Watering Your Foundation – A Permanent Solution

October 13, 2017

Several months back I wrote a post about Watering Your Foundation, after that I wrote  Watering Your Foundation – Getting Ready for Summer and in that post I promised a final follow-up on creating a permanent solution to creating a low maintenance solution that removes most of the problems associated with earlier solutions. Granted, this one is a bit more work and on a DIY scale of 1-10 10 being the hardest, I would give this a 7-8 (depending on what you may or may not already have. Since you have already read the last two, no need to go through the why and what for, but to just pick it up from the last post. Since the summer is (mostly) over, this might be a good project to complete with the weather is still pleasant.

The biggest advantages to this solution vs. the last one is, convenience, and integration into a lawn sprinkler system.

Things you will need to for this to work with the least amount of inconvenience and disruption. This solution is based on having all three of the listed conditions. However, any of these items can be added, but it can dramatically impact the cost to provide it.

  1. Preexisting  lawn sprinkler system in good working order and a timer/controller
  2. The timer/controller will need to have at least one extra or vacant station assignment. If you have more station numbers than active stations you probably have an extra one.
  3. You will need to determine if you have a spare controller wire (in the controller) and you will have to locate that same wire outside.

The next step is to create a new zone or station on your lawn sprinkler system.  I will cover the basic process but if you have never really cut into your system, this might be the time to get some knowledgeable help or hire a sprinkler contractor to build you a new zone.

Create a New Sprinkler Zone

  1. Find a sprinkler zone  that has its control valve close to the house.
  2. Dig up the dirt around the control valve enough to expose the control valve and the associated water pipe that feeds the valve. Figure out which side of the valve has pressure on it (all the time).
  3. Determine that the spare wire you located in the timer/controller shows up here too! Us a volt ohm meter as a continuity tester to confirm.
  4. The pipe feeding the valve is under pressure, so you will need to turn the water off at the source before you do it.
  5. To determine which is the pressure side, there should be an arrow, or water flow indicator on the valve body.
  6. .Cut the pipe, Tee in a joint  to install a new valve.
  7. Install a drip zone flow control valve equipped with a filter assembly. This valve will keep the flow in spec as well as keep the emitter from getting stopped up.
  8. Extend a wire from the existing valve to the new valve including a common (usually white) and a new wire that you are picking up from the controller timer.
  9. Make sure the new valve is closed and turn the water back on and check for leaks.
  10. If you want to test it at this point, go right ahead, but realize if you did this correctly, it’s gonna get real muddy real quick.

Parts Needed for the Drip Emitter Foundation Watering System

  1. 1/2 poly hose to use for areas that do not need the emmiters
  2. 1/2 Emitter tube, used to circle the house
  3. Various connector/fittings. You will need some fitting to go around tight corners since the pipe does not make sharp corners as well as connecting to the valve.
  4. Landscape anchor staples; use to pin the tubing down in place while you are installing it.

Install the  System

  1. Dig a ditch from the new valve to about 12-16 inches from the foundation to conceal the feeder pipe so it will not be exposed to damage in the yard.
  2. Depth of new emitter hose is kind of “it depends”, so in other words, it can be on the surface or 3-12 inches below the surface. Either way, realize that when gardening or digging around the flower beds, if you hit the emitter pipe, you can easily cut it. So regardless of the depth, after gardening, run the section to identify any leaks.
  3.  Since you are probably 10 or more feet from the house, you may want to use 1/2 poly hose from the valve to the house foundation (unless the valve is already at the foundation, then you can just start with emitter hose). You can buy shorter lengths of this from the big box store, but depending on your house arrangement, you may want to use this pipe in places you do not need to water
  4. Connect the emitter tube and route through the landscape staying about 12″ from the edge of the foundation. This tubing is sort of stiff, so use a connector to make a sharp bend. Use the landscape staples to keep it in its place.
  5. There are no rules to stop you from installing a Tee and going both ways around the house, and if you have to branch out, that is fine too. 100 feet is the limitation of the emitter tube from the valve, but you can tee it in to two 100 ft lengths.
  6. Make the electrical connection at the sprinkler controller and program in the new zone. You can have a summer and winter time schedule, but its good to water this zone all year long, again to keep the soil close to a constant moisture level.

