Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Madd Money: The Case of the Disappearing Water

Remember the old saying "an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure"... and It's even more in real money (that's a joke for anyone who remembers the old Showtime comedy "Brothers"... if you don't, don't sweat it :) )? Well, I decided it was time for me to start taking a look at some areas around our house that might be causing us some troubles.

One of the things that has been driving me crazy is the water bill... it seems absurdly high based on what we do and it also looked like we were using quite a bit more. Why was this the case? I decided it was time to get to the bottom of it.

First, we know we have an older toilet in our master bathroom, and that older toilet has a large capacity tank. A simple fix is to fill a milk jug with water and sand and park it in the tank (instant 33% savings of water with each flush). However, it seemed that that didn't do the trick. As I took apart the toilet mechanism to see what might be happening, I noticed that the fill release for the fill tube seemed to run even after the toilet was full... translating to dropping into the bowl and then gravity carrying out the water through the bottom of the bowl. No idea how much was flowing through, but it was enough to have that dribble effect for extended periods. Replacing the flow tube and seal fixed that problem. But could there be another possible answer? After doing a little research online (yes, I researched leaky toilets, just because I'm strange like that :) ), I found that in many older toilets, the ball stopper and gasket age and cease to create a tight seal. A quick way to check this is to put some drops of food coloring in the bowl after it fills, and make a point to not use that toilet for two to three hours, then check the bowl. If you see tinted water, you have your answer. It's reported that the average toilet could lose up to five gallons of water a day if the ball stopper or closure mechanism doesn't seal correctly. It's my next fix to do.

Next, take a look at all of your sinks, and see if you have any leaks. A great way to check this is to pull down the stoppers on all sinks and go to bed, and then check them in the morning. If you have a puddle of water in the sink, bingo! The good news is that, while it will probably take some dismantling of your faucet hardware to replace some washers or seals, it's a relatively simple repair to do and doesn't require a plumber to come out and do it. For those who have not visited WikiHow, make it a site to stop at and peruse. If you actually have a leaky faucet, here's how to fix it :).

For those that have sprinkler systems, if you notice that you have heads that do not have even spray pressure (or one head seems to do well but others down the line are performing less optimally), it's possible you may have a leak on one of the sprinkler heads (best case and easiest to fix) or in the underground line (not so easy to fix, but still doable). Last night, as I was lying in bed, I hears the sprinklers go off, as I usually do, but this time, it sounded like a rushing rivulet instead of the steady drone of the sprinklers. Sure enough, when I went out to investigate, I noticed that the head closest to my side of the bed against the back wall of our house was gushing water... the sprinkler head had cracked. Bad news, it needs to be fixed. Good news, since it's the sprinkler head itself, it will be relatively easy to replace.

Long story short, if you have high bills and you can't quite put your finger on why, do some basic water hunting. It's too early to tell if these changes will make large scale savings, but even if they don't, you can feel good about the fact that you are limiting waste by checking and doing some simple maintenance in these areas. Happy hunting :).

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