If your water bill increased suddenly and you cannot think of any obvious reasons for the spike in water usage, such as filling a pool, frequent watering of your lawn, a leaking faucet, etc., you may have a less obvious leak somewhere in or around your home. There are several tests you can perform to check for leaks. A leaking or running toilet is the most common leak that leads to high bills.
Toilet tank flapper leak
The toilet’s flapper allows water to flow from the toilet tank into the bowl when the toilet is flushed. A worn-out flapper will cause water to flow into the toilet even when it’s not being flushed. If you hear your toilet tank periodically refilling without being used, you probably have a faulty flapper. To check for this type of leak, add a few drops of food coloring to the water in the tank and wait several minutes. If, without flushing, colored water appears in the toilet bowl, you have a leak. Flapper replacement kits are inexpensive and are fairly simple to install.
Toilet tank shut-off valve leak
If the shut-off valve inside the tank does not close completely, water will rise in the tank and drain into the overflow tube. To check for this leak, lift the toilet tank lid and see if water is flowing into the overflow tube. The overflow tube is an open pipe that rises up from the bottom of the tank and should extend a little above the surface of the water. If water is flowing into this tube, water is being wasted and the valve needs repair or adjustment.
Checking for leaks using your water meter
A typical residential or commercial water meter is located near the curb or sidewalk in a concrete metal box of about 15 inches by 20 inches. It may be in the lawn or driveway. To check for a leak using your water meter, turn off all water fixtures in your home so that no water should be flowing. Use a screwdriver or other small tool to lift the lid of the box and access your water meter.
Important: When you're finished, be sure to clear all debris from the meter box and securely replace the lid.
Look at the small white triangle at the center of the meter dial. This triangle is called a "flow finder," and it will spin if there is even a small amount of water flowing through the meter. If no water is being used and the flow finder is spinning, you have a leak.
For more information on how to locate, read, and use your meter effectively, click here.
Trouble locating the source of a leak?
If you've determined there's a leak present and have already checked your toilets and other plumbing fixtures, you may have a leak under your home or in your service line between the meter and your home.
Checking for Leaks in Your Service Line
Turn off the water at your private water shut-off valve.
Finding Your Shut-off Valve
Shut-off valve locations vary, but all buildings less than 25 years old have one. Likely locations for the private water shut-off valve include:
- Close to an outside hose bib, where the water supply pipe enters your home. The valve will be located inside a box or pipe in the ground, several feet from the exterior of your home.
- Near your water heater, or under a vanity cabinet or kitchen sink, particularly if you live in a townhouse, condominium, or apartment.
- On the wall in your garage, particularly in newer homes.
If, after turning off your private water shutoff valve, the flow finder on your water meter is still spinning, there's a leak somewhere in your private service line between the meter and your home.
Note: Homeowners are responsible for repairing any plumbing leaks on private property.
If you find a leak and have it repaired, you may qualify for an adjustment to the water portion of your bill. You can submit a request for a bill adjustment through Public Utilities Online Services, or by calling (757) 385-4631 or toll-free at 1-866-697-3481.
How much water is being wasted?
You can calculate the rate of the leak by timing the sweep of the needle. Count how many notches or tick marks the needle passes in one minute. Multiply the number of tick marks by 0.07 and you will have the leak rate in gallons per minute.