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Question of the Week: When was the last time you fixed a leak?

2009 March 16

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

An American home can waste, on average, 11,000 gallons of water every year from running toilets, dripping faucets, or other household leaks.  March 16-20 is Fix a Leak week.

When was the last time you fixed a leak?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

28 Responses leave one →
  1. Andrea Davis permalink
    March 16, 2009

    This is a great question for two reasons.

    Last week, when answering the question about disposable vs. reusable diapers, someone was asking why tax dollars should be paid for “popularizing” green ideas. And this is exactly why. I am a web master for an online green community, I’m around very motivated individuals who know that water is our first eminent challenge in Nebraska, and would not have known how to fix my own leak because I was afraid to ask/pay anyone for so simple a task.

    I would not have known that tips for doing this myself were available at the epa’s site without taking part in these forums.

    I really appreciated the use of DATA to prove to me why a leaking faucet is more important than a waste of a “small amount” of money.

    THANK you for the inspiration via science and facts collected on a national level and inspired through “marketing” where to find it.

  2. Alex permalink
    March 16, 2009

    Kind of on the same topic… We have a toilet that has started running quite a bit in the past few weeks. My husband tried to fix it, but it still ran pretty bad. We decided to shut off that toilet until we get it working properly. Obvioulsy, we have two bathrooms and can afford to have one switched off for a while. We couldn’t stand wasting all the water it was litterally just flushing away everyday.

  3. Laura Merugula permalink
    March 16, 2009

    We moved into this old apartment while I’m in school for the huge backyard and playground areas. While it’s cozy, it’s not been well maintained. One of the first things I tended to were the flows of water from the kitchen and bathroom sink. The valves were open fully, so the water was either off or at full volumetric go! It’s not technically a leak, but a close cousin. I should share that every other apartment I’ve visited since moving here has the same fully opened valve flow that I found so overwhelming. It’s alot of waste and mismanagement. It’s so easy and effective to take 5 minutes to adjust the flow of your sinks so that you’re getting just what you need on average. (And if you’re impatient about filling the occasional large vessel/dutch oven, reach down and turn it up for a moment.)

  4. Kristianna permalink
    March 16, 2009

    How much water can be saved by fixing a leak in an average house, but how much water can be saved by an average city rebuilding its aging infrastructure? The average city wastes more water than the average home will ever, and most water purification systems are outdated and do not protect against parasites and containments that are already in the water system. I believe that a whole lot of savings could be had if everyone; city, state, federal and individuals pull together in order to stop this waste of a valuable necessity of human life. How do we weigh the value of a thing that supports our very existence? We wonder if Mars had water in its past where did it all go. Will we find out the hard way?

  5. VETT1957 permalink
    March 16, 2009

    Leaks, what how when leaks happen. Lets get down to the real reason why pipes leak outside your home. The weather has some thing to do with it.When it freeze out side or it get to be real hot, Thing will always expand & retract,The expansion of water sitting in the freezing temperature,makes the seals crack and the steal casing that holds the faucets all togeather has pressure against the steal washer. You can tighten the steal or p v c. to stop most of the leaks. In the Winter months the best thing to do is turn off & drain the water out of the line. Then leave the water line open. So the water line cant freeze. Drain lines in the wall. Some times they freeze. It will cause the pipe to crack or where the pipes meet in the connection. The glue was not install right. I have found that there are a lot of the vent pipes where never glue out all. These pipes go threw the attic & out threw the roof. When it rains. The water comes in the open pipe on the roof. It will leak at the seam in the attic. These are tricky leaks. Sewage lines leak because,the pipe get crack or it freeze. Some time trees can crack the drain line. These need to be replace. Toilets & sinks supplies line will leak because there being use. Thing do wear out. Get old. Nothing Last for ever. these part can be easy to replace. Turn off the water. Then repair your problem . mark whitworth

  6. Ben permalink
    March 17, 2009

    We’ve been lucky to not have any leaks recently but along the lines of conserving water, we have put sealed two-liter bottles of water in our toilet tanks to avoid using excess water where it isn’t needed.