 

 

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Seasonal Reminder – Lawn Sprinker Tuneup

April 5, 2016

If you are a follower of this blog, lawn sprinklers seems to be a regular topic. I get more hits on this one subject than all the rest. After reviewing  the current articles I found that I lacked a straight up, “seasonal tune up” article. So, for this weeks post I am going to walk through a methodical process of checking your sprinkler system. Generally speaking this is about a system that is designed correctly and  working properly.  I typically do this at the beginning of the watering season then again in mid-summer.

Material/Tools Needed:

  1. Spare sprinkler bodies: You should normally keep some extra sprinkler bodies that resemble the product that was installed with your system. Having identical sprinkler bodies will keep replacement and repairs simple.
  2. A handful of various sprinkler nozzles: Even though there may be several types of sprinkler heads (pop up, rotary or impact), it is important to have extra copies of the same nozzle that are being used in the various zones. Even though many home centers prefer to sell you the sprinkler body with the nozzle, having them as separate items will save you time and money.
  3.  Sharpshooter Shovel:  This particular shovel works well when working on sprinklers as you can dig around a sprinkler without disturbing too much dirt. Dirt and dirty water  is the enemy when it comes to working on sprinkler systems.
  4.  Sprinkler flags: You will probably have to buy these in a pack of 100, but it will be less than $10. You will use these to mark sprinkler heads that require attention.
  5. Screwdrivers: 1 small screw driver, 1 medium screw driver (flat and Phillips head style). These will be used to disassemble nozzles and some heads.
  6. Dental tool: Something like this link will work; these can also be found at the Orange Box store. It is very common for sprinkler nozzles to capture small pebbles that will lodge in the nozzle disrupting the sprinkler spray pattern. You will want to pick out the debris without damaging the plastic.
  7. 1 pair of medium-sized Channel Lock pliers: These can be used to adjust, tighten and loosen the body of the sprinkler head especially if your hands are wet.
  8. 1 pair of medium-sized vise grips: Used as a way to extract nozzles from pop-up heads by lightly holding the nozzle riser exposed. Never use a lot of pressure as you can easily damage the sprinkler head.
  9. WD 40 Lubricant Spray: Used to lubricate various parts that are supposed to move or react to the water pressure. WD40 is a fish oil based product and should not damage the grass.

SPRINKLER TESTING PROCEDURE:

  1. Activate the test sequence in the Sprinkler Controller: Most controllers have a test function that allows you to run the system in short intervals. If you can choose the time limit, set it to two minutes. If your controller does not have this function, you can have a friend turn the sections on one by one. TIP: If you have to do this manually, find some walkie-talkies to communicate with your partner.
  2. Find the first zone that is running:  Carrying your sprinkler flags, walk around and through the zone that is running, looking for the six items mentioned below. Use the flag to identify problems. However, try to realign the heads in this first sequence while the zone is running. Use the Channel Lock to grab the body to make adjustments.
  3. Repeat #2 for all the zones: I find the sprinkler flags really help, cause you can go directly back to each problem once you have made it through the entire system.
  4. Repair, replace  or adjust the heads as required: One of the most  important elements of sprinkler repair is to avoid introducing dirty water into the system. The dirt will make its way to all the downstream head and clog them up. If you find a broken head or pipe within your inspection, you may have to clean all the nozzles (see #2 below) in that zone.
  5. Run the test sequence again: As a final step, run the system one last time to ensure that everything is operating to your expectations.

Common Problems and Solutions:

