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Pipes being repaired with wrenches

Early leak detection saves water and money

A startling statistic from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that leaks account for 12% of indoor water use. In the United States, an average household wastes 10,000 gallons of water on leaks annually. You could run your washing machine at least once every day and still not use enough to match that number.

So, how does this massive water waste happen year after year? Leaks are sneaky. A small drip every few minutes can seem like such a small problem…until its effects add up to mold, damage in the home, and a high water bill. Simply put, it’s not worth it to wait.

…What Leak?

How do you know if you have a leak? Sarasota County Public Utilities will notify customers by phone or through mail if a meter reading comes back a certain percentage higher than normal. If you don’t want to risk waiting for a surprisingly high water bill, you can do an assessment by reading your water meter at home.

Be sure all of your water-using devices are turned off before checking the meter. This includes any sinks, laundry machines, and irrigation. You can find your water meter on the ground outside of your home. Most water meters are in the front yard, close to the street or sidewalk. The water meter will often be underneath a metal cover, so bring a screwdriver and gloves before you tamper with it.

water meter

Water meter reader with a spinning dial in the middle (Credit: Pixabay)

Some meters are covered by a cap, which can be easily removed by hand or using a tool. Once you get access to the water meter, you can begin by reading the odometer, or the strip of numbers usually located at the top of the dial. This tells you how much water has been used since the meter was installed on the property. Take note of this number. Changes in this number over time can tell you just how much water your household is using.

The next important feature to look out for is the small shape, often a triangle, that can be found in the middle or to the side of the display. This shape indicates water flow from the meter to your property. Double-check that you have turned off all of your water-using devices. If everything is in working order, the shape should not move. However, if you find yourself with a shape that is spinning, that means you are dealing with a leak.

How to Find It!

Locating the source of your leak is actually a rather simple, straightforward process. Always start with your toilet. Toilets are often the most common source of leaks in a home. Testing your toilet for a leak is easy as 1, 2, 3.

  1. Put dye tablets or a small amount of food dye in your toilet tank.
  2. Wait 30 minutes.
  3. Check the bowl. If there is any presence of dye, you likely are dealing with a leak.
Look Indoors

While you’re waiting for the results of your dye test, you can inspect the other parts of your home. Continue with inspecting the rest of the bathroom. Check your faucet(s), shower, and pipes under your sink for any signs of leaking. Be sure to look for drips or unexpectedly damp areas.

View of a full kitchen

View of a full kitchen (Credit: Pixabay)

After checking all of the bathrooms in your home, move on to the kitchen. Listen and look for any visible signs of water dripping or pooling in the area. Check the faucet and pipes under the sink first, and then move to the fridge. See if there is any water behind or under the fridge. If not, it’s time to check the laundry room. See if there are any obvious signs of leaking by looking inside your machines and behind them. Any unusual moisture may indicate that there is a leak. Check to see if you have an ongoing warranty on your machines that could cover repairs.

The last place to check indoors is your utility room. Your water heater or softener could be the source of your leak. Check for any wet or damp areas around the water heater. Also, check for any leaks from the pressure valve, located near the top of the tank. When checking your water softener, listen for the sound of running water. This could indicate that your softener is stuck in recycle/regeneration mode. Place your softener in bypass mode to see if the meter stops moving.

Check Outside
A coiled hose attached to the side of a building

A coiled hose (Credit: Pixabay)

No signs of a leak indoors? There is still the chance that your leak is coming from outside. Start with wandering around your yard. Be on the lookout for any visual signs of a leak. This could be as subtle as a particularly wet patch of grass, or it might be as obvious as water dripping from your garden hose. See if there are any quick fixes you can make, such as twisting the hose completely off. The leak might also be coming from your irrigation system.

Turn your system on, and let it run a full cycle. Check for any broken sprinkler heads. Make sure only one zone is on at a time. Check your timer to ensure that it is scheduled for the correct days and times. Check your timer for any additional schedules that could also be running. If you notice a greener or thicker patch of lawn in your yard, the sprinkler head could need replacing, or there could be a break in the irrigation line underground. After you do a thorough check of your yard, go back inside to check your toilet.

The Results

At this point, the results of the dye test should be done. If you see color in the bowl, that means you are dealing with a leaky toilet. Look inside of your toilet tank, and check to see if the flapper looks worn out. The flapper is a small plastic part that allows water to enter the bowl from the tank. It is attached to a chain that connects to the flusher. If needed, replace it by buying a similar model at your local hardware store. You can always recruit a friend to help.

Once you have checked for and repaired any leaks, see if your water meter’s spinner has stopped moving. If it has, you have defeated the leak. Congratulations! If not, don’t be discouraged. You can always hire a professional to help you in your quest. No matter the source of your leak, catch it early to save water, money, and the emotional burden of having to replace expensive, damaged equipment.

Other Resources

It is important to note that some leaks can occur between the water main and your water meter. If this is the case, Sarasota County Public Utilities will locate and repair those leaks at no extra cost to you. You can contact Utilities’ customer service line at (941) 861-6790 or send an email to for clarification on this policy.

This guide was adapted from Volusia County’s Leak Detection Checklist. Check it out here.

For more water-saving tips, register for our free, self-paced Water Conservation in Sarasota County course today by visiting the following link:

An Equal Opportunity Institution. UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension. Sarasota County prohibits discrimination in all services, programs or activities. View the complete policy at

5 Comments on “Early leak detection saves water and money

    • Hi there! So, when it comes to water piping, one popular choice is chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC). CPVC can withstand hotter temperatures (usually around 200 degrees F, but it varies by brand). It is a bit more expensive than standard PVC piping but a much better choice for hot water applications. However, plastic does have a tendency to crack in freezing temperatures. Copper pipes can also withstand quite a bit of heat and have a tendency to crack less than CPVC. They are widely used for all kinds of plumbing but just happen to be a more expensive option. Hope this was helpful!

  1. My cousin has noticed an increase in her water bills, but she isn’t aware of where she is using more water. She thinks that she might have a leak in her pipes somewhere. Getting a professional to fix it for her could be really useful and allow her to save a lot of money. I liked what you said about how she should check the irrigation system, toilets, bathroom, kitchen, and laundry rooms.

    • So glad this article was a help to you and your cousin! Yes, fixing leaks is a great way to passively save a lot of water over time.

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