  7. Charles permalink
    March 17, 2009

    It’s not the water in ONE house, but the water in ALL houses together. You aren’t responsible for what other people do, only for yourself doing it. And city leaks can be fixed at the same time as you work on your house’s leaks; they aren’t mutually exclusive efforts. (BTW, if Mars had a lot of water once and lost it, it probably wasn’t due to shoddy infrastructure… ROFL.)

  8. Dave permalink
    March 17, 2009

    Last night. My 46-year old Eljer toilet. Quality toilet, though I’m on the 3rd or 4th valve/flapper repair in the last 7 years. The valve broke (cheap brass…too thin). When I went to unscrew it, the flapper broke (cheap plastic). Now I have the water shut off until I find the Holy Grail of plumbing stores to fix it. If anyone makes quality components, let me know. I’d GLADLY pay 5 to 10x the price of the junk they sell everywhere.

  9. Norris Green permalink
    March 17, 2009

    That last time that I fixed a leak was actually yesterday because my thingy in my bathroom broke and my dad and I fixed and went to home depot and lowes and then came back and found out that it was the wrong piece then we had a go back and then we got the right piece and finally fixed it

  10. JohnInKY permalink
    March 17, 2009

    Atround where I live, with water and sanitation (sewage) rates nearly twice as high as they were a year or so ago, leaks are fixed (by me) within days, or the same day if possible. This is more driven by defensive economics than a desire to be “green”…….

  11. Linda permalink
    March 17, 2009

    Yes, My husband just spend all of last week working on outside leaks under ground. We thought the freeze killed our lawn, but then my husband noticed it was patchy. So he started digging. We are not the original owners of our home, and our sprinkler system is old. He had to replace all the lines. But better than wasting all that water. He’s very strict about conserving. There was a movie, The Power of One. It’s not about conservation, it was about Apartheid in the late 1800′s in South Africa, but the analogy of the power of one drop of water compounded can creat a waterfall or a flood or an ocean. Every drop counts.

  12. Dave F permalink
    March 17, 2009

    Leaking toilets are probably one of the biggest offenders for wasting water in our homes. They quietly leak water and most people don’t see it as they would observe a leaking faucet.

    Fluidmaster brand sells toilet replacement/rebuild parts and are available at Lowe’s and maybe other home improvement stores. It’s a great little device that will not readily refill a toilet tank should there be a leak. I think it’s called something like LeakGuard. If there is a leak and the tank is empty, you can’t flush your toilet right away. After you push the handle down to flush, the tank refills. Once it refills, you can flush as usual. But, now you will know there is a problem with your toliet.

    I use it at home and on my rental units. Now, members of my family and my tenants will quickly tell me they have a toilet problem.

    The repair is probably within the scope of what most people can do themselves. Search the internet or go to http://www.doityourself.com/stry/repairtoilet for a primer on toilet repairs. After reading up on how to perform the repairs, you may have to decide on hiring this out. If you like to save money, have the time and tolerance for such a repair, consider watching the repair being done. You may decide to do it yourself next time.

  13. Mike Schneider permalink
    March 17, 2009

    How does one fix a very slow leaking toilet? Perhaps a plumber can share some expertise for the rest us.

  14. Michael Fratini permalink
    March 17, 2009

    The town water department notified me a few years ago that I used so much water on the lawn that the outdoor spigots must be leaking. I told them I didn’t use too much water as the lawn was all dried out by then. i checked the spigots by tying a cloth around them when they were turned off. The cloths remained dry as did the yard so there was no leak. Sometimes a leak may be suspected but a simple tying of a knot can prove where the water is and isn’t.

  15. Granny Says permalink
    March 17, 2009

    Yes, I know how to fix leaky toilets. It is easy. In my younger days I could even re-set them on their moorings. For about $5 you can get all you need at the hardware store. Low flush toilets were a big mistake in my book. Takes 4 or 5 flushes to get the stuff down. False water saving. If it is yellow let it mellow if it is brown flush it down is a much more common sense solution. The current boondoggle, i.e. power flush, will mean one will not be able to fix their own toilets for $5 or less. You may even need to buy a entire new toilet every 5 years. It has been my experience that a normal toilet needs new insides about every 5 years.