  1. Misaligned Heads: Heads that are used around the perimeter of a property typically use patterns less than “full circle”. These heads will require occasional realignment to keep them from spraying on a sidewalk, fence or house. You can  adjust  either the nozzle, neck or sprinkler body. Try adjusting to the right (righty tighty, lefty loosie). If you have to turn it to the left, try not to turn it more than a 1/4 or 1/2 turn. Turning the head too much to the left may cause the nozzle or head to disconnect itself (while under pressure), this may cause a guiser of water and will get you real wet.
  2. Dirty Nozzles:  If the pattern seems uneven or broken up. The nozzle is dirty. With the water off, grab the sprinkler stem and raise it as if it were spraying water. Use your vise grips to LIGHTLY hold the stem up. Remove the nozzle and pull the filter (with the dental tool or your finger tip). Blow through the filter and nozzle. If this doesn’t remove all the debris, use the dental tools or water to clean further. You may have to disassemble the nozzle completely to get the dirt out. If the filter was completely stopped up, turn the sprinkler zone on/off very quickly to flush the line at this point (with the vice grips in place). Reassemble the nozzle to the head and release the vise grips to let the stem return to the body. NOTE: The purpose of keeping the stem extended through this process is to avoid the opportunity for dirty water to enter the system.  
  3. Broken/Damaged  head: Besides the nozzle mentioned above, the sprinkler body can leak as well. This could be out the bottom, side or top. Sometime the heads can be rebuilt, but at this stage its best to just swap out the head with an identical body and nozzle. If it’s not muddy around the head, attempt to unscrew the complete body out of the ground. Without disturbing the dirt, re-insert the replacement head. If you have to dig it up, use the sharp shooter shovel to expose the  head down to where it connects to the next pipe. It’s best to dig the hole a bit deeper than the head. If water comes out, you do not want the dirty water to reenter the system as mentioned above.  Replace the head and the surrounding dirt.  This sprinkler repair  link has a video included that might be of help.
  4. Sprinkler heads do not recess into the ground after spraying: This is a very common occurrence caused by small dirt particles surrounding the elevated riser at the wiper seal of the sprinkler head after the water is turned off. Grab the head by the tip and spray WD-40 on the riser. Work the shaft until it moves freely. If that doesn’t clear it, replace the head  and rebuild the old one in the sink to get all the dirt out of it.
  5.  Heavy Running or Pooling Water: This could be associated with #3 or it could be a damaged pipe.  With your shovel, LIGHTLY remove the wet dirt, you do not want to cause anymore damage. Dig below the pipe or area to be repaired. Use a coffee can to remove as much of the water and dirt as possible. Make the repair as necessary.
  6. Weeping heads:  Occurs when system is off. Typically you will notice this on days the sprinklers are not running, or you find constant moist spots. Typically, you must disassemble the sprinkler valve and clean it.  Rebuilding the valve may be required as well.
  7. Draining sprinkler head: similar to #6, but usually happens with a head that is located lower that other heads in the zone. This is fairly normal and can be left alone. If it happens in a bad spot and you really don’t like it, you can add a lateral line drain to disperse the water.

 For more detailed information, take a look at these other articles I have written on the subject: Lawn Sprinkler Efficiency Part II, Lawn Sprinkler Efficiency Part I ,  Searching for Lawn Sprinkler Valves, Chasing Lawn Sprinkler Leaks; Finding Sprinkler Valves and Common Problems,Lawn Sprinkler Efficiency Upgrades Part II,  .



Watering your Foundation – Its a Texas Thing Part III

March 23, 2016

Texas-Drought-2011As mentioned in my last post on watering your foundation; Here in North Texas it is essential.  Since this is not a one time event but a regular requirement, you might as well look at a relative permanent approach to the solution. I identified several ways to do this in my last posts on the subject but I wanted to share a bit more permanent method. The concept is the same, but its a bit more work, and you may want to hire an irrigation specialist to do it.

The biggest difference in this solution is capitalizing on the fact that you may already have a permanent in-ground sprinkler system. With this system, you operate it as any other section to your irrigation system profile and its no longer a separate system to take care of.

Criteria of existing lawn sprinkler system: For this to work, you need an automatic lawn sprinkler system and a couple more conditions to make it work.

