Catching catastrophic plumbing problems -- through email

Posted on Monday, December 18, 2017 - 8:29am

Plumbing leak images
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The last thing you want to hear during a vacation is bad news from home. But that’s exactly what Carol Philipps got during a recent trip to San Francisco – and it came from Madison Water Utility.

“I got an alert after a couple of days that we had used a tremendously high amount of water. And I thought, ‘Oh, this is ridiculous. This must just be a mistake.’”

It wasn’t.

Carol had signed up for high water use alerts through the Madison Water Utility’s online conservation tool. When the alert landed in her in-box telling her that 4,200 gallons of water had been used in one day, she had a hard time believing it – especially since no one was home.

“I just kind of blew it off,” Carol recalls. But the next day, she got another message. And this time, she was worried enough to ask her brother-in-law to check on the house.

“He got upstairs and found the toilet was just continually flushing ... water was pouring through at a constant rate. I couldn’t imagine that just the toilet running could use that much water, but it sure did!”

Carol is one of more than 10,000 Madison Water Utility customers who view their detailed water use online. But she says that taking the extra step to sign up for high use email alerts is what saved her from wasting tens of thousands of gallons of water.

“I would recommend doing what we did. If you ever do get (an alert), you know it’s something you better check into right away.”

Timothy Coulhart signed up for alerts after he had a major leak that went unnoticed for more than a week. A spigot in his backyard was left running, using about 24 gallons of water every hour.

“What a waste of water I created,” he says. “I didn't know about the email notifications and have now set that up for daily updates when over 75 gallons are used.

What a leak looks like online
Photo: Water use every hour of the day -- even overnight -- points to a likely plumbing leak

Path to sustainability

Some customers use the notifications not just for emergencies, but as a reminder to conserve.

“The email (alert) makes a big difference…We’re trained to look at our phones, check email. So it’s easy,” says Michelle Bright, who has her notification threshold set at just 58 gallons a day. The alerts have helped her bring down her usage so much that these days, she rarely gets an email. “What a really easy way to actually see where I’m going. I’m like, ‘Look at me!’”

But even though alerts can help with conservation and catching plumbing issues, only about 4,000 Madison Water Utility customers are signed up to receive them. Madison Water Utility customer service supervisor Pam Mousley says alerts can be critical because major leaks often waste enormous amounts of water.

“We’ve seen broken toilets use 500 gallons an hour. It can be really bad.”

Mousley insists that once people learn how useful notifications can be, signing up is a no-brainer.

“They want the ability to see if and when there is a problem.”

For Michelle, setting up water use email alerts is part of an intentional effort to use critical resources in a more sustainable way.

“There is no reason to waste,” she says. “With everything in life, you need to be aware. Water isn’t free. Right now we’re lucky, but who knows what can happen.”


Category: Sustainability