  16. Elias Rivera permalink
    March 17, 2009

    Es indudable que uno de los problemas que aquejan en el mundo es la escasez del agua, lastimosamente muchos de nosotros que podemos ayudar con un granito de arena, es decir la pregunta de que si me he fijado si una llave esta goteando es muy comun contestarla que si, ahora bien quien se ha fijado y ha solucionado ese problema, casi nadie y es que si decimos que si nos interesa el problema del agua deberiamos hacer algo y aunque sea muy pequeño desde nuestras casas!!

  17. Jim Adcock permalink
    March 17, 2009

    Most people in my area of Washington State know enough by now to turn off the water while they are brushing their teeth — and then they will leave the room without turning off the light. Here in hydroelectric country leaving one standard lightbulb turned on wastes as much water as needlessly flushing a toilet 200 times an hour! BUT, if you really want to talk about wasting water, how about the water wasted due to the government subsidies of bioethanol and biodiesel, which produce less than one gallon of biofuel per gallon of oil consumed in the making — not to mention wasting 100s of gallons of irrigation water!

  18. Sara permalink
    March 17, 2009

    The topic of water conservation has been on the forefront recently–as it should be. Industry uses and pollutes much of our water (hello, EPA) and golf courses in the desert? We are really asking for it–but most of the conservation suggestions revolve around low flow products we should purchase or suggestions to turn off the water while we brush our teeth!
    Our home is still on a properly maintained septic system. The water which is diverted from polluted waterways flowing to the ocean is used by us in a respectful manner. We use no environmental offenders in our home. I make my own laundry detergent for a penny a load (VERY EASY) and we use plant based (NO petroleum) dish soap, NO chlorine or any other polluting toxic cleaners or unnecessary products that companies say we can’t do without. The water is treated by our septic and flows back into the water table in the ground where it should be. We are also diverting rain from our rooftop from flowing into the waterways. I built a rain garden under our gutter.
    Fix a leak? It takes thirty-seven cups of water to make one cup of coffee. Yea, I fixed a leak just today. My car was dripping anti-freeze, environmentally friendly antifreeze. Costs a bit more out of pocket, and I am poor, but what I really can’t afford is the long run costs of pollution. Learn a lesson TVA.

  19. Ian Z permalink
    March 17, 2009

    I’m no plumber. Don’t try this at home!

    I traveled 100 miles March 7, 2008 to a house a tribal member is renting in Pahrump, NV on a Saturday to fix a leak. The land lord was told but hasn’t showed up for a month to fix the leak. The bathroom carpet was soaked and torn out to prevent mold. I looked behing the wall at the valves of the shower saw that it was the fixture…we went to the hardware store and bought a fixture for 20 bucks and I replaced it and the problem was solved in two hours.

    On February 10, 2009, on the reservation where I work, the plumbing from the street to the house is the homeowners responsibility and the local water utility ownes the rest of the system to the well. The homeowner is on fixed income and had paid $300 for the month it went on leaking. I told her to shut off the water at the street and dig up the wet area where the pipe was leaking. A plumber told her it would cost $900 to repair it properly and install a new pipe from the street to the house. I took her to the hardware store and she bought a nipple and two clamps. I told her to cut the pipe and clamp the ends. Problem solved for $15.00 bucks. Her water bill went back down to $35.00 bucks.

    Just a comparison of power generations stations…so called clean nuclear power uses 10 times more clean water to produce electricity than coal fired plants. Not to mention the uranium mining and milling process and waste disposal that are not factored into the cost of power generation. FYI–Go Green!

  20. Ian Z permalink
    March 17, 2009

    TURN OFF THE WATER! Don’t let it leak until the plumber comes. Turn it on and off as you need until you can fix it right. My best advice for any leak.

  21. Andrea Davis permalink
    March 18, 2009

    You know what is a bummer about old houses is that sometimes, they don’t have valves to turn off the water on the same level as the problem. HA!