  1. sprinkler controllerElectronic Irrigation controller: The irrigation controller will be the source of the schedule to water the foundation.
    1. Spare Zone: Most controllers come in 4, 6, 8, 12 (and so on) zones. You will need at least one vacant zone position for this to work. You can query the controller by stepping through the zones. When you select the zone with the controller, look for statements in the readout that could say things like; vacant, not-wired, turned off, etc. It that doesn’t work, open the back half of the controller and look at the incoming wiring. Each position that has a number on it represents a zone. If you find a number with no wire, you should have a vacant zone. If you don’t have any vacant zones, your forward path from this point would be to replace the controller with more zones. This may exceed your budgetary limitations
    2. Spare Wire: In many cases during the initial installation, the cable with the zone wires in it, may exceed the number of connected zones. So look for some coiled up wires in the base of the controller.  If that is the case, you are in luck and can use one of the spare wires. If you have no spare wires but a spare zone on the controller, you would have to add a pair for the new zone. (a colored wire and a common (white) wire).
  2. sprinkler-valveAdding a New Valve: At this point, you have a 1)zone position in the controller, 2) a spare wire for the new zone. Now, locate all the existing valves in the yard. Specifically ones that are close to the house.
    1. In that valve box, look for the same color wire you identified in the controller, if it is not there, check the other valves. Worst case, you may have to bring a new wire to your chosen location.
    2. Dig up around the existing valve and identify which pipe is under pressure all the time. Once identified, turn the main water supply off that feeds the sprinkler system (probably near the water meter), you will cut into the pipe and add a new valve. You may have to run a short piece of wire from the existing valve to the new one to hook it up. The connection will be one colored wire and one “Common”.
    3. When you buy the new valve, make sure it has (low) flow control, and or is designed to work with zones that don’t use a lot of water pressure. The drip lines you use have a low GPM (gallon per minute) rating as well as low pressure.
  3.  Polypipe: Depending on where you locate the new valve, you may need a section of polypipe to get you to the foundation.  You can cut the hose to length and use the polypipe fittings to make up the ends. Make sure the polypipe and fittings are the same dimensions. Since all these connections are on the low pressure side of the system, these fittings are just simple resistance (chinese finger) snap in connectors.
  4. Drip Lines:  From the poly pipe, use the same fitting to transition to the Drip Line. These hoses are designed with drip emitters in the hose every 12 inches.  Run it around the house keeping it about 6 inches from the foundation.  You can bury them a couple of inches or hide them with mulch. Staking them with landscape stakes will help keep them in place as this product does not like to lay flat to the ground. You can purchase the hose in bulk from the Orange Box store of Sprinkler Warehouse. You will need to also purchase inter-hose connectors as well as a way to connect to your water. If you have to make a sharp turn it is better to use a fitting than bending the pipe. You do not want to crimp the hose. Splitting the line with a Tee is totally acceptable, and it will also allow a little better flow control if the go half way around the house with one feed and half with the other.

 

So here is what it looks like in dollars. Admittedly, you can probably do this a little cheaper, but I used high quality components, so this should last for years to come.

DripSys for house

Related articles:https://homeownerbob.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/watering-your-foundation-its-a-texas-thing/

https://homeownerbob.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/watering-your-foundation-getting-ready-for-the-summer/

 


Washing Machine Inspection – Cheap Insurance

January 1, 2015

The Insurance Industry reports over $200 million in water damages a year related to washing machines each year.

Most of us never think that one event caused by the washing machine can quickly create serious damage to our house in less than a few hours. In fact, if one of the water hoses connected the washer were to break, it will release approximately 600 gallons of water in an hour.

The cheapest insurance to protect against a bursting water hose in the house  is to turn the water off at the wall after each use.. Congratulations if you have the conviction and memory to do this on a daily basis…. I don’t.

Most washers are equipped with standard light duty water hoses rated for 3-5 years of service. At the least, a yearly inspection can reduce the risk, but it still not a guarantee that it will protect you from an inevitable flood.

Yearly Inspection: At the least, performing this inspection will further reduce the probability of having a flood associated with the washing machine.

  1. Clearance: The washer should maintain a 4-5 inch gap between the back of the washer and wall. Ensure the hoses are not crimped or kinked.
  2. Hoses: With the water on, grab the hoses and move them around to ensure they are still very pliable.   Granted, they will be a little stiff since they are under pressure. Run your hands over the entire surface area of both the hot and cold hoses looking for any abnormalities, such as bubbles (like in the picture)  or surface cracks. Move the hoses in a circular motion specifically around the collar terminations at the washer and at the wall.  Typically this is where the hose will break. Be ready, this inspection may cause the  hose to leak or  break. If so, be ready to turn the water off. TIP: As with all plumbing work, make sure you can successfully turn the water off before starting the inspection. ANY amount of water detected is enough to warrant replacement of the hoses, unless the leak is at the threaded connections.
  3. Connections: Make sure the threaded connectors are tight at both the wall and the washer.
  4. Hose Inspection Part II: Turn the washer on to warm, as the washer is filling up, turn the water off (H&C) at the wall. Turn the washer off allowing the hoses to drain a bit into the washer.  Inspect the rubber hoses again for pliability.
  5. Final Inspection: When finished with #4, turn the water back on and reset the washer; re inspect the hoses and connectors  for leaks.

