Water is one of those resources that's easy to ignore until something goes wrong. Every year, one in 50 homes suffers water damage serious enough to file an insurance claim, according to the Insurance Information Institute. By the time it gets to that stage, repair costs average $11,098, yet many problems start off as small "annoyance" leaks.
Besides heading off an expensive, inconvenient claim, controlling water leaks can save you serious money on your water bill. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that an average household wastes 10,000 gallons a year between things like drippy faucets and running toilets. One in 10 waste 90 gallons or more a day!
Here are 12 tips to avoid an expensive claim and conserve a precious Northwest resource:
Patch and prevent leaks
You have a built-in leak sleuth in your front yard – but you may not know it. Open the water meter box at the street and look for a flow indicator on the dial. Configurations vary, but you'll often see a small triangle. If it's spinning even though you know you don't have any water intentionally running in the house, you may have a leak. If the triangle isn't moving, but you still suspect a leak, write down the meter reading then make sure nobody in the house uses any water for two hours. Check the meter again. If it's gone up, you'll want to rule out a leak.
Here's where to start your search:
1. Toilets. Toilets can run without making a sound. Check by putting a few drops of food coloring in the tank. Don't flush. After about 30 minutes, see if there's any color in the bowl. If so, you have a silent leak that may be caused by a worn flapper. Next, add coloring to the bowl and wait another 30 minutes. Wipe the base of the toilet where it meets the floor with a white paper towel. If you see color on the paper, you likely have a failing wax ring that's allowing water to escape and over time, rot your floor. Replacing a toilet flapper is a DIY-friendly project (hello, YouTube video), but if it's the wax ring, you'll need a plumber.
2. Irrigation systems. Winter freezing and thawing can lead to cracked pipes. And any time of year, it's easy to accidentally hit an irrigation pipe when you're digging in the yard. Once a pipe is cracked, debris can get into the line. You'll need to watch for excess water usage for a few weeks after you've patched the pipe. That's because a pebble can wash down the pipe and lodge in a main line diaphragm valve, keeping water flowing even when the valve is supposed to be turned off.
3. Faucets. A faucet that drips once a second adds about 10% to your water bill and wastes enough water in a year to supply more than 180 showers. If the drain stopper is closed and there's no overflow (like in vessel, kitchen, bar and laundry sinks), all that dripping water eventually spills onto the floor, warping hardwood floors and setting the stage for mold and rot if it's not fixed promptly.
4. Appliance supply lines. Dishwasher and ice-maker hoses are notorious for pinhole leaks that can go undetected long enough for serious damage to occur. Periodically pop off the grill under your dishwasher and shine a light underneath to check for signs of water. Also, take care when moving your refrigerator to clean. You don't want to push it back so far that you crimp the water line.
5. Washing machine hoses. If you're using the plastic or rubber hoses that came with your washer when you bought it, replace them. They're much more susceptible to sudden gushers than the slightly more expensive steel-mesh kind. Hoses should be replaced every five years.
6. Water and sewer lines. If your home is surrounded by trees, their roots can invade your water and sewer lines, cracking them and leading to leaks. Tip-offs include poor water pressure in the house or soggy or extra green spots in the lawn. Breaks that occur between the house and the street are the homeowner's responsibility to fix, but insurance can help if you've purchased optional water and sewer line insurance.
7. Hot water heaters. If your water doesn't get as hot as it used to, you notice a metallic taste in your water or see rust spots showing up at the bottom of your water heater or moisture in its drip pan, your water heater could be failing. Water heaters usually last eight to 12 years before they become susceptible to gushers or, more commonly, slow leaks that can rot out subflooring over time (a maintenance issue that your insurance can't cover). Having seen so many failed water heaters, many of our adjusters simply replace theirs every 10 years!
Change habits to reduce water usage
Once you've patched any leaks, you can reduce your water consumption further by adopting these water-conservation habits:
8. Replace showerheads manufactured before 1992. Federal regulations limit showerhead flow to 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) or less. Many showerheads made before 1992 had flow rates of 5.5 gpm, so if that's yours, switching could cut your shower-water use in half!
9. Turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth. You'll save about 2.5 gallons if you only run the water when it's time to rinse. Do the same when hand-washing dishes in the kitchen sink.
10. Keep a pitcher of drinking water in the refrigerator. That will save all the water that normally goes down the drain as you're waiting for the tap water to get really cold.
11. Compost rather than putting scraps down the garbage disposal. To work properly, your garbage disposal needs LOTS of water running as you use it.
12. Use commercial carwashes. Commercial carwashes use about half the water of a driveway wash. Plus, they recycle their water or ensure it drains to a sewer system (so it gets treated before the residues from exhaust, gas and motor oil, road salt and soap washed off your car are released into the environment).
BONUS TIP: Install water sensors near washing machines, hot water heaters, toilets, dishwashers and ice-makers. Most water-leak damage builds over time, and a water sensor can alert you to trouble before structural damage sets in. And here's an added incentive: You'll get a protective device discount on your PEMCO homeowner or renter insurance if you install water sensors. When you link them to your smartphone to receive alerts, you'll get a bigger discount. And if you connect them to an automatic water shutoff (perfect if you're away from home all day), you'll save even more.
Even if you install water sensors, it's always a good idea to shut off your water when you're heading out of town or mothballing your vacation home for the season.
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