Sunday, January 29, 2012

High Water Bills Can Indicate a Leak

Many HOAs have a problem with water bills that are way too high. Sometimes that is due to poor maintenance, sometimes due to unidentified leaks.  Leaks can cost thousands of dollars a year if allowed to continue, so they need to be discovered and fixed as soon as possible.
The first step toward discovering a leak is to check past water bills. If there is a leak and it happened recently, it will show up in a water bill as a sudden spike in the amount billed, even when the water company hasn't raised it's prices. Here are some questions to ask:
Have the bills gone up recently? If yes:
  • Did your water provider raise its prices?
  • Did the HOA do anything that required extra water that month, like refill the swimming pool?
  • Was there an obvious pipe or sprinkler breakage that has already been fixed (or is planned to be soon)?
  • Is the HOA paying for inside water use, as well as outdoor water use (common in condominium style HOAs) and did one of the residents have problems with indoor plumbing?
If the answer to all of these questions is "no" then continue on. If any of the questions above were affirmative, then give it another month or so after making repairs to see if water use goes down to a reasonable level. If you still suspect a leak, go to the next step:

Install a Dedicated Irrigation Meter
Working with the HOA's landscaper, check to make sure you have a water meter that reads irrigation water use only. This is called a "dedicated irrigation  meter." If you don't have one and there is a good amount of water used for pools, spas, the laundry room, and/or kitchen facilities, then have a dedicated meter installed.

Sewage charges are billed on all meters except dedicated irrigation meters. If your provider charges sewage by the amount of water used and you don't have a dedicated meter, you could be paying way too much for sewage. Some companies will refund the HOA for prior overcharges, so install the meter first and then call them.

A dedicated meter also allows the HOA to check more easily for leaks, since you know that ALL water measured by that meter is used only by the irrigation system.

Test the System
Now that you have a dedicated meter, set aside a day to turn off the entire irrigation system and go through some checks. Leave the system off for about ten minutes. All water should have stilled by then, since your closed valves block water from going anywhere. Now check your meter. Is it still running? You likely have a leak!

Now it's time to find out where that leak is. Turn the stations on one by one. You will be looking for several things:
  • Broken sprinklers, which usually show up as unmistakable "geysers."
  • Spurts of water at the base of a sprinkler, indicating a broken seal where the nozzle meets the supply line beneath it.
  • Water spurts in between sprinklers, indicating a broken pipe (lateral line) that has already blown out the soil above it.
  • Flooded areas between sprinklers. This can indicate a slow, steady leak in a lateral line underground. You will have to dig down to find the actual spot.
All of the problems above are commonly found with large landscapes. They need to be checked for and fixed on a regular basis. This, in itself, will save a lot of water. Once the repairs are made, you can test the system again. In the majority of cases, this is all you will need to do.

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