Plumbing: A simple leak test can help reduce your water bill

A leak test using food coloring can help identify the source of a costly toilet flapper water leak. (Photo by Dior Stephens)

A leak test using food coloring can help identify the source of a costly toilet flapper water leak. (Photo by Dior Stephens)

Have you ever received a bill from your local water utility and discovered a huge balance due? We get at least one call a week where a homeowner just opened their water bill and went into sticker shock: “Why is my water bill $1,500 when it is normally $150?”

The reason for such a drastically high water usage bill is usually a water leak. The type of leak that causes a high water bill can be something as obvious as a garden hose mistakenly being left open for days, several dripping faucets within the house or a broken main water line in the ground.

Although these examples are some of the most common sources for water loss and a high utility bill, the most common culprit of water loss in a residence is a leaky toilet tank flapper. Yes, that little vinyl or rubber flapper inside your toilet tank could quietly be draining your bank account.; Even if you do not have a huge utility bill each month, you could be losing money and wasting water.

The flapper is located in the tank portion of your toilet. When the tank lever is pushed down to flush, the flapper lifts up letting the water rush down into the bowl and complete the flush. The flapper then seats itself back onto the flush valve assembly and is supposed to make a water-tight seal.

If that water tight seal does not occur completely, water escapes down into the bowl and eventually into the sewer system. Sometimes this water escaping is minimal and hard to notice. Other times, the water loss is heard via the fill valve starting and stopping to refill the lost water in the tank, also referred to as a phantom or ghost flush. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of gallons of water can be lost each month from this problem.

Here’s a simple test you can perform to see if you’re losing water via your toilet’s flapper:

1. Open the lid of your toilet tank and put 10 drops of food coloring into the tank water.

2. Watch and wait. If the food coloring leaks under the flapper you will see the food coloring appear in the bowl of the toilet. If this happens you know that water is escaping and you need to replace your flapper.

This very basic and easy test can save you hundreds of dollars over time. I have heard from some of our customers that once they personally replaced their defective flapper or used a licensed plumber, they were able to get a reduction of their water bill from the utility company. So hold onto your material and labor receipts in these cases and contact your local water authority to see if they can provide some monetary relief.

About this Angie’s List Expert: In business since 1948 and serving customers in the Washington D.C. metro area, Booze Plumbing and Heating offers a wide range of plumbing and HVAC services. The Vienna, Va.-based company earned the 2012 Angie’s List Super Service Award.

As of March 18, 2013, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.

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