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Pay attention to saving water all year CHEAT SHEET ALAN J. HEAVENS

IT WAS JUST “Fix a Leak Week” to save water, but you should pay attention to conserving an increasingly scarce resource more than just one week a year.

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? 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 by placing a drop of food coloring in the toilet tank. If any color shows up in the bowl before you flush, you have a leak.

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

Toilet troubles. 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. To fix this leak, consult your local hardware store, home-improvement retailer, plumber, or one of the many online resources.

Remember, replacement parts fit some, not all. If you have an American Standard toilet, make sure the parts you buy are suitable for American Standard. The same goes for Kohler toilets, or any other. Sometimes flappers are suitable for one-piece toilets, but not for two-piece models made by the same company. You might be wise to take the old flapper with you to compare, to save time and the $5 or $6 cost of the replacement.

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. Some faucets are so old that parts are no longer available. Some are so new that repairs are not covered even in the latest home-improvement manuals. The really old faucets are usually impossible to remove without painful effort. The solution: plumber.

That said, old and worn faucet washers and gaskets frequently cause leaks in faucets. If you do decide to give it a try, make sure you take the faucet to the plumbing store with you so you can buy the correct replacement. If you cannot remove it, take a photograph. There are many online tutorials available these days for reference. The EPA recommends one on the DIY Network Web site at www.diynetwork.com. Just follow the links for faucet repair.

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.

Replacing a showerhead and replacing a toilet flapper are both easy tasks for the do-it-yourselfer who knows how to follow directions to the letter and who remembers to shut off the water beforehand.

Shutoff valves. If you have any extra money to spend, hire a plumber to place shutoff valves anywhere there is a chance that a toilet might overflow and pour water and waste into a ceiling or light fixture. It makes broken plumbing easier to repair.

Outdoor leaks. 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.

For information on making your house leak-free to save water, go to www.epa.gov/watersense.

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