Conserving water is more about what you don’t ‘use’ instead of what you do


When people think about conserving water, they usually think about turning off the faucet while brushing their teeth or making sure the washing machine is full before running a load. The biggest waste of water, however, is the one few people give much thought to.

In the United States, one person will typically use between 80 and 100 gallons of water a day. It is the water that we are not “using” that is the real problem. A dripping faucet can lose up to 180 gallons and a leaky toilet can use 90,000 gallons of water in a month. A leak as small as an eighth of an inch can waste more than one-quarter of a million gallons of water in a three-month period and add more than $200 to your quarterly water and sewer charges.

Finding and fixing leaks is an easy way to save money and save water. You can avoid costly surprises on your water bill and conserve water by performing periodic leak checks in your home. Often you don’t know if you have a leak, especially if you have a problem with your underground water line or irrigation system. If you have an unusually high water bill, you may have a leak. But how can you tell?

Toilets are a common source of leaks. A quick check can be made by placing a few drops of food coloring into the tank after it has filled and quieted, and watching for its appearance in the bowl. If there is a leak, then color should appear within 15 to 30 minutes. Two common leak sites are at the overflow pipe and the flapper valve (Be sure to flush immediately after the experiment to avoid staining the tank.)

If your toilet still leaks after trying the repairs, or you do not feel comfortable doing the repairs yourself, you may need the assistance of a plumber or handyman. The cost to fix the leak will be covered by the money you will save in water and sewer charges.

Your water meter can also indicate whether you have a leak. Challenge the family to not use any water for two hours. During that time, check the water meter. If the dial moves at all, check all the faucets, spigots, sinks, etc., for any signs of a leak. If you find a leaky faucet or a drip under the sink, fix these leaks ASAP.

Kentucky American Water also offers leak detection information through their Leak Detection Guide found here.

If you don’t see any leaks, you might have a bigger problem underground or in your walls.

Some signs of underground leaks include:

• Unusually wet spots in landscaped areas and/or water pooling on the ground surface

• An area that is green, moldy, soft or mossy surrounded by drier conditions

• A notable drop in water pressure/ flow volume

• A sudden problem with rusty water, dirt or air in the water supply (there are other causes for this besides a leak)

• Heaving or cracking of paved areas

• Sinkholes or potholes

• Uneven floor grade or leaning of a structure

• Unexplained sudden increase in water use, consistently high water use or water use that has been climbing at a fairly steady rate for several billing cycles.

If you suspect a leak, you may need to hire a professional leak detection company to pinpoint its exact location and a contractor to perform the repairs.

If you do not have any leaks, there are a couple of steps you can take to prevent leaks from forming due to cold weather. Disconnect your water hose before freezing weather hits. Until warm weather arrives again, your best home plumbing practice is to disconnect, wrap up and pack away your garden hose. Leaving a hose outside in winter can cause water left inside to freeze and expand, freezing your faucets and connecting pipes as well.

Also, make sure to close and drain shut-off valves leading outdoors. If you have interior shut-off valves leading to outdoor faucets, close them and drain the water from outside lines. Any water that remains in the lines and freezes could cause major damage.

Water is a precious resource, and fixing leaks in our homes is a major step toward conserving water and saving money. Even though our water sources in Kentucky can replenish themselves through precipitation, our changing climate, growing population and ever-increasing thirst for water threaten these supplies. So, go fix those leaks!

(Graphic from

This article appeared in KY Forward on October 30, 2014.

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