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How to check for plumbing leaks, and fix them

The typical U.S. home can waste up to 11,000 gallons of water annually through household leaks, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. How do you know where the leaks are? Investigate.

Calculate water use. Look at your water bills for the two coldest months of the year, January and February. If there are four people in your house and you are using more than 12,000 gallons a month, there are serious leaks.

Go dry for two hours. Check your water meter before and after a two-hour period when no water is being used. If the meter reading changes even a little bit, you probably have a leak.

Identify toilet leaks. Place a drop of food coloring in the toilet tank. If any color shows up in the bowl before you flush, you have a leak. A common reason toilets will leak is an old or worn-out toilet flapper, also known as a valve seal. Flappers are inexpensive rubber parts that can build up minerals or decay over time. Replacing them can be a quick and easy fix for your water woes.

Examine faucet gaskets and pipe fittings. Look for any water on the outside of the pipe to check for surface leaks.

Look for leaky faucets. While you may wish to fix this leak yourself, it is highly recommended that you get in touch with your plumber to take care of this. That said, old and worn faucet washers and gaskets frequently cause the leaks.

Check showerheads. Most leaky showerheads can be fixed by making sure there is a tight connection between the showerhead and the pipe stem and by using pipe tape to secure it. Pipe tape, also called Teflon tape, is available at most hardware stores, is easy to apply and can help tame unruly leaks. It's also a good idea to check the washer or O-ring inside the showerhead while making this repair.

There are outdoor leaks, too. If you have an in-ground irrigation system, check it each spring before use to make sure it wasn't damaged by frost or freezing. Check your garden hose for leaks at its connection to the spigot. If it leaks while you run your hose, replace the nylon or rubber hose washer and ensure a tight connection to the spigot using pipe tape and a wrench.

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