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The Cost Of A Leak

April 14, 2011
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A slow leak from a faucet or a running toilet may not seem like a big deal; but, over time, it can cost hundreds of dollars and waste thousands of gallons.

Not only does this increase utility bills, but it is also harmful to the environment.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a faucet that leaks at a rate of one drop per second can add an extra 3,000 gallons per year to a water bill — enough to fill three fire trucks.

Additionally, a running toilet can waste over 200 gallons of water a day.

These are numbers that cannot be ignored.

Another factor that cannot be discounted is the rising cost of water and water treatment.

As reported by USA Today, water and sewer rates have risen by an average of seven percent or more for each two-year period since 2000.

Additionally, sewer rates appear to be increasing at a higher rate than water.

As water systems need to be updated and water is likely to become scarce, these rates will only continue to rise.

While water is one of the least expensive utilities, it is also one of our most strained resources.

In fact, the Earth''s surface is more than 70 percent covered by water, but only about 1 percent is readily available for human use.

According to Water for Life, there is enough freshwater on Earth to supply every living human; but, it is polluted, distributed unevenly and greatly wasted.

On top of waste and quality issues, cities across America are also experiencing terrible drought conditions.

During these periods of drought, municipal governments have had to step in to regulate water use.

Restrictions were placed on residents for watering plants and washing cars at home.

Additionally, some restaurants were required to stop supplying tap water to guests.

Because of situations like these, we must make a change — starting with simple solutions — to help conserve.

Stop The Waste With Haste

Fixing a leak, whether it is a faucet, toilet or other fixture, is just one way to save resources and reduce bills.

While water bills will vary by type of facility and level of use, it is important to know the average monthly water use.

This will help gauge when numbers are higher than normal and determine areas for reduction.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) drip calculator is a helpful tool that gives the average cost of a typical faucet leak.

One example from the calculator shows that a building with four faucets that drip at the rate of 30 drops per minute would waste 11 gallons of water a day.

On a larger scale, a corporate park of 100 businesses with the same number of faucets and drip rate would waste 1,141 gallons of water a day.

Another way to track water consumption is to establish and implement a water management plan.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has an outline for a plan that is recommended to be used with existing facility operating plans.

There are seven key areas that help facilities establish a plan, set goals, measure use, plan for emergencies and assess savings opportunities.

Even though monitoring water use will help identify trouble areas, it is important to remember to periodically check all plumbing fixtures for any leaks.

Because of the mechanical nature of all plumbing products, even the highest quality fixtures on the market will eventually need repair at some point during their lifetime.

For a faucet, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) standard is 500,000 cycles.

After half a million cycles, wear and tear will occur, increasing the likelihood of a leak.

It is important to repair the leak from the beginning.

Failing to do so may turn into a more severe problem, like not being able to shut off the flow of water.

Because it often seems hard to diagnose, a leak can go for months or years without being repaired.

However, these leaks are simple to identify and relatively easy to fix.

Faucet leaks almost always occur due to wear and tear on soft worn parts, such as the gasket, washer, packing or O-ring.

There are many locations that a faucet can leak from, including the spout, handle, base of the bonnet, nozzle and coupling flange.

Here are the most common issues for the given location:

  • Spout — A leak from the spout typically means that the seat washer at the bottom of the spindle is worn and needs repair. If the leak doesn''t stop, the seat may be damaged and in need of replacement. Also, check the spindle and bottom gasket for damage.

  • Handle — Leaking here indicates worn packing that needs to be replaced. Remove the bonnet nut to replace.

  • Base of the bonnet — The top gasket is most likely worn out and will need repair if a leak occurs at the bonnet base.

  • Nozzle — A nozzle leak indicates that the O-ring needs to be replaced.

  • Coupling flange — A leak here is a sign that the coupling gasket needs to be replaced.

Most of the time, a faucet can be repaired to fix a leak.

However, sometimes the body of the faucet will have to be replaced altogether.

This typically happens when the threads of the faucet are worn down through repeated repairs.

Replace the faucet when it no longer functions properly or when repairing it will not fix the leak.

When considering a new faucet, there are important features to look for.

First, look for a faucet that is made by a manufacturer with a quality track record.

Buying a brand name faucet will help ensure that replacement parts can be found quickly when the faucet does begin to wear.

If cost is a concern, consider the long-term effects of buying a lower-quality product.

While it may cost less upfront, it will likely require more repairs and earlier replacement during its lifetime.

Installing a faucet that is a reliable, quality product will almost always cost less in the long run.

Additionally, when purchasing new or replacing existing plumbing fixtures, it is important to consider low-flow models.

There are many faucets and toilets on the market that can save thousands of gallons of water — a financial and environmental gain.

Additionally, for those facilities that are looking to receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, many toilet and faucet models can help obtain points needed for certification.

It is easy to ignore a small leak, but the longer it goes without repair the more water and money will be wasted.

Make a plan to track water use and identify any leaks.

Stopping a leak before it gets too severe will help avoid higher bills and unnecessary waste.

Linda Seigler joined T&S Brass, a leading manufacturer of commercial plumbing and foodservice equipment, in 1984. With over 25 years of experience in the plumbing industry, she currently serves as the company''s Northeastern regional sales manager. Seigler is a member of the Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI), the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM) and the Manufacturers'' Agents Association for the Foodservice Industry (MAFSI). She can be reached at For more information on T&S Brass, visit

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