A “leak” doesn’t sound like much – a dripping faucet here, a running toilet there – but it all adds up. In the U.S., more than a trillion gallons of treated drinking water are lost every year to residential plumbing leaks, and for homeowners, catching a problem can be a real challenge.
In June, a Madison couple was shocked to see their water use jump by more than 10,000 gallons in one month. Stumped by what could be causing the spike, they sent an urgent email to Madison Water Utility.
“We are a two person household averaging (monthly) water use at 4,500 gallons,” wrote Pam from the southwest side. “Our most recent bill indicates we used 14,815 gallons!”
The email she got back from Crystal in the utility’s customer service department helped her immediately track down the source of the problem:
“It looks like on 05/24, 05/27, and 06/10, there was extreme water usage in the middle of the night and early morning. Were you doing a lot of watering or anything that would have caused the usage to go up on those days?”
Crystal was able to help Pam pinpoint her usage spike thanks to the utility’s online conservation tool that allows customers to view their weekly, daily, and even hourly water use through Madison Water Utility’s website. Turns out, the home’s irrigation system had been left on by a contractor.
“Being able to (use the water tracking tool), and with the assistance of Crystal, we were able to zero in on the culprit of our large peak in water usage,” says Pam, adding that she’s also set up water threshold notifications so she’ll be alerted right away if another leak starts.
According to the utility, more and more customers are going online to spot plumbing problems.
“As soon as they know what time of day usage is spiking, they can kind of figure out what’s going on in the house,” Crystal explains.
Customers can easily see problems online when they view their hourly usage. Crystal notes that there should be some times of the day when usage is at zero, especially during overnight hours. If there is a small amount of water being used every single hour, chances are something is leaking. In the graph above, a leak appears as small blue blips during the early morning and afternoon hours.
“I found my leaking toilet at the end of March, and it easy to see when it started,” wrote one customer who, like Pam, signed up for water usage threshold alerts after viewing his usage online and catching a leak. “The alerts would have caught this much sooner. Glad to have them now. Being able to see hourly usage is great!”
Crystal and her co-workers get calls every day from people puzzling over higher-than-normal bills. And they almost always point them in the direction of the utility’s online conservation tool.
“At least now they can start somewhere and know that their usage is going to go down. It’s an easy way to figure out if something’s going on in the house.”