Saving water - fix your own drips and leaks

Working with water

An important first step is to find out where your water mains stopcock is so that you can turn off your water supply if necessary. Think of the stopcock as the main tap to your whole house. When you shut it off the water from the mains pipes will be shut off and water will stop flowing into your house.

When you close a stopcock you may hear a slamming or banging noise in your water pipes. This is called a ‘water hammer’ and is caused by the sudden change of water flow and water pressure surges, which make the pipes vibrate. With time, this can loosen brackets holding the pipes and increase the likelihood of leaks, and so closing a stopcock should only be done when really necessary (such as when fixing a leak).

Drips and water wastage

A dripping tap may waste between 30 to 60 litres of water every day. If your water bill seems particularly high – higher than what you would expect from your water audit – check your home for leaks. Taps, showerheads and geyser overflow pipes may be dripping. An unnatural green patch in the garden may indicate a leak in one of your underground pipes. This can also be a major source of water loss. Information on finding and fixing leaks around your home is provided in each of the following sections.

In terms of the new City Water By-law it is illegal to permit pipes or water fttings to leak (Water By-law, Ch 3, Section 42 (1)).

What is needed to repair a leak?

  • adjustable jaw pliers
  • a vice grip
  • a 200 mm shifting spanner
  • a fat-point screw driver; and
  • some knowledge and confidence in your DIY skills!

Note: Before repairing a leak, close the stopcock in the main water supply pipe to your house. This is usually near to your water meter. After the leak is fixed, open the stopcock again, slowly.

Checking for underground leaks

Look out for unnatural green spots in the garden. This is often a sign of a leak in an underground pipe. Where the water meter is located under cover on the municipality’s footway, (outside the property) the municipality will repair the pipe on the outlet side of the meter up to the boundary of the premises. The owner is liable for repairs on his/her side of the boundary. Where the meter is located on the property (on lot), the municipality will repair the pipe up to the inlet side of the meter.

The owner must ensure access to this pipe and meter at all times, as prescribed in the by-law. From the outlet of the meter onwards, the owner is responsible for the maintenance of the plumbing installation.

Simple test to check for underground leaks

  1. Get all household members to stop using any water while you are doing this test. Wait 30 minutes after water usage has stopped before beginning the test. Note that water must not be used for the full hour it takes to do the test.
  2. Find your water meter as explained under the heading “Learn to read your water meter” (p 80).
  3. Record the meter reading.
  4. Check your water meter to see whether water is flowing through the meter. If you have an inferential water meter you will be able to see if the star wheel is turning. If the wheel is turning, you may have a leak in your piping system.
  5. If your meter is volumetric, the red digit on the extreme right of the counter, (registering in 1/10 of a litre) is very sensitive to flow of water through the meter, and could indicate that there is a leak, by rolling over to the next digit. Some Municipalities lock new water meters – you can ask them for a key. However, it should be noted that some models of the volumetric meter only have 3 red digits instead of the 4 shown in the photo. In such instances the red digit on the extreme right registers in 1 litre increments, and is therefore not as sensitive to flow as a meter with a fourth red digit, registering in 1/10 of a litre.
  6. To confirm that there is a leak, record the meter reading one hour after your first reading. It is important that nobody has used water in the house during this time, or the test will be invalid.
  7. Subtract the first reading from this final reading. This will tell you how much water is leaking every hour.

If you find an underground leak

Call a plumber to repair the leak. If pipes need to be replaced, ask for a corrosion-resistant pipe (for example high-density polyethylene). Note that pipes conveying water from the municipality’s main should not be encased in, or laid under concrete foors, as stipulated in the by-laws.

source: SMART Living Handbook


Greening your water

Other water topics

Case study: Mrs Zenzele tackles a leaking tap
Save water - fix your own dripping taps
Toilets - save water
Baths, showers, geysers, taps and washing machines
Gardens, pools, rainwater tanks and grey water

Go green home