Conducting a Self-Water Audit at home
The best way to know how much water you use, and to determine if you have a leak, is to read your water meter. Over-watering, broken pipes, excessive water use habits and leaking appliances, valves and landscape systems can all wreak havoc on your daily water use.
Follow these steps to learn how to read your meter and perform a home water audit.
Begin by making sure no water is being used inside or outside your home. Make sure your drip system, evaporative cooler, water softener, ice maker, reverse osmosis system, automatic pool fill, etc. are not running.
Locate your water meter box, which is typically located at the front of the property in the easement.
Carefully lift the lid using a large screwdriver. Be cautious of insects. If you see bees going in and out of the meter box, call 480-358-3450 and do not proceed until bees have been removed.
Clean out any debris inside the meter box to uncover the water meter. The Town uses two different styles of meters.
Record the numbers on the meter from left to right. This is the first read.
Wait at least one hour and read the meter again. This is the second read.
Subtract the first read from the second read to determine if there is usage. Usage, or if the sweep hand on the leak indicator or the black triangle in the middle of the Invensys meter has moved, you may have a leak. If there is no movement on the leak indicator and the numbers for the first and second read are the same, your high usage could be due to a problem with your irrigation system, excessive consumption or something that runs in a specific cycle like the malfunctioning of an automatic pool fill or over cycling of a water softener or reverse osmosis system.
Invensys meters (image A) - locate the small circle with ten black notches and a sweep hand in the lower right corner known as the leak indicator. Some older meters have a black triangle in the center of the meter. If the sweep hand or black triangle is moving at all, water is flowing through your meter and you might have a leak. If there is no movement, note what line the dial hand is on, or the position of the triangle on the leak indicator. Walk away from the meter for a couple of minutes. Upon your return, check to see if the sweep hand has moved at all. If it has, you may have a leak. If no movement is detected, continue to the next step.
IPerl meters (image B) - locate the small round circle in the center of the meter next to the word "Gal". If there is water moving through the meter, a plus sign (+) will appear in the center of the round circle. If you see a plus sign, you may have a leak. If no water movement is reflected, continue to next step.
NOTE: You can use this same method above to determine how much water is used when watering your landscape. Take a meter reading before and after use. The difference in the reading indicates how much water is being used during that cycle. You will need to do this for every station and every cycle
The Town of Queen Creek is not responsible for damages caused by breakage or leaks to your pipes or plumbing fixtures. Valves and fittings can become corroded or brittle after a period of time if they have not been used. Do not use excessive force.
- Check for dripping faucets at sinks.
- Check under the sink for leaking pipes or leaks at RO tank (if applicable).
- Check for leaks at the ice maker.
- Check the overflow tray under the refrigerator for unnecessary water.
What to do if the leak indicator is moving or the meter shows usage.
Your next step is to isolate the leak.
Find the shut-off valve on the water supply riser which is typically located in the front of your house near the hose bib.
Turn the shut-off valve clockwise to close it. You have now isolated the service line from the meter to your home.
If the leak indicator shows no movement, then the leak is somewhere after the shut-off valve, probably inside the home or tied to something that is fed from the home such as a swimming pool or spa. Refer below to "Finding Inside Leaks."
If the leak indicator or dial hand is still moving after you have shut the water off to your home, water is being used somewhere outdoors. Shut the water off to your landscape watering system. If the meter is no longer reflecting water use, chances are, your landscape watering system is to blame. Check the valves in your irrigation valve box. Often times one of those may be stuck in the open position and need repaired. Refer below to "Finding Outside Leaks."
If your leak indicator continues to show use after both your home and irrigation system have been isolated, you could have a leak between the meter and your home/landscape watering system on the main water supply line.
REMINDER: After testing, don't forget to turn the water back on at the shut-off valve located near your hose bib.
FINDING INSIDE LEAKS
Check for dripping faucets at sinks and in the shower.
Check under the sink for leaking pipes.
Check the toilet for leaks.
Remove the toilet tank lid.
Remove any in-tank cleaners or disinfectants.
Flush and wait for tank to refill.
Check the overflow tube to make sure the water isn’t going over the top.
Drop in two dye tablets or several drops of food color.
Wait 15 minutes.
If color from the dye tablets or food color appear in the toilet bowl, you have a leak. Check your flapper and valve seals for wear. (Be sure to flush the dye out of the tank and bowl to avoid staining).
Check for dripping faucets at sinks.
Check under the sink for leaking pipes or leaks at RO tank (if applicable).
Check for leaks at the ice maker.
Check the overflow tray under the refrigerator for unnecessary water.
FINDING OUTSIDE LEAKS
The most common problem with a pool can be the automatic fill valve. Often times this valve will become stuck and not shut off thereby constantly filling the pool. Occasionally there will be a crack in the pool surface that can go undetected. To test this, turn off the auto-fill, place a bucket on the top step of your pool. Fill the bucket with water so that the water level inside the bucket is the same as the level of water on the outside of the bucket. Do not cover the bucket. Check the bucket in several hours. If the water level on the outside of the bucket is lower than the water inside the bucket, you probably have a leak and will need to call a pool company for repair. Also, do not overfill your pool. This will help minimize water loss due to splashing. Evaporative losses are normal. Use a pool cover to control evaporation and keep dirt and leaves out of your pool. This will reduce the need to backwash as often. When backwashing, only do so until the water runs clear. If you do need to have pool repairs made, find a reputable pool company that can do the repairs without draining your pool completely.