Upgrade Solution:

For those of you that have experienced a flood of this type, or like me, prefer, to fix it before it breaks you have a couple other options to consider. Most of you know, I am kind of a techno-nerd. So at this point, it would be easy for me to jump off into a solution with electric solenoids, wifi based alerting sensors and such, but this one only requires the KISS  approach (keep it simple stupid). If you look at my article on “How Long Will They Last“, you will see a clothes washer should last you about 13 years.  Lets look at the  choices for hoses:

  • Standard Replacement Rubber Hoses: With a life expectancy of the 3-5 years and a cost of ***  and an hour of labor to do it. If you have to use a professional, add another $75 bucks, it’s about $100 every 3 to 5 years or $300 over the lifetime of the washer. TIP: This is a fairly simple exercise similar to changing a garden hose, but you will have to move the washer around to get to the hoses.
  • Metal Braided PVC Hoses: Considered an upgrade,  easily acquired at the big box store and priced at approximately $30 for the pair. With a life expectancy of 5 years (at best). These hoses give the appearance of sustainable life, but in reality the stainless steel braiding serves to protect a standard type PVC hose from the natural elements, otherwise it would  not be anymore  durable than the standard rubber hose.  It can break easily at or near the connectors as well.
  • High Grade Rubber Hoses: If you have been around much construction equipment, you are well aware of the use of rubber hoses used in hydraulics. These hoses are under constant high pressure at the tune of about 1400 lbs. These hose can be made custom or through Floodchek who design them specifically for this application in both red and blue in color. Floodcheck  hoses have been used in commercial real estate application for years and  are warranteed for 20 years. Priced at under $50 for the pair. Whether  custom or from Floodchek, these hoses will last the lifetime of the washer and is fairly cheap insurance. HomeownerBOB recommends this solution.

Ok, so this solution wasnt good enough for you, here are some items  that are belts and suspenders. However, for me, the upgraded hoses are more than adequate. I say this because the solenoids will stop the water in the even of a flood, they also induce new failure points that are not worth it in my book.

  • Electric Solenoids: Floodstop will detect water on the floor and tell the water to shut off at the washer connection.
  • Water Alarm Detector: This device works in conjunction with your burglar alarm activating an alarm condition that would report to you or the burglar alarm monitoring company. NOTE: Unfortunately, by the time you get home, the damage is done.
  • Whole House Flood Detector: This is the premium solution as it allows sensors any where and everywhere. If you house is over 10,000 sq. feet, you might consider this, otherwise its pretty expensive.

Seasonal Reminder Winter 2014

January 9, 2014

Winter StormWinter got  here with an attitude for 2014, aka Polar Vortex (for what ever that means). Many of us are seeing record low temperatures and for those of us that have been living with mild winters, you should realize you will see some changes you may not have seen for quite some times. Furthermore, the longer it stays below zero, the more impact it can make.

  1. Plant material that has previously lived through the winters may die, so hopefully you have already covered them up.
  2. Outdoor faucets may freeze up. Either cover them up with some form of insulation material or turn the faucet off below ground
  3. Its also a good time to look at the trees that may be near the electrical service drop. Look for limbs that have drooped too close to the service wire. This is not the time to trim them safelty, but you should take not and trim them in early spring. If they are putting excessive stress on the service line you should call a professional.
  4. Also look at my article on extended vacations.

If that wasn’t enough for you, here are the regular winter items to look at. Take care and stay warm.

Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: Assuming you have a forced air system, change the filters as we enter the heavy heating season.

