How to be an Outdoor Leak Detective
To help ensure that the Valley's water is not wasted, the City of Phoenix operates one of the country's most aggressive leak detection programs. You can contribute to water savings in the Valley by knowing how to look for leaks in your yard. Finding and fixing leaks will help you save your money. Leaks can also damage your landscape.
Making your water bill a leak-detecting tool
Pay attention to surges in your water bill. Unaccounted for month-to-month or year-to-year increases in cost or water consumption units may indicate a leak. If you don't have obvious indoor leaks such as leaky pipes, toilets that are running or dripping faucets, head outside. Outdoor leaks often go undetected.
Don't wait until you have a costly leak. When you are running your sprinkler and drip systems, inspecting equipment weekly or biweekly can prevent water damage to plants, patios and building slabs. Even in Phoenix's warm climate, unanticipated winter freeze and frost can damage exposed pipes and fixtures when temperatures drop below normal. In cooler months, insulation of exposed outdoor pipes, evaporative cooler equipment, water faucets and sprinkler vacuum breakers is essential. (Re-useable foam pipe and faucet insulation is available at home improvement centers.) Drain exposed lines when there is danger of frost or freezing.
Looking in All the Right Places
Knowing where to look takes the mystery out of outdoor leak detection:
- Sprinkler heads and drip lines. Big leaks develop when heads or drip emitters are broken off, cracked or spouting water. Functioning sprinkler heads should pop-up or rotate. Drip lines should be regularly inspected for cracks, and missing or broken drip emitters. To help locate equipment and sprinkler heads for inspection, create or ask your irrigation installer for a sprinkler "as-built" diagram. You can draw a rough "as-built" diagram on graph paper or your landscape plan by recording the location of sprinkler heads and valves, and the layout of drip lines and underground sprinkler pipes. Keep the diagram in a handy place (e.g., near your irrigation timer).
- Sprinkler valves and backflow preventers. When inspecting sprinkler valves and backflow preventers (also called vacuum breakers), the rule of thumb is "where there's water, there's a leak." Check often for moist or soggy ground around exposed sprinkler valves, in-ground valve boxes or backflow preventers. These should not be cracked or seeping water. Trapped sand or debris can interrupt shut-off of sprinkler valves causing continuous water flow.
Note. Consulting an irrigation professional before you repair or replace sprinkler valves is advised. Replacing parts on a backflow preventer should always be conducted by a qualified professional. Water can be under extreme pressure.
- Abandoned sprinkler heads, lines or zones. Make sure to cap off, plug or disconnect sprinkler heads, drip lines or abandoned sprinkler zones that are no longer watering grass or plants. When plants or grass are not absorbing water from sprinklers that are abandoned but still connected, puddles will result.
- Underground pipes and plumbing. Walk your yard. Soggy ground or sinkholes can be evidence of underground line leaks in sprinkler systems, evaporative cooling equipment, pool equipment or water main lines.
- Pools. Inspect pools regularly for leaks. About one in 20 pools leak. A minor leak of an inch per day can annually waste up to 100,000 gallons of water (enough to fill a typical pool four times in a year). Consult a pool professional for assistance; some have leak-detection equipment.
- Hoses and exterior faucets. In Arizona's extreme climate, inspect your garden hose for leaks and change washers often. A simple rubber or synthetic washer costs pennies. Properly installed, washers can prevent hoses from leaking where they attach to faucets and spray nozzles.