While municipal water main breaks make news, it’s just as important to be watchful at home. According to the Alliance for Water Efficiency, a typical home annually loses more than 2,000 gallons of water due to leakage. SNL Financial, an industry analysis firm in Charlottesville, Virginia, recently reported that water leaks cause $9.1 billion in annual homeowner policy property losses.
Sensing a less-than-stellar water flow or seeing a leak from a faucet or mold or damp spots on walls and ceilings can indicate possible water pipe problems.
Copper water lines can develop tiny leaks over time when the water supply is too acidic. Also, clogs can develop, regardless what lines are made of, from lime and rust accumulations, stressing sections and especially fittings. Particularly vulnerable are 45-to-65-year-old homes, the length of time corrosion-resistant coatings on interior and exterior pipes generally last (Old-HouseWeb.com). Fortunately, if repairs are needed, most builders group water lines in predictable places; bathrooms are often stacked one atop another in multi-floor houses for easier placement of supply and drain lines, so work can be localized and focused.
Instead of costly copper, many plumbers have switched to PEX—a tough and flexible polyethylene—that doesn’t require fittings or react to acid, like copper does. Repairs typically consist of replacing specific pipe sections as needed. Ask a visiting plumber to inspect all exposed plumbing lines to maximize the value of the service call.
Here’s a simple way to check for leaks: Turn off all water by closing internal and external water valves and don’t use the toilet. Record the current reading of the water meter, and then wait 20 minutes. Record the reading again and wait another 15 minutes. If the meter indicates an increase during this period, it’s probably from a leak. Another option is to install an automatic water leak detection and shutoff system.
According to AllianceForWaterEfficiency.org, 20 to 35 percent of all residential toilets leak at some time, often silently, sending wasted water onto both household water and sewer bills. Flapper valves improperly covering the exit from the tank are the most common problem, and they can easily be replaced.