  • Roofing-Looking For Leaks:  Winter rain and snow can cause the most marginal leak to show up, If you can still get on your roof, give it a look.
  • Attic Inspection:  Making a general inspection of your attic  is important. Look for rodent tracks, damaged electrical  wires and importantly vents and stacks.
  • HVAC Indoor Unit:  Besides the air filter, look at the general condition of the unit. If the unit uses natural gas look for a good strong flame.  If you smell natural gas anywhere, address it immediately.
  • Set Back Type Thermostat: If the battery is a year old, replace it.
  • Winterize Plumbing: Wrap exposed pipes, fixtures and drain down the automatic sprinkler system.
  • Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways, landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that may have occurred.
  • Caulking and Sealing Windows and Doors: Look at the edges where the windows and doors connect to the house. Ensure the caulk is in good shape and add caulk as necessary, indoors. (leave the outdoor caulking till Spring).
  • Tile Grout and Caulk: Take a look in your bathrooms for separation in the tile grout and around the tub and shower. Winter heat will cause those materials to shrink. This is a great time to reapply caulk or grout in those areas.
  • Gutters and Downspout: Clean you gutters of leaves and debris. Flush them with water to ensure they flow freely. This is as much a fall issue for the colder climates, but in the warmer states we are still seeing leaves fall. Look for a new article on this one next year. As you may know, I hate gutters, but I found a new product that may reduce my dislike. I will order some of the product and install them on another house that has lots of tree to see if they work.
  • Exterior Inspection:  Walk around the house, look for those wasp/bird  nest and remove them with a broom. At this time of year you will have little resistance from them.
  • Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  • Seasonal Power Outages: Winter storms can leave many without electricity and other essential services. Review these items for safety sake.

If you are needing some additional information on one of the topics that I have not written about, let me know and I will put it higher on the list of articles to write. Email to HomeownerBOB@gmail.com


Chasing Lawn Sprinkler Leaks II

July 31, 2013

lawn20edge20pop20up2011My wife complained the water bill had gone to the moon (again) last month. Even HomeownerBOB has sprinkler leaks!! In this post I hope to show another way to identifiy water leaks in automatic lawn sprinklers. After doing the basics, it was obvious, it would take a little more effort.

At this point, I still had no idea where the leak was other than I was confident it was past the valve as the meter was not moving otherwise.

Most sections should use near the same amount of water except where it might be a very small section or (in my case) I have 3 sections using emitter tube for drip irrigation, but even in this case there should be some relative similarities.

  1. Access the water meter for the property, clean the meter face or get to where you can watch the meter move.
  2. Make sure all other water devices are turned off or wont come on during this test
  3. If you have a controller that has a test sequence, set it to 1 minute. If not, have some one manually operate it at one minute per section.
  4. Have a friend turn it on while you are positioned to watch the meter
  5. Once it starts, watch the meter (this is not real scientific, but you are looking for a difference in the trend.
  6. You should beable to recognize when the watering changes from one zone to the next as the water meter will stop (very briefly) then start again.
  7. In most cases the meter will briefly run very fast, then (noticeably) slow down.
  8. Compare the speed and gallons used by each section. (your comparison should be like for like, in other words, pop-up sections to pop-up sections and so on.
  9. If you find a section that does not trend the same way (i.e. does not slow down after the initial turn up), it is likely that this is your problem zone. In my case, I had two that looked funny.
  10. Stop the test and run just the sections that appeared perculiar. Walk the entire section, head by head to find larger quantities of water.

100_0203In my case, the problem was in the emitter section. It is not unusual to spring a leak in these sections either due to driving a shovel (my wife) through one, or one of the ends coming open. It ended up being neither, but was caused by an inline filter I installed (below ground under this cover) to keep the emitters clean. This has happened to me before on a different section as I used these fancy filters that self clean them selves, unfortuntly they tend to stick open, and they have to be replaced. I replaced them with a non-self cleaning type. I have one more that could go bad, so its only a mater of time.

Make sure and click on the Lawn Sprinkler tab to see all my articles on lawn sprinklers.


Celebrate National Fix a Leak Week

March 18, 2012

Ten percent of homes have water leaks that waste 90 gallons or more water per day. Participate in National Fix-a-Leak Week by fixing a water leak this month.

The Silent Thief

A leaky faucet that drips at the rate of  one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water per year. If you have a dripping faucet or running toilet, these need to be fixed first and will solve the obvious water leaks. If you need to call a handyman or plumber.. the time is now. If you want to give it the DIY try, visit EHow.com for a straight forward method for fixing common faucet and toilet leaks. However before you start, make sure you have already read my post on Water Supply Cut Off and City Water Cut Off.

