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Water conservation: A leak and water savings guide for property and business managers, owners

Bill Howe

According to WaterSense, an EPA Partnership Program, approximately 1 trillion gallons of water are wasted in the United States each year from minor, and preventable, household and irrigation leaks.

The California Department of Water Resources found that an average of 10 percent of all water used is lost to leaks. If the average san Diegan uses 88 gallons per day (According to the San Diego Public Utilities Department, Water Conservation Program) an average household of 4 will use approximately 352 gallons (10 percent would equal to 35 gallons being wasted on unidentified leaks per day). If you are the homeowner and resident, or own and manage your own business, you likely have a good idea of how your water bills and water usage match up and can regularly check for wasted water. But how well are your tenants monitoring water use and minor leaks?

You might be surprised to find that many tenants (both residential and commercial) do not report minor water leaks. Whether it is a dripping shower, running toilet or exterior hose connection, more often than not, it goes undetected and unreported for many reasons. If tenants do not pay for water, or buildings do not have sub-meters to measure individual suite and unit water usage, then tenants are less likely to monitor or devote much interest to water consumption.

It is relatively simple for a property owner and/or manager to be proactive when it comes to saving water and ensuring all leaks are found and repaired. The best recommendation advocates for performing routine inspections of all the plumbing inside and outside of the home or building.

Create a checklist to include common issues and designate one of your staff or maintenance engineers to do a thorough walk through keeping records to determine timelines if you discover a problem in the future.

Exterior inspections should include faucets, hose bibs, irrigation connections (and signs of subterranean leaks such as pooling water in unexplained areas), exposed pipes (especially near water heaters and boilers for larger commercial properties). It is also a good idea to regularly check the pressure going into your building or home (easily done at the exterior hose bib). If it is too high (it should land between 45-70) it can adversely affect your plumbing and cause fixtures to leak.

Interior inspections can also be competed easily by checking faucets and fixtures for drips or signs of calcification (if you notice buildup on water shutoffs of faucets, that may indicate past leaking), individual water shutoffs at sinks, toilets and laundry facilities, individual water heaters (inside of individual units or suites) and toilets. If you suspect a toilet leak, but do not see any visual signs, you can perform a dye test. If you drop a dye table in the tank, leaks will be indicated in the bowl of the toilet.

Another way you can investigate for “silent” or unknown leaks periodically is by turning off the water to the building or home and checking for meter activity. Additionally, you can check the meter at the street and at the house (residential) to further determine where a leak may be occurring. The same check can be done at the irrigation to isolate any sprinkler lines that may be leaking underground.

And while it is not necessary to hire a licensed plumber each time you want to do a leak inspection, it would be a good preventative measure to have a professional inspect your property once a year or every two years. A licensed and trained plumber should be able to inspect your home or business (depending on size) within an hour for any visual plumbing problems.

Best practice when hiring a contractor is to check their license through the California State License Board and go through an industry recognized association such as the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling-Contractors in San Diego for quality referrals. Licensed contractors adhere to strict industry standards of safety and California plumbing laws to protect their customers.

One great way to contribute to saving water in San Diego would be to do your own audit of fixtures on your property. If you are not using water-savings fixtures, it might be a good idea to upgrade and better control water use. Additionally, California passed a bill (SB-407) that will require all fixtures to be upgraded to “water savings” fixtures when selling, remodeling or renovating property built prior to 1994.

• Showerheads: Standard showerheads use 2.5 gallons per minute (GPM), but models approved by WaterSense (an EPA Partnership Program approving and labeling water savings fixtures) use no more than 2.0 GPM with some available at 1.6 GPM. And you don’t have to sacrifice good water pressure. New water savings models are available from most brands and are designed to deliver the best performance for an enjoyable shower. An average family can save approximately 2900 gallons per year just by installing a water-savings showerhead.

• Aerators: Aerators control the flow of water through your faucets. By installing aerators in all tenant faucets (residential and commercial) you can control and conserve water usage at an inexpensive and easy cost.

• Toilets: High Efficiency Toilets (HETs) use 20 percent less water per flush than the low flow variety. Current law requires all low flow toilets to be 1.28 gallons per flush (HETs meet this standard).

• Recirculation systems: Recirculation systems aid in getting hot water to your fixtures fast and efficiently. The recirculation system uses a pump to move water quickly, and when used properly can assist in saving water that would otherwise go down the drain while tenants wait for desired temperatures.

• Instahot: Instant hot water heaters are great for commercial building break rooms and kitchens. Like recirculation pumps, they will allow hot water to reach the fixture rapidly, eliminating the time usually spent letting the water get hot.

In 2009, the EPA and WaterSense, began a campaign to educate homeowners and residents in Arizona about water waste through minor and repairable leaks. The “Fix-a-Leak” Week campaign now happens every March and has spread across the nation. What began in Arizona makes perfect sense in California (especially our own community). San Diego’s water supply is becoming more difficult to obtain; we import 80-90 percent of our water and with drought conditions becoming more critical each year, conservation and water control is easy and something we can’t afford to ignore.

Sources used for this article include: California Department of Water Resources Water Audit and Leak Detection California.gov, WaterSense, an EPA Partnership Program epa.gov/WaterSense and the City of San Diego Public Utilities Water Department at sandiego.gov)

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Submitted by Bill Howe, owner and CEO of Bill Howe Plumbing, Heating & Air, Restoration & Flood Services Inc. "Bill Howe Family of Companies" and is celebrating his 35th year in business in San Diego. He is highly regarded in his trade and the recipient of numerous awards including Contractor of the Year, 2011 & 2013 through the National PHCC and Contractor Magazine. Bill Howe is a past President for the local PHCC Association and advocates for education, advanced training and licensing in the plumbing, heating and cooling industry.

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