Dilligence on water lines

I am under contract to purchase a park, and the park began submetering the water usage a few months earlier.  I don’t have a lot of data to go off of, but it appears there is a large gap between submeter usage and park usage, which implies a high chance of having underground leaks.I can’t run cameras through the water lines like I can with the sewer lines.  I was considering hiring a leak detection service to go through the park, and reevaluate based on that report.  Any thoughts?

Few suggestions:1. Walk around the park water lines and see if there are water leaks that come above ground. Look for soggy areas