It's Fix-a-Leak Week! Household water leaks waste 1 trillion gallons each year

Leaky Faucet
CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Flickr

Time for you to do something about it

To anyone with engineering tendencies, nothing is more disgusting than waste. It's one thing to use a lot of something if you're getting a lot of value out of it, but it's another to use a lot of something for absolutely nothing. That's what water leaks are, and at a time when parts of the world are going through unprecedented droughts – like California, which just went through 3 years that have been the worst in over 1,000 years and is facing a drought that could potentially last a decade or more – this waste is unacceptable.

The good news is, you can do something about it! You might not be able to go fix a big water mains leak underground, but you can make sure that your home is not sending perfectly good potable water down the drain (or worse: on the floor or inside the walls) for no purpose.

Leaky toiletPixbay/Public Domain
First, some sad facts on water leaks from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

-The average household's leaks can account for more than 10,000 gallons of water wasted every year, or the amount of water needed to wash 270 loads of laundry.

-Household leaks can waste more than 1 trillion gallons annually nationwide. That's equal to the annual household water use of more than 11 million homes.

-Ten percent of homes have leaks that waste 90 gallons or more per day.

-Common types of leaks found in the home include worn toilet flappers, dripping faucets, and other leaking valves. All are easily correctable (more on that below).

-Fixing easily corrected household water leaks can save homeowners about 10 percent on their water bills.

-A leaky faucet that drips at the rate of one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons per year. That's the amount of water needed to take more than 180 showers!

-A showerhead leaking at 10 drips per minute wastes more than 500 gallons per year. That's the amount of water it takes to wash 60 loads of dishes in your dishwasher.

-An irrigation system that has a leak 1/32nd of an inch in diameter (about the thickness of a dime) can waste about 6,300 gallons of water per month.

So clearly this is not a small problem. Any way you slice it, a trillion gallons is a lot!

How to detect water leaks

A few tips on how to find out if you have water leaks:

-Check your water meter before and after a two-hour period when no water is being used. If the meter does not read exactly the same, you probably have a leak.

-One way to find out if you have a toilet leak is to place a drop of food coloring in the toilet tank. If the color shows up in the bowl within 15 minutes without flushing, you have a leak. Make sure to flush immediately after this experiment to avoid staining the tank.

How to fix a leaking faucet

Leaky faucets can be fixed by checking faucet washers and gaskets for wear and replacing them if necessary.

How to fix a leaky toilet

If your toilet is leaking, the cause is often an old, faulty toilet flapper. Over time, this inexpensive rubber part decays, or minerals build up on it. It's usually best to replace the whole rubber flapper—a relatively easy, inexpensive do-it-yourself project that pays for itself in no time.

How to fix a leaky showerhead

You can also save a lot of water (and money) with a thermostatic shut-off valve, especially if your water heater is far away from your shower and it takes a while for the hot water to get there.

If you do end up replacing old fixtures, look for the WaterSense label. It's a certification by the EPA for water-efficient products. Many of these models can get you rebates, on top of saving you money on water.


It's Fix-a-Leak Week! Household water leaks waste 1 trillion gallons each year
Time for you to do something about it!

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