Even though fixing water leaks is not normally what I would consider as preventative maintenance, fixing a faucet or toilet is something that is hard to miss, if you see it leaking….fix it. However, some water leaks can occur in places you would not normally view. Under the sink, behind the refrigerator, and under the house are just some of the places. These type water leaks can go unnoticed for weeks, months or even years. These leaks not only waste water but can cause structural damage to wood floors as well as foundations. If you have no leaks, this inspection is about 5 minutes. If you do, plan on a good part of the day.  Good luck .

The Inspection

This inspection method is really about finding those hidden leaks.  Insure that nothing will be turned on (dishwasher, toilet, sprinklers, etc.), or activated during this test. Before performing the inspection you must gain access to the meter. This may require a meter key that can be purchased in the plumbing section of any home improvement center. Once you have the meter box open, the meter should be visible. There are at least a dozen different water meters having different dials and gauges. Look for the “Low Flow” gauge in the meter (in the meter pictured here, the low flow indicator is the little red blob to the left of the large sweep hand, between the 7 and 8 on the dial). If you are unsure which gauge it is, turn on a faucet, leave it on and look at the meter. One of the gauges in the meter will be moving faster than any other part of the dial; this is the low flow gauge. Turn off the fixture, return to the water meter and watch the low flow indicator for approximately 3-5 minutes. If the meter progressively moves forward, you have some form of leak, if not no further investigations are required. If you do have a leak,  you can call a professional or try to further isolate the problem. Either way, it may take some time  as some the leak may not be visible.  $TIP$: Isolating the leak before calling the plumber will save you some money as the plumber will charge you by the hour whether he is looking or fixing a leak.

Before we start the leak isolation test, turn the water off here (to make sure you can). It may seem like a simple task and why should you do it just to say you can? Because when you really need to, time is of the essence, and you don’t have time to search for the right tool. This cut-off (on the street side of the meter head may be hard to get to, so find the right wrench that will work for you).  A crescent type wrench works best for me. The cut-off is probably a ball valve and you will only need to turn it 90 degrees from its current position.

Leak Isolation Group I (fixtures, faucets and toilets):

If you find a lot of  water or condensation on the fixtures, save the test for a dry or warmer day as this condition will make it difficult to find your problem.

As mentioned in the beginning of the article, you should have already fixed any obvious dripping faucets. This isolation method is for the hard to find leaks. If the low flow meter stops after any one of the isolation steps, you have found the source of the leak.

  1. One at a time, turn off each fixture at the wall and return to the meter to watch the low flow gauge. This should include all faucets, toilets, ice makers, water filters, dish washer and water heater (inspect last).   If the meter stops, there is a leak between the cut off and the fixture.
  2. If you find water dripping or puddles, take some unused toilet paper and wipe down the hose, pip, cut-off, fixture and both ends of the connection; everything under the sink.  TRICK: Why use TP you ask? TP is very absorbent, very pliable and you can see any water trace in the paper. Water travels down hill so look at the joints above the first sign of water.
  3. With the water turned on, start your inspection from the highest joint/connection. Look at the TP after wiping down each joint/connection/pipe section/cut-off. If you find any water deposits on the TP, you may have found the leak. Leaks are usually found at joints, couplings and connections. Assuming it can be tightened, do so by hand if possible or with a wrench, or call a plumber. TIP: Most plumbing connection are made with soft plastic, copper or brass, only tighten the joint to the point of not leaking, over tightening can cause it to leak worse.  Many plastic joints ca be tightened by hand. After tightening the joint, dry it completely and perform the TP test again. Perform the test at least twice. If the leak persists, replacing the rubber washer or seal at this joint may be required.
  4. Toilets: Toilets require the TP test as well. Since most residential toilets have a tank, you will have to verify that water is not leaking from the tank to the bowl. Remove the lid from the tank and add some colored tank bowl cleaner to the tank water (do not flush). Give it about 5 minutes, then see if any of the color has leaked in the bowl. You may have a leaky flapper valve.
  5. Check the water meter again. Hopefully you fixed it, but you could still have more leaks.
  6. Perform this series of tests as required for each water fixture in the house. This will include all faucets, toilets  refrigerator mounted ice maker, dishwashers and any other water consuming or delivering device.

Just to visually understand the relation to size of hole to amount of water loss, check out this table.

Look for articles on Sprinklers Leaks and Plumbing-Chasing Leaks Part II for additional leak detection methods.