  22. Robert Browning permalink
    March 18, 2009

    Dear ROLF,
    I hope you are not trying to infer that the Earth is loosing any of its fresh water, because as we both know the Earth has as much fresh water as it did (or more) when the dinosaurs roamed the earth.
    This silly notion that we are loosing fresh water is nothing more than an effort at a redistribution of wealth by unelected officials.

    Thanks for your time,

    Robert Browning

  23. Linda permalink
    March 18, 2009

    We had to repair the supply line leading into the house a month or so ago; pvc and tree roots don’t mix so well, but at least it was an easy fix. In an older home, you are always on the look-out for water wasters.

    The topic reminds me of an incident that happened when I was stationed at Edwards Air Force Base, CA years ago though. I noticed that the outside faucet had a small drip one day in late spring. Being a thrifty (and tool-wise) gal, I got my wrench and a screwdriver and tightened the packing nut; fixed it up in about a minute and thought nothing more about it.

    I went to fill a watering can the next day and was horror-struck to notice dozens of dead honey bees on the ground all around the faucet. I felt terrible as I realized the poor things had come to rely on that little drip as their source of water in the parched California desert; worse yet, it was apparant they had no margin for error. *I* wasn’t the only being affected by that little drip! I immediately got out my tools and loosened the packing nut once more–just a tiny bit, but after that there were no more dead bees. I may have “wasted” the water, but I decided I could live with it in that case.

  24. Valerie permalink
    March 19, 2009

    While overall water quantity including fresh and salt waters will be constant over time, fresh water quantities currently are diminishing through saltwater intrusion into aquifers and glacier melts. As we draw more water out of aquifers, it draws more saltwater from the ocean into the limestone and contaminates our fresh water sources. Both surface waters and aquifers in developing countries are polluted. While there is water available, it needs treatment to remove arsenic and other contaminants. The question is how do we want to use our money and energy? Shall it be spent on treating impaired water sources? We could use money and energy on reverse osmosis to treat the brackish water now found in our formerly freshwater aquifers. We could use money and energy to desalinate ocean water. We could use money and energy pumping water through leaky distribution pipes to leaky homes. But we also could use that same money to repair our pipes, fix the leaks, and increase the efficiency of our water distribution system and homes. Water conservation decreases the amount of money and energy spent on treating and pumping potable water. By the way, you responded to Charles, not ROFL which stands for Rolling on the Floor Laughing.

  25. sam7 permalink
    March 19, 2009

    OK it’s very ATTRACTIVE for me that you have Fix a Leak week.
    i think my country need this week too. i offer and try for that.
    i offer we can make a VOLUNTEER group with basic INSTRUCTION about piping and other arts that need for fix a leak. this group going to every house , office, park,and around town and repair leaks for free. government can help them for material that they need ,like rubber washer.
    i try fix leak in my kitchen for third , i can’t and the end i compel to buy a new spigots , it’s a COST, but my CONSCIENCE be STRAIGHT.
    i think if we don’t know value thing that god gave us, those will take from our hands. everything is easy ,first step is SUBSTANTIAL.

    <>

    happy spring ☺.

  26. sam7 permalink
    March 20, 2009

    p.s : in my country 5 – 12 march implant tree week ,our government give us free SAPLING tree .we love this week .
    we have greatest CEREMONY in a year in march 21 . in this day our new year is beginning ,it’s time to start spring for EARTH

  27. Miami Plumber permalink
    October 25, 2010

    Toilet leaks can be caused by many different toilet malfunctions. A broken water supply line, a damaged wax ring below the bowl, or a ballcock tube that has slipped out of place can all cause leaks that are relatively easy to fix without having to call a plumber. Proper plumbing tools and some basic do-it-yourself repair skills will both help in completing the repair. For best results, call a Miami plumber or the plumber near you.

  28. cgfluid permalink
    January 11, 2011

    One of the most overlooked culprits of wasted water in the home is old sprinkler systems, or worse yet, using the hose to water you lawn and gardens. While leaky faucets are a great thing to have fixed, you should look at your sprinkler system as well.

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