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3/26/2013 - The Case of the $4,108 Toilet Flapper

The leaking toilet flapper, pictured below, was costing the condo association $4,108 per year in increased water and sewer bills.

In fact, when this flapper was replaced, it was leaking at the rate of 1.5 gallons per minute or 65,000 gallons a month - almost enough to fill our community swimming pool that holds 68,000 gallons.

The back story - Each month we analyze the condo water and sewer bill for any changes that would indicate a problem.

We do this because we spend over $60,000 a year on the condo water and sewer bill and because small leaks can add up to big dollars - in 2012 we had a $6,241.17 overrun in this line item.

But finding leaks can be difficult because there is no metering of individual units or even individual buildings in some cases.

So we start with a spread sheet that allows us to track water usage per month to the four meters that serve the seven condo buildings and normalize this data to the number of bedrooms served by each meter.

Click on image for PDF.

In this case, from the spread sheet data, we saw that while most meters were averaging about 50 gallons a day per bedroom, the meter for buildings 6761-3 and 6753-4 was averaging 74 gallons and the trend was up, with the latest reading being 90 gallons per day per bedroom. At this rate we were set to overrun our 2013 budget by over $8,200.

Note: The County residential rates are $2.83 per 1,000 gallons up to a limit of 4,000 gallons per unit and then $6.50 per 1,000 gallons for all additional water used. Under normal circumstances our usage stays below the threshold and thus we only pay at the $2.83 rate. But leaks drive us over the threshold and end up costing us dearly at the $6.50 rate. All the more incentive to find and fix our leaks.

To fix the problem, we first had the Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department check the meter. They did a thorough job and replaced some parts in the meter that were worn. But the parts they replaced only resulted in the meter reading more accurately and slightly higher after it was properly calibrated. Bummer!

Next we had our plumber, Buckeye Plumbing, out to discuss possible approaches to finding the leak. During the course of the conversation they suggested, as others had before, that the probable cause was leaking toilet flappers. And they showed us where our shut off valves were for the buildings.

Armed with this information we were able to determine that the water to building 6753-4 was constantly running and we put a plan in place to replace all of the flappers in the 20 units in the building.

The chart below shows the progress made as the flappers were replaced, with the biggest drop due to the one flapper discussed above.

And now that we have the tracking tools in place, we can easily determine which buildings we need to concentrate on to keep our reputation for being a Green Community intact. Buildings 6777-1 & 6769-2, you're next!

Peter Schulz - Editor - Email CM

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