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KEEP WATER WHERE IT BELONGS

Published Apr. 7, 2009

The typical U.S. home can waste up to 11,000 gallons of water annually through household leaks, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. How do you know? Investigate.

Calculate water use. Look at your water bills for the two coldest months of the year. If there are four people in your house and you are using more than 12,000 gallons a month, there are serious leaks.

Go dry for two hours.Check your water meter before and after a two-hour period when no water is used. If the reading changes even a little bit, you probably have a leak.

Identify toilet leaks by placing food coloring in the tank. If any color shows up in the bowl before you flush, you have a leak.

Examine faucet gaskets and pipe fittings for any water on the outside of the pipe to check for surface leaks.

Toilet troubles. One reason toilets will leak is an old or worn-out toilet flapper, also known as a valve seal. Flappers are inexpensive rubber parts that can build up minerals or decay over time. Replacing them can be a quick and easy fix. Consult a hardware store, home improvement retailer, plumber or online resource.

Remember, replacement parts fit some, not all. Make sure the parts you buy are suitable for your model. You might be wise to take the old flapper with you to compare, to save time and money.

Leaky faucets. While you may wish to fix this leak yourself, it is highly recommended that you get in touch with your plumber to take care of this. Some faucets are so old that parts are no longer available. Some are so new that repairs are not covered even in the latest home-improvement manuals. The really old faucets are usually impossible to remove without painful effort.

That said, worn washers and gaskets can cause leaks in faucets. If you give it a try, make sure you take the faucet to the plumbing store with you so you can buy the correct replacement. If you cannot remove it, take a photograph. There are many online tutorials available. The EPA recommends one on the DIY Network Web site at www.diynetwork.com. Just follow the links for faucet repair.

Showerheads. Most leaky showerheads can be fixed by making sure there is a tight connection between the showerhead and the pipe stem and by using pipe tape to secure it. Teflon tape is available at most hardware stores. It's also a good idea to check the washer or O-ring inside the showerhead while making this repair.

Outdoor leaks. If you have an in-ground irrigation system, check it for damage. Check your garden hose for leaks at its connection to the spigot. If it leaks while you run your hose, replace the nylon or rubber hose washer and ensure a tight connection to the spigot using pipe tape and a wrench.

For information on making your house leak-free to save water, go to www.epa.gov/watersense.