If so, remove the impediments.
- If it continues to leak, try replacing the flapper.
Hint: Bring the old flapper to the hardware sure for comparison to make sure you buy a new flapper that fits your toilet model.
Toilet Tank Tip: Ideally the water level in your toilet tank should be set so that is about even with the fill line (approximately ½” below the overflow tube). If the water is too high and is spilling into the overflow tube, the water level can be adjusted by turning the adjustment screw or by very gently bending the float arm so that the water shuts off at a level below the overflow tube.
Plumbing Fact: Since 1992, federal law has mandated that all new toilets use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush. If your toilet is a 3.5-gallons per flush from the 1980s or an even older model that uses five of more gallons, consider replacing your old water guzzler with a sleek new water-conserving 1.6-gallon unit.
If you’re ever in doubt, please don’t hesitate to contact J&A South Park. We are happy to help with any plumbing problems or concerns.
Don’t Be a Drip
If you’ve ever tried to fall asleep with a dripping faucet in the next room or wrestled with a kitchen sink that didn’t know when to stop, you know how annoying this can be. A dripping faucet also drives up your water bill. A single faucet that leaks one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water per year. That’s the amount needed to take about 180 showers!
Water entering your home is under pressure to move it through the pipes. When you turn off the tap, rubber or silicone-based washers form a water-tight seal that prevents more water from pushing its way through the pipes and out of the faucet. Over time, these washers can become stiff, torn or dislodged, allowing a tiny trickle of water through, creating that annoying drip, drip, drip.
The washer is usually located under the handle. These are relatively easy to replace, if you have the right tools. It does require shutting off the water under the sink or at the main shutoff valve and removing the handle. (Note: faucet handles are not shut-off valves.) Check your local home center or hardware store on how to repair faucet leaks.
A leaky, dripping showerhead is not only annoying, it wastes water. Before you call in a professional, this fairly common household problem may be relatively simple to fix by yourself (depending on the cause of the problem).
To repair a leaking showerhead, ensure there’s a tight connection between the showerhead and the wall. Unscrew the showerhead, wrap pipe tape around the threads two or three times and tighten it into place with a wrench. Pipe tape, also called Teflon tape, is available at most hardware stores, is easy to apply and can help control leaks.
It’s also a good idea to check and, if needed, replace the washer or “o” ring inside the showerhead while making this repair.
Tip: Installing a low-flow showerhead is an easy way to significantly reduce water consumption. Even a 10-minute shower with a conventional showerhead can use up to 42 gallons of water. Low-flow showerheads are easy to install and use far less water.
If you’ve determined you have leaks and you find these solutions aren’t enough to stop them, it might be time to replace your leaking fixtures. Consult with J&A South Park when considering a new toilet, faucet or showerhead.
D-I-Y Plumbing Repair Tips – – Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey
Generally speaking, here are a few tips before tackling those small repairs yourself.
- Before tackling any repair, turn off the water main.
- Dress to get wet! Even if you’re as careful as possible, plumbing maintenance and repair is a messy job.
- There’s an old adage for carpenters that states to measure twice and cut once. This applies to pipes, washers and other fitting as well. When possible, take parts to be replaced to the hardware store with you to be sure you’re buying the right item.
- Keep a professional plumber’s phone number handy. You may not need the number, but if you snap off a valve and have a water geyser in your kitchen, you’ll be glad you kept it near your phone.
Tip: The master water supply valve controls the water supply to your home. It’s a good idea to know where your master water valve is located, so you can turn off the water supply in the event of a major leak or as needed when making a plumbing repair. The two most common locations for the master supply valve are next to the water meter or where the water supply pipe enters your house.
Let’s face it, some issues are too dangerous or complicated to tackle alone. You need to consider hiring a certified plumber for the following tasks for your safety and the integrity of your home:
- Installation of new pipes, sinks or tubs
- Water heater problems
- New construction that requires building permits
- Septic tank leaks
- Sewer line breaks or leaks
If you have questions want to schedule a maintenance visit or have a repair emergency, contact J&A South Park at (412) 835-1010 today!