As published in Lake Travis View, week of February 13, 2020.
Got leaks? DIY or call a plumber?
Fact: Each American uses an average of 88 gallons of water a day at home. According to the EPA, the average family can waste 180 gallons per week, or 9,400 gallons of water annually, from household leaks. That’s equivalent to the amount of water needed to wash more than 300 loads of laundry. Unfortunately, leaks almost never go away on their own and in most cases get worse if not repaired, leading to water waste and property damage. Proper routine maintenance of a home’s plumbing system can go a long way towards preventing leaks, but when they do occur, we encourage homeowners to know how to spot them and what to do if a leak is detected.
Do you know where your water meter box is? Your water meter is a great place to start if you suspect a leak. The first step is to make sure no water is being used inside or outside of your home, then locate your water meter (most likely at the end of your property, near the street). Be careful of creepy crawlies when lifting the lid. There will be a flow indicator (triangle or star) that spins when water is running through the meter; this should not be moving if you have all of your water turned off, so if it is spinning, you may have a leak somewhere. (The faster it spins, the larger the leak.) Another option: With the water shut off, write down the rotary digits in black displayed on the meter, wait 30 minutes to a few hours and then take another meter reading. If no water was being used, this number should be the same as the first reading; if the number went up, how much could determine how bad of a leak you have. While this method works well for larger leaks, small leaks may not be detected at the meter.
To detect a smaller leak, routinely inspect around your fixtures and appliances that use water: toilets, washing machine, faucets, showers, bathtubs, dishwasher, water heater, etc. Look for leaks around the pipes and around any seals, feel for dampness, smell for mold, and listen for unusual sounds that may be caused by the plumbing. A dripping faucet is usually something a homeowner or handyman can handle, as well as simple hardware installs (like a new showerhead) or unclogging drains. Anytime a pipe needs to be replaced, water pressure needs adjustment, or a larger appliance needs to be installed, seek professional assistance from a licensed plumber.
When dealing with undetectable leaks, it’s best to call a licensed plumber or irrigator, if you suspect it to be in your in-ground sprinkler system. However, many water utilities that use automatic meter reading (AMR) systems, such as Lakeway MUD, offer water meter profiling at no charge to their customers. During these audits, the technician can pull up a report on hourly water usage, specific to a property, to determine if there were spikes in usage over a period of time or on a routine basis. This report can help a homeowner pinpoint where excess water use is coming from. If the customer has the leak repaired, the water utility may offer a leak adjustment to reduce their most recent water bill.
Anytime a leak is being repaired, water will need to be shut off. This can be done at the water meter box using the customer-side main shut-off valve, or often times locally at the fixture itself. No matter the type of shutoff, the old adage you may have learned when it comes to home improvement — “righty tighty, lefty loosey” — applies here as well: To turn off the water, turn a knob to the right; to turn it back on, turn it to the left. Be sure these knobs are always all the way open or all the way closed.
To deter leaks, add a few tasks to your routine house cleaning, such as: soaking showerheads in vinegar to prevent clogging, scrubbing toilet bowls with a scrub brush rather than with drop-in toilet tank cleaners, disconnecting the washing machine’s supply line and cleaning the screen, and at least once a year, flushing the water heater tank to remove any sediment buildup. And as we always like to remind everyone that flushable wipes and F.O.G. (fats, oils and grease) clog pipes. Never put them down drains. Throw them in the trash.
March 16-22 is national Fix a Leak Week. In recognition, Lakeway MUD is hosting a presentation on leak repair for all local residents who want to know more about basic plumbing. It will be held at the Lake Travis Community Library, 1938 Lohmans Crossing, on March 17 at 10:30 a.m. Plumbing handbooks will be given out to all attendees. For more information, go to www.lakewaymud.org/events.
Written by Stephanie Threinen, public information liaison for the Lakeway Municipal Utility District. Earl Foster is the general manager for the district.