Water Leaks Take a Bite out of the Budget

Technologies for monitoring the flow of water are changing dramatically these days – especially in the arena of automated metering infrastructure.

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Technologies for monitoring the flow of water are changing dramatically these days – especially in the arena of automated metering infrastructure. New systems coming onto the market offer the promise of near–real–time usage monitoring and the ability to detect leaks inside a customer’s home. I could have used that technology in recent months.

Late last year I was discussing water conservation issues with my wife when she mentioned that our water bills had been unusually high for a couple months. I went around the house and shut off every source of water and then went out to the meter box and watched to see if the meter would continue to turn. It didn’t move, but I’m not a patient guy. Some water meters have a low–flow indicator but mine had just a basic dial.

I was frustrated at not finding a problem, but decided to let sleeping dogs lie. A few days later I was in the “reading room” early one morning and heard the very faint noise of a leak. A quick trip to the hardware store and about $8 later, all was quiet as it should be.

I thought my problems were solved but the next month the water bill was still suspiciously high. I decided it was a legacy of the leaking toilet, but vowed to watch my bill closely. Then, on a recent morning, disaster reared it’s ugly head in the form of a gusher in the wall behind the shower. Years ago some inept plumber had screwed a galvanized nipple into a copper pipe. The galvanized section rusted away and finally blew out. The plumber who repaired the pipe said it could have been leaking for months.

My house is only about 25 years old and I do my best to keep it well maintained. If I can have this type of issue, I can only imagine the thousands if not millions of homes out there with undetected leaks. I’ve seen reports that claim nearly half of all American homes have some sort of leak, be it a dripping faucet or leaking toilet.

I’ve fixed several “singing” toilets in my day and I’m not afraid to do a little plumbing work, but how can you fix a problem you don’t know is there? There are leak detection guides available on the Internet designed to help homeowners identify a leak, but first you have to suspect a problem and then have the motivation to take the steps involved.

Systems either on the market today or coming in the near future offer the promise of real–time metering that can monitor your water usage 24 hours a day. Systems are already available to identify suspected leaks based on variations from customer profiles and historical usage. Others can monitor for and detect low, continuous flows that are a sure sign of a household leak.

It would be nice to get an e–mail or phone call telling me I might have a leak – instead of getting a large water bill at the end of the month and wondering why.

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James Laughlin, Editor

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