Locating water leaks


#1

Before closing in April 2015, it appeared there was a water leak(s) in the park, with the most recent city bill showing total park water use much more than the submetered water use. I hired American Leak Detection, and they found one minor leak at a riser, but nothing beyond that.

The water issue remained though. Last quarter the park averaged about 10,000 gallons of water use per month per unit, while the average submettered water use averaged about 4,000-5,000 gallons of water use per month per unit.

There is a creek on the property, so we figured perhaps there’s a leak on the line running under the creek which couldn’t be detected, so we shut off the water to that line and pressure tested it to see if it would lose pressure. It did not.

We then hired Encompass Inspection to come out, and they listened to the water lines and identified 8 lots that had abnormally high sound readings. We then dug up the three with the highest readings, and none of the lines showed a leak. And now Encompass has invoiced us $2200 for this service.

The park is paying close to 30% of its gross income in water and sewer, which is crippling. I’m stumped on what to do, anyone have any ideas?


#2

Man, does this ever sound familiar. I have almost the identical problem in my park. How certain are you about the integrity of the master meter and your individual meters? I had the city change out my master. It didn’t do anything for me but it’s an easy fix if that’s the problem. Also, 4-5K gallons per unit seems more credible than 10k.


#3

Water is math. It’s not subjective. You have X thousand gallons going into your park and it has to logically either go into a house or into the ground (leak). The first question is if your main meter is accurate and all submeters accurate, and if the manager is reading the meters correctly, as well as if they are calibrated to the same unit of measurement. If the answer is yes, then it sounds you like one or more main line leaks. We have had great success with American Leak Detection in these cases. I’ve never heard of Encompass. I also don’t know the capability/intelligence of the plumber who dug up the lines and found “nothing”. The sound reading technology is extremely accurate, and if they say there’s a leak, there’s always a leak in our experience. So I would start off with having the city test your main meter. I would then have a plumber check each individual meter. I would do a one week study and have a plumber read your meters, not the manager, and see the differential. If the leak is still there, then I would hire someone to do a sounding of the system and find the leaks. I would then hire a NEW plumber to dig up and repair those leaks.

My bet is that someone in this whole mess is not doing their job, with the most likely candidates being 1) your manager not really reading the meters and 2) your plumber not really doing the work, but just billing you for work not done.


#4

Thanks for the input everyone,
It’s my understanding that when water meters go out they run slower rather than faster, so its almost impossible there’s a problem with the main water meter.

The meters are read by a 3rd party company. I’m going to have my manager double check the readings. Regardless though, the water use has been so high it seems unlikely the residents could be averaging 10,000 gallons of water a month.

Mistakes do happen, but my manager confirmed the plumber showed up and dug up several of the lots.

My best guess at this point is to hire a third leak detection company, and see if there are overlaps in any of the two previous reports and see what comes back.


#5

@Noel_S , as per your question and comments:

  • “Locating water leaks”
  • “Mistakes do happen, but my manager confirmed the plumber showed up and dug up several of the lots.”

I concur with @frankrolfe as per his comment:

  • “My bet is that someone in this whole mess is not doing their job, with the most likely candidates being…2) your plumber not really doing the work, but just billing you for work not done.”

Noel, you indicated that the manager confirmed that the plumber showed up and dug up several of the lots.

However, maybe the plumber missed one of the crucial areas that actually had the leak or maybe he did not have the know how or ability to fix the leak?

My Husband and I have 2 MHPs.

Our one MHP has a literal maze of underground plumbing pipes and we are the proud owners of those pipes.

We have underground leaks…lots of underground leaks.

Thus, we have tried a lot of plumbers.

We have found that fixing underground plumbing lines is a plumbing niche market.

Some plumbing companies that I have called can not comprehend that we actually own the underground plumbing lines. One told me to call the Water Company…(um…unfortunately, that would be us).

Thus, you need to find one of those niche plumbers.

I would recommend calling some nearby MHP Owners/Managers and find out who they use for their underground plumbing issues.

We have one plumber that is awesome. His Dad owned a MHP and he actually plumbed the MHP. This plumber will dig and dig and dig until he finds the leak. He will then replace whatever needs to be replaced.

