A dripping faucet is no big deal, right? Wrong. All that drip-drip-dripping isn’t just annoying—it can also add up to a significant loss of fresh water, which wastes precious environmental resources and costs you money. So how much water does a leaky faucet actually waste, and how much does that cost you? And how do you check for leaks around the house? We spoke with water and plumbing experts to find out. Here’s what you need to know.
How much water a leaky faucet wastes
A drip here and a drip there adds up. According to Craig Anderson, an engineer and home expert at Appliance Analysts, there’s no standard amount of water that comes out of a leaky faucet; most of the figures out there are for average household water use. The amount of water lost depends on factors like the size of the tap and the frequency of the drip. “If the faucet is leaky, it probably wastes around 10 percent of your water from dripping and leaking when in use—so, 0.3 gallons a day,” Anderson tells Reader’s Digest.
Charles Nielsen, a Journeyman plumber in the state of Utah, explains that while a drop of water may seem insignificant, it’s not, even in a small amount of time. “Even a very small drip, once every ten to 15 seconds, can waste almost 15 gallons a month, or nearly a half a gallon in a day,” he says. “After about ten years, you’ve wasted upwards of 2,000 gallons. I’ve seen leaks that drip ten or even 100 times that fast.”
If you’d like to figure out how much water a drip in your home is wasting, the United States Geological Survey has a calculator on its website, which allows you to enter the number of faucets in your home and the frequency of the drops per minute. It then lets you know how many liters/gallons of water the leak wastes in a day and also a year.
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How much a leaky faucet costs
If you have a leaky faucet, you’re literally pouring money down the drain. According to Nielsen, the costs of a leak can add up quickly. “Even the tiny leak in the above example can cost $15 to $20 a year,” he says. “A faster leak, like one that drips one time per second, could very easily cost a couple of hundred dollars a year.”
But there are also potential costs beyond paying for the drip water itself. A recent report from Chubb Insurance found that a small but steady drip can cause a large amount of damage. In fact, if left undetected, a small leak can turn into a larger structural or plumbing problem, spilling 2,520 gallons in a single day—or enough to fill 50 bathtubs. While no leak is the same, Chubb data found that the average water leak costs more than $55,000 for homeowners and the average water back-up loss for all homeowners was almost $45,000.
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The environmental impact of a leaky faucet
Though it may seem extreme to think that a leaky faucet could have a major impact on the environment, fresh water is becoming increasingly scarce, so it’s important to start thinking about it in that context. A 2015 study published in the journal Water Resources Research used NASA data to examine the depleting fresh-water resources on earth and found that we’re using fresh water faster than it can be restored as groundwater.
“The annoying drip-drip sound and the drain on your wallet are not the only problems of a leaky faucet,” Nielsen says. “Fresh water is becoming harder and harder to come by as the Earth’s population grows. Also, global increase in prosperity is creating a demand for increasingly more goods and services, all of which require water. Humanity as a whole is going to have to get more resourceful when it comes to using our limited supply of fresh water.”
How to check for a leak
Fixing a leaky faucet—or finding a potential leak before it starts—is a great way to save money and water. And believe it or not, it’s not as hard as it might sound. According to Nielsen, the most obvious sign of a leak is that annoying sound of a drip in your sink. But you need to do more than just listen: Not all leaks (even big ones) make noise, and plumbing systems can deteriorate all around a home. “Check anywhere plumbing is installed, under sinks, in bathtubs, hose spigots, laundries, and dishwashers,” Nielsen advises. “Visually inspect the areas and physically feel the exposed pipes to check for any running water.”
Specifically, look for drips from the spout of the faucet, leaks from the base, or under the sink, says Matt Daigle, the CEO and founder of Rise, an online resource for sustainable home improvement. “Condensation on pipes can also signal that you have a water leak,” he tells Reader’s Digest.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a quick way to check to see if you have a leak in your toilet: Put a few drops of food coloring in the tank. If any color shows up in the bowl after ten minutes, you have a leak. (Just make sure to flush the color down right away so it doesn’t stain your toilet bowl.)
The EPA also suggests taking a look at the water usage on your monthly bill to see if anything looks out of the ordinary—especially during a colder month, like January or February. If a family of four exceeds 12,000 gallons per month, you may be dealing with a serious leak (or several). Did you already know about this? Here are other things that if you know, you’re a genius homeowner.
Finally, water-leak detectors are also a great way to identify potentially problematic areas that are often out of sight. “Water-leak detectors alert you to moisture or water leaks by sounding an audible alert or by sending a notification to a smartphone if you opt for a smart water-leak detector,” he notes. “Water-leak detectors can be used throughout the house to help mitigate water-related issues.”