Stop Toilet Leaks from Flushing Your Money Away

Image of money being flushed down the toilet


That slow drip, drip, drip from the faucet or pipe may not seem like a big deal, but the steady loss of water means money down the drain for residents and apartments.

A water leak can add up and send the already steep price of water even higher while wasting what is becoming a precious natural resource in many parts of the country. According to the United States Geological Survey, for every 15,140 drips a gallon of water is wasted. A faucet that leaks five drips to the minute would waste 173 gallons of water annually.

That may not sound like much at first, but add that up across a portfolio and the numbers can become staggering.

The Environmental Protection Agency is building awareness about the toll a water leak can take this week during Fix-A-Leak Week. The EPA says the average household wastes 10,000 gallons of water each year – up to 1 trillion gallons in all households nationwide – because of leaks in faucets, toilet flappers, and valves.

Greystar Monitors Toilet Leaks for Big Savings

Leaky toilets are often a culprit for water loss, which was on the minds of sustainability professionals at the recent Crittenden Multifamily Conference in Dallas. DeeAnne McClenahan, Greystar’s senior director for procurement and sustainability, says her company takes toilet flappers seriously, enough that it monitors portfolio wide purchases of toilet flappers to determine if proper repairs and leak precautions are being taken by maintenance crews.

“My two favorite words, toilet flapper,” McClenahan said, prompting chuckles from the audience. “I will say those words every chance I get. It is my favorite thing.”

Image of a toilet flapper valve

What draws McClenahan to that small, rubber flapper is the opportunity to save hundreds of gallons of water that seep away under the radar. Leaks, caused by a bad seal due to rubber decay, are slow and may not be noticeable unless the fill valve repeatedly kicks on when the toilet is not in use.

To stay on top of those leaks, Greystar monitors sub-metered properties for high water usage and requires maintenance personnel to change toilet flappers every time a unit turns over.

“We look at sub-metered properties and find those outliers,” she said. “[Residents] don’t know they are using that much water, they don’t know what their next door neighbors are paying. We tell the site to go check these units, and first you check the toilet. Eight times out of 10, the toilet is leaking.”

The Quick Toilet Leak Check

McClenahan said the easiest way to check for a leaky toilet is to use the EPA-recommended practice of placing a drop of food coloring in the toilet tank. If the color appears in the bowl within 15 minutes without flushing, the toilet is leaking.

The test is a good way for Greystar to keep tabs on water leaks, especially at master metered properties where unit consumption data is not as readily available.

“What I worry about is on our master metered properties how many toilets are leaking.” she said. “There is no way for me to know. So, the only thing you can do is tell your maintenance team that every time you go into the unit, put some food coloring in the back of the toilet, and if you see blue then change the flapper. It’s $2.50 for a flapper. It’s the cheapest thing you’re ever going to do and you’ll save $2.50 in a few days.”

The EPA offers additional ways to stop the unnecessary flow of water inside and outside, which can save up to 10 percent on water bills.

Water Leak Detection Starts with Checking Usage Rates

Just as McClenahan suggests, the EPA says the best way to determine if leaks exist is to check water usage bills and data. A check of winter water usage is an especially good place to start. Water use for a family of four that exceeds 12,000 gallons per month is an indicator that there is a leak.

Also, spot checking the water meter after two hours when no water is used will determine that a leak is likely.

Fixing Water Leaks is Easy and Inexpensive

Faucets and showerheads, like toilets, can be culprits of leaks inside apartment units. A leaky faucet that drips at the rate of one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons per year, says the EPA. That’s about how much water is used to take nearly 200 showers.

As with toilets, fixing leaky faucets and showerheads is usually easy and inexpensive. Typically, leaky faucets can be fixed by replacing washers and gaskets that cost a few dollars or cents. Leaky showerheads can be remedied by tightening connections using pipe tape and a wrench.

Check for Outdoor Water Leaks in Sprinklers and Spigots

Irrigation systems and spigots are two of the most common places where leaks crop up outside the apartment. An irrigation system that has a leak from a crack about the thickness of a dime or 1/32 of an inch can lose about 6,300 gallons of water each month.

Systems should be checked each spring before use to identify whether freezing weather damaged pipes and fittings. Also, check hose connections at the outdoor faucet. After time, rubber washers harden and lose their seal, causing drips and other water loss.

Leaks that go unattended can often lead to larger water loss issues. Fixing or preventing a water leak can not only prevent headaches down the road but save residents and properties money.


(Source of Images: Shutterstock)



Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

author photo two

Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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