We have had other plumbers (when our awesome plumber is not available and we have major leaks) who are not able to fix the issues.

One time we had a major leak. Since our awesome plumber was not available, we had to call another plumbing company. This other plumbing company sent two plumbers who came out, took a picture and then went home for the night. Yes, they went home for the night as water freely flowed out of our busted pipes.

Now, I am not a trained Plumber, but I could have most certainly dug a hole and taken a picture.

This leak was actually the result of a Mobile Home Mover placing a tie down directly into our main water line. Thankfully, the Mobile Home Mover eventually fixed the issue late that night.

We had another Plumber tell us that they (Father & Son Team) needed to come back the next day with another worker, because they (Father & Son Team) did not dig holes. They needed to bring back their “hole digger”. Again, water is freely flowing out of busted pipes and the Plumbers wanted to come back the next day.

Start interviewing some new Plumbers. Find Plumbers who specialize in MHPs or new subdivision developments and that are familiar with underground water lines.

Our Water Company actually had a list of ‘Approved’ Plumbers who are authorized to do new developments. Check out the website for your Water Company and see if this information is available.

We wish you the very best!


#6

We have had lots of leaks as well. We have better luck with our own maintenance guys fixing the leaks. Plumbers are very expensive and for what we need, our guys can do just as well and they obviously know the property much better than the plumber.


#7

If you do not want to read the “how did I get here?” Scroll down to ANSWER below. I am an off-site owner living in California and I purchased my first small community in Rural Minnesota with a master meter and 2,000’ linear feet of main water lines located 8’ under the ground. Rent was $225/month and included water. We won’t get into all my bad decisions, but depending on the winter the frost line can drop 3-6’ below ground. Additionally, I have a water table that is as close as 3’ down depending on the time of the year which means water leaks dissipate into the water table - they don’t surface . Being I have plastic lines located 8’ underground with a high water table, sound listening does not work. After I did my due diligence and purchased the community I discovered several items.

1.) In this small town I learned that the City does not have a official water meter reader - all the residents call/email in their own readings. What this means is that even though I obtained the meter readings from the City to compare them with the readings I obtained from the seller of the community they looked perfect - right? FYI…being this was my first community it looked like my 15 residents were using about 3,300 gallons/per month or about 50k gallons total which I was told was within a nominal range.

2.) 2 months after purchasing the park with fifteen homes I learned that I was using 150k gallons of water (more than the local high school). After a closer inspection I discovered that the previous owner installed a “jumper” before the main water meter that looped around to the supply side of the community. It was not there when I inspected the property and even if it was I probably would not have noticed it, but we figured out what the previous owner was doing when we started investigating what turned out to be three major leaks and several minor leaks. What this means is half the water was going through the meter and the other half was going around the meter and none of this made a difference because the City does not have an official water meter reader to take readings or inspect meters.

Due to the winter cycle,. waiting for the frost to dissipate I only have about 4-6 working months so it took about 2 years to fix my problem.

ANSWER: I did everything mentioned above plus after installing sub-meters on all the homes, I worked with the City to only charge me for the water/sewer fees for the water going through the sub-meters and they forgave that excess water fees going through the master-meter as long as I was actively trying to locate the leak. I always kept the City updated on my progress so they new we were actively trying to solve the problem. As I stated, I installed sub-meter’s on all the homes and yes many of the homes themselves had leaks, but when I started charging the residents for the water those leaks went away quickly. The 50k gallons of water I initially thought my residents were using turned out to be about an average of 28k gallons. I also replaced the master meter to eliminate that as a problem source. In my community the main water line loops around and then back to itself and I already had to curb-stops (shut-off valves) on both ends of the loop so I could turn off both valves and isolate one-half of the community from the other. After doing this I would take a master meter reading and resident meter readings over a 4-6 hour interval then take a second set of readings to compare. This allowed me to see which side of the community was losing water and by how much and I was able to locate and repair all but one major leak through process of elimination.

