Drain Game

Published 10:15 pm Saturday, September 12, 2009

IRONTON — Drip, drip, drip.

It has happened one time or another to nearly everyone. A leaky faucet that just will not close properly. It might trickle every 10 second or so, but cannot shut off completely.

These small and innocent leaks are found throughout many Lawrence County homes in kitchen or bathroom sinks and even in showers and bathtubs. In most cases, homeowners do not give a second thought to them and accept the leaks as part of having an older home or older fixtures.

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But look again. Those harmless leaks can add up to 10,400 gallons of water wasted annually in an average household, according to the American Water Works Association. That is about $49 a year for customer of Ironton city water.

What about those leaky toilets? Not toilets that leak from the base all over the floor, but water that leaks into the bowl. The usual symptom of the problem is that residents hear water running periodically as the toilet tank refills long after the last flush, or the water is flowing constantly.

The water wasted by a single leaking toilet can make any water bill zoom up dramatically. In Ironton, a single leaky toilet could use an additional 190,000 gallons of water a year and add $893 to an annual water bill.

“The toilet is the biggest offender,” said Ironton Water Superintendent Mark White who noted the large amounts of water that moves silently through a toilet running constantly between flushes. “Check those rubber seals.”

Sure, most homeowners would not leave a faucet or toilet leaking for an entire year, but even in the smallest of cases, it is still money circling the drain.

White said it is very worthwhile for residents to look for leaks in their homes, considering the amount of water that could be lost.

He said customers should start any type of inspection by examining the rubber seals on all fixtures like toilets and rubber insulation that could be on pipes under the home.

He also suggested, “keeping an eye” on outside water spigots as many can and do leak and are easy to repair.

The AWWA also suggests starting a full home inspection at the water meter. Make sure everything is off — washing machines, faucets, showers, outside sprinklers — and write down the numbers on the face of the meter.

Wait an hour and recheck the numbers on the meter, again with everything off. If the numbers have changed and the meter is operational, a leak is probably evident.

Some meters have a small triangle on the face that turns as water passes through the piping. A moving hand when everything is off also could indicate a leak as well.

White added that the first place to head if you suspect a leak is the bathroom. Check the toilet, showerheads, faucets and pipes.

He also suggested inspecting not so obvious items like hot-water-tanks or even humidifiers attached to furnaces. Water in the furnace may signal big problems.

Just last month, the city of Ironton eliminated one of its many water leaks with the opening of its new two million gallon, Nixon Hill water tank.

With the new tank — replacing an out-of-date tank that leaked more than 300,000 gallons per day — the city has been able to significantly reduce the amount of water it loses monthly from leaks it is unable to bill for.

Before the tank became operational, nearly 60 percent of all water that went through the city’s water network was unaccounted for and unable to be billed. That number is now at around 42 percent and water officials hope to have that number down to 20 percent shortly.

Throughout southern Ohio, water has been a relatively inexpensive and abundant resource for many who think nothing of letting the water run while brushing teeth, washing dishes or between yard work.

Even in Ironton, water runs at under a cent a gallon for all customers.

Average monthly usage for a family of four in Ironton runs about 8,700 gallons or $41 every month. It is even less for those receiving government or homestead assistance.

White said the Ironton Water charges $4.70 per 1,000-gallons used.

But while water has historically been cheap, it has become more expensive in recent months and years.

This year alone, Lawrence County residents saw or could see increases in water rates on a variety of fronts.

On June 8, Ohio American Water proposed an annual hike of $11.60 for residents in the Burlington area. On Aug. 4, Coal Grove Village Council voted to increase its water rates once again. At the beginning of 2009, the city of Ironton raised its rates 30-cents per 1,000 gallons used, with additional 30-cents tacked on for both 2010 and 2011.

In addition to plugging leaks to reduce water bills, people can conserve water, said Sonia Marcus, sustainability coordinator for the Ohio University Office of Sustainability.

“Sealing up leaks is the surest way to reduce water waste,” said Marcus, whose office is responsible for reducing the consumption of natural resources while minimizing the ecological footprint left by usage.

Marcus said one way to conserve water is to purchase “high-efficiency fixtures” for toilets, showerheads and fixtures.

She added that residents should consider installing a low-flush toilet that only uses 1.6 gallons of water per flush. Even better are dual-flush toilets that use either one or 1.6 gallons per flush.

Even the amount of time spent in the shower comes into effect. A five-minute shower could cut use to about 35 gallons compared to nearly 105 gallons used in a 15-minute shower.

The group is also responsible for its “Think Outside the Bottle” campaign that urges residents to cut out all bottled water while opting for tap water instead. The group cites Environmental Protection Agency testing that tap water is more strictly regulated and monitored that its bottled water counterparts.

But even with rising costs, the American Water Works Association cites that tap water remains significantly less expensive than bottled products. A 20-ounce bottle of purified drinking water can run $1.29 in convenience stores compared with one-fifteenth of a cent if you filled that same size bottle with tap water purified through a faucet filter.

The Beverage Marketing Corporation reported that in 2006 the average American consumed 27.6 gallons of bottled water with 8.25 billion gallons of water consumed overall in the United States.

The AWWA shows that in 2008 alone, Americans used about 408 billion gallons of water each day in their homes. Average use across the region is about 70 gallons per day, per person.

“It’s amazing about the amount of water is wasted out there,” Marcus said.

And with less waste and less leaks on both the city and resident’s side, the more likely water bills have the chance to drop.