FOUNTAIN / WATER FEATURE
Fountains or water features can be a beautiful addition and good at masking the noise of traffic. Wildlife may also enjoy the benefits. Although not always a friend to water conservation, you can make your fountain more efficient by adjusting the float to avoid overflow, turning the fountain off on windy days, and installing a timer so that the water is running only when someone is home to appreciate it. When you perform a backwash on your fountain, make sure the excess water is directed to a turf area if possible. Check your fountain or water feature routinely for leaks.
An evaporative cooler (also know as a swamp cooler, desert cooler, and wet air cooler) is a device that cools air through the simple evaporation of water. Evaporative coolers require a constant supply of water to wet the pads. A drawback to evaporative coolers is they use a substantial amount of water to provide their cooling effect (from 15 to 300 gallons per day depending on the size and age of the unit). In dry areas such as ours, this consumption can put a real strain on water supplies. Make sure that your unit is recycling properly and has a recirculating pump. Without a recirculating pump you could be using up to 2,000 gallons of water per day. Proper maintenance is vital in order for your cooler to use water efficiently.
One of the biggest culprits causing high water use may be your landscape irrigation system. Your system should be checked regularly for leaks, missing or clogged emitters on your drip lines, broken or missing sprinkler heads, cracked or broken pipes that are buried underground and leaky irrigation valves or ones that are stuck open. Check for wet or very green spots in your yard as this may indicate a leak. Make sure the spray patterns of the sprinkler heads and the water flow from the emitters are directing water appropriately. Check your irrigation controller to ensure that the settings have not changed or that the system is not malfunctioning. If you have a problem with gophers or other small critters, beware, they can chew through the irrigation water lines and create holes in your watering system.
OTHER WATER-USING APPLIANCES
To remove hardness from water so that it doesn't stain glass or metal surfaces or leave a ring in your toilet bowl, the water softening process involves an exchange of calcium and sodium ions. It takes 15 to 120 gallons of water to successfully soften 1,000 gallons. Check the recharge frequency of your system and make sure it is set to the minimum number of cycles and that it is cycling properly.
The best way to prevent your water heater from leaking is to drain your water heater once a year to avoid calcium buildup inside the tank. Calcium deposits may pit the inside of the tank and cause it to leak, thereby requiring replacement of the tank.
Depending on the unit, to produce one gallon of RO water, 2 to 9 gallons of water may be wasted. This process forces water molecules through a semi-permeable membrane that removes impurities as well as valuable minerals. Some units continue to drain the processed water even after the holding tank is full. Make sure the unit you choose has an automatic shut-off that will keep additional water from being wasted and that it is in proper working order.
Ice makers can leak. If this happens, check all connections in the water line, including the fill tube extension. Check the defrost drain for cracks, overflow or clogs, and check the water valve itself.
AM I WATERING TOO MUCH?
Over-watering is a common occurrence and can be the reason for your high water use. Some signs of over-watering include:
Algae and/or mushrooms are growing.
Leaves turn a lighter shade of green or turn yellow.
Pooling water or soil that is constantly damp.
Leaves are green but brittle.
New leaves are wilted.
For turf areas, use a soil probe or a long screwdriver to measure how deep the water has penetrated your lawn. One hour after watering, push the screwdriver or probe into the grass until it stops. In normal soil, the probe should stop at approximately 8 to 10 inches. If it goes in further, you have over watered. Cut your watering time down until you reach this goal. (Remember, it is better to water deeper and less often).
If you have brown spots in certain areas of your lawn, it could be because of a system design flaw or clogged emitters. Instead of increasing your watering time which could cause you to over water, hand water those brown areas with a garden hose. If your lawn is uneven and the water flows more to one side than the other, water your lawn in two segments. For instance, if you typically water for 30 minutes, instead, water for 15 minutes, allow the water to absorb for about an hour and then water for another 15 minutes.
DO I NEED TO WATER MORE?
Under-watering or incorrect watering can be equally harmful. Some signs of under-watering include:
Soil is dry.
Older leaves turn yellow or brown and drop off.
Leaves are wilted.
Trees, shrubs and ground cover water requirements vary based on age and type of plant.
The 1-2-3 METHOD
An easy way to remember how deep to water mature landscaping is the 1 -2 -3 method:
Water small plants such as ground cover, cacti and annuals to a depth of 1 foot.
Water medium plants such as shrubs to a depth of 2 feet.
Water large plants such as trees to a depth of 3 feet.
Visit QueenCreek.org/WaterGuides, WaterUseItWisely.com or AMWUA.org for more tips and information on efficient watering in the Arizona desert. You can also contact our water conservation office at 480-358-3455 to request free brochures and additional water conservation information.