Leaks in Your Home Could Fill An 11,000-Gallon Swimming Pool

Water leaks cost unknowing Americans big bucks every year, says EPA.

March 16, 2009

Putting off simple pluming repairs can have disastrous consequences.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Have you been tapping your foot to the beat of the drip, drip, drip coming from your bathroom sink? Don’t put off the repair any longer. Just one leaky faucet, dripping once every second, can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water a year. That’s not just wasting a precious resource; it’s inflating your water bill. So this week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is calling on homeowners to grab a wrench during its “Fix a Leak Week.”


THE DETAILS: The call to action is an initiative of the EPA’s WaterSense program, which aims to help families save water and money. The EPA currently endorses more efficient toilets, faucets, and other water-saving devices with its WaterSense seal.

WHAT IT MEANS: The average household spends as much as $500 per year on its water and sewer bill. You could save about $170 of that through simple fixes, and by using water more efficiently. Saving water isn’t just about money, though; it’s also about energy. If you get your water from a public system, you use as much energy running your faucet for 5 minutes as you would leaving a 60-watt light bulb turned on for 14 hours. If one out of every 100 American homes was retrofitted with water-efficient fixtures, we could save about 100 million kilowatts-hours (kWh) of electricity per year—and eliminate 80,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That’s roughly the same as taking 15,000 cars off the road for a year.

Here’s how to get a handle on leaks and save water in your home:

• Know the warning signs. If a family of 4 is using more than 12,000 gallons of water a month during the winter, there’s likely a serious leak problem somewhere. To check, take a look at your water meter, and then don’t let anyone in the house use any H20 for 2 hours. Check the meter again, and if it’s moved, start looking for the source of a leak.

• Stop leaks. Crud accumulation can open the seal of many single-lever faucets, forcing a slow leak. To fix this, turn off the water supply under the sink, and loosen the screw at the base of the faucet handle. Lift off the faucet handle, disassemble the washers and movable parts, and soak them in white vinegar. (Replace any washers that have obvious cracks or gaps.) Wipe everything dry and put the faucet back together. If your showerhead is leaking, you can usually stop the drip by tightening the connection with a wrench. For stubborn drips, use plumber’s tape to wrap the threads before you screw the showerhead back on.

• Test your tank. Avoid using chlorinated cleaning tablets in your toilet tank. The harsh chemicals can erode valve seals and spark a leak that wastes up to 200 gallons a day. To see if the tank is leaky, put a few drops of food coloring in the tank and check back in 15 minutes. If there’s a tint of color the in bowl, you probably have a faulty flapper—that’s the rubber valve inside the bottom of tank that opens when you flush. Replacing it is a low-cost, relatively easy do-it-yourself project; grab a new one from the hardware store and follow the instructions. (If the flapper’s leak is significant, you may hear the toilet tank repeatedly refilling itself long after it’s been flushed.) When it’s time for a new commode, try to find an efficient model. The EPA estimates that if 1 percent of American homes replaced their older, inefficient toilets with WaterSense-labeled models, the country would save more than 38 million kWh of electricity—enough to supply more than 43,000 households with electricity for one month.

• Go native in the garden. If you have an irrigation system in your yard or garden, check it in the spring to make sure winter’s wrath didn’t cause any leaks. Better yet, landscape with plants and grasses native to your region. They are more drought-resistant and don’t require as much watering.

• Shorten your shower. Once all your leaks are fixed, you can go the extra mile to save water. Shaving just 1 minute a day off your showering time will, in one year, save the amount of water that shoots from a fire hydrant in 60 seconds—that’s more than 1,000 gallons. Cutting your time down by 5 minutes over the course of 50 years saves the amount of water flushed down toilets during a New England Patriots home game (250,937 gallons!).

• Pick the clear winner in shower vs. tub. A 5-minute shower uses about 10 to 25 gallons of water, while filling a tub uses 3 to 7 times that amount.