Then, in my second year as I had one leak left I could not find, one morning over a cup of coffee in California I thought why don’t I just install more curb-stops (at $800/curb-top) which was cheaper than digging up the entire line and then through process of elimination I could isolate the leak. I knew which of two sides of my initial curb-stops the leak existed so I split the difference between those to and installed a third curb-stop. Now I had curb-stops 500’ apart and we new we were searching in the right location because there was a fast current where the escaping water was using the water lines as an underground channel/creek/river versus just surfacing. Once we new which side to work on we split the difference again to dig our forth hole (now 250’ spaced apart) and we got lucky as the water was very strong and we ended up within 3’ of where a secondary line (leading to the riser of a home) where it had connected to the primary had broken away so a full 3/4" line freely flowing into the water table was finally repaired.

As a side note, I have worked on other very tricky leaks and another option other than listening and installing curb-stops is finding a leak detection company that injects helium into the water line and then the use highly sensitive “sniffers” to locate the leak. Basically, wherever there is a leak, the helium escapes and they can mark that location as a starting point. Hope this helps!


Water meters and insulated protection boxes
Water usage skyrockets in the summer
#8

Wow thank you so much Kristin and PFN for sharing your experiences and strategies, extremely helpful and helped me feel better that I haven’t been able to figure this thing out.

So, the mystery has been solved! The culprit: Encompass Inspections screwed up.

My managers have been on top of this and trying their best to solve it, and through walking the property every day they were able to locate the water leak by low tech visual inspection, and its not on any of the lots the leak detection company indicated.

I’m going to create a separate thread on how to deal with Encompass’s large invoice now.


#9

@Noel_S , as per your comment:

  • “So, the mystery has been solved! The culprit: Encompass Inspections screwed up.”
  • “My managers…were able to locate the water leak…and its not on any of the lots that leak detection company indicated.”

First of all congratulations on finding your water leak! That is fantastic.

However, I can only imagine how frustrating it is to have a large Encompass Inspections Bill and they did not even solve your issue.

We wish you the very best!


#10

Wow! That was expensive leak. Eight feet down is very deep for a water line but it all depends on the frost level. Everytime you get a leak its a plumber with a excavator. I didnt see where you tried to pressure the line with air ( you may have and I didnt see it) but that would have surely made alot of noise or bubbles with constant air pressure. When new lines are installed whether natural gas or water they have to be pressure tested for normally 24 hours with a gauge on the line before they will pass inspection. If you own the lines like I read its still good practice. Bottom line you were persistent and got that problem solved.


#12

Thanks for the great info. I’m looking to install submeters on each home in our community. What types of submeters did you go with? I’m on the eastern side of WA State and it gets pretty cold here (maybe not as cold as MN but I definitely need to make sure I have the proper meters installs. Any info would be great. You can email me at christa@west-prairie dot com if that’s easier.


#13

Initially, I had Hersey Badger water meters. When I purchased the property the previous owner had purchased 24 meters and after purchasing the property we installed meters on the existing homes. Even though the meters are wrapped in heat tape and encased in foam jackets, over the last ten years between move-ins/outs and/or residents either did not pay attention if the heat tape failed or they forgot to turn-on/plug-in the heat-tape we still had freeze-ups and our manager would fix the meters. What I did not know is he was taking parts for the meters still in inventory and then last winter (8-10 years later) he asked us to buy more of the parts he had been taking from the inventoried meters because he used them all up. Unfortunately, the meters we were using (and its parts) were discontinued so our only option now is to replace the meters.

I had always intended to eventually replace them anyway with radio transmitted water readers so I could obtain the readings at anytime from anywhere in the world. The replacement just happened sooner than planned. Additionally, I will receive an email if it appears that a leak cropped up before the next reading date. I went over to ABT Water Management abtwaterdotcom and installed their meters and equipment myself this past July. I can not tell you how the new meters will perform in Minnesota’s climate yet, but if I were starting from scratch and you have internet access to connect their equipment I would seriously look at what ABT offers.

Lastly, we now have a new policy in place. If the meters need repair due to freeze-ups the repair cost is $200 and if the meter needs to be replaced it is $400. We will see…


#14

What type are the new meters you just installed? Would you mind emailing me a picture of how they are installed?


#15

Metron Spectrum 30 composite meter with integrated radio unit (Program for 10 gal).


#16

All are very helpful steps. I had to do all of them. WE received a water bill for 410,000 gallons of water and tenants only use around 60k per month. We found two major water leaks and fixed them yesterday but based on daily reading the water usage is bigger and bigger.