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Pipes are watertight when they are laid in the ground. However, although we may not notice it, the ground often moves when there is a very hard frost, an excess of water or when it dries out in the summer months. Over 30% of all leakage is from customer's pipes, dripping taps and cistern overflows. This movement can cause pipes to pull apart at the joints or crack and consequently leak valuable water. In addition, the physio-chemical properties of some soils will sometimes speed corrosion, especially on iron pipes, to cause leaks.


Checking for leaks

If you have a leak on your supply pipe, it is your responsibility (if you are the property owner) to ensure that the leak is repaired promptly. There are a number of simple checks you can do to check whether you have a leak:

  • Do you have a damp patch in the garden, driveway, or anywhere on your land during dry weather?
  • Do you hear water running down a drain when no water is being used in your property?
  • Is one particular patch of the lawn always green no matter how dry the weather has been?
  • Can you hear water running down a drain when no water is being used in your property?
  • Can you hear water hissing or the sound of running water (rather like when your tank or WC cistern is filling), when there is no water being used in the property?

If you have a meter, make sure that no water is being used in the property and that all taps are turned off, then simply look at the meter for a couple of minutes. None of the dials should move. If they do then there may be a leak on the supply pipe

If you have automatic flushing urinals check that they are set properly. They should only flush once every 20 minutes


Your water usage

You can use your meter to investigate possible reasons for higher water consumption or to determine the amount of water used by various appliances

  • Check for unexpected overnight usage or leakage
  • Take a meter reading before going to bed and then again first thing in the morning before any water is used
  • Compare the two readings – if they are different you should investigate the possible leak

If a nightly meter reading check indicates no leakage then you may have another reason for high water consumption. These can include watering your garden, using a power shower, having dripping taps, having a swimming pool or pond, or just having extra people in your home. If this is the case consult your Local Water Authority for advice.


Checking for leaks

How to carry out a leakage check if you have a meter

  • Shut off all taps and the rising main (using the internal stopcock – usually located under the kitchen sink, or in the downstairs toilet/bathroom)
  • Check that the cold water cistern is not filling
  • Once everything is shut off and you are satisfied that there is no water being used, go outside to the meter, lift the lid (boxes with plastic lids will require a strong screwdriver to force the two plastic plugs from their locations) and check to see if the meter dials are still turning. If the red figures move, it indicates a supply pipe leak. Wait at least 5 minutes to ensure that very small leaks can be identified. If any part of the meter is moving this could indicate a leak
  • If you are unable to turn off the internal stopcock, then turn off all water appliances and take a reading. After an hour take another meter reading. Make sure no water is going into cisterns or storage tanks between the readings
  • If the dials are turning or the second reading is higher than the first, there is probably a leak between the meter and the internal stopcock


Reading your water usage

Below is an example of a water meter. The black dials with white numbers are reading 704m³ (cubic metres), which is the equivalent of 704,000 litres. The red dials with white numbers measure from left to right; hundreds of litres, tens of litres and lastly single litres. The silver dial in the centre of the meter is the most sensitive dial and will measure something as small as a drip.

Externally fitted meters can be found in a meter chamber at the property boundary in the footpath or in your garden. The meter is connected to the supply pipe at the bottom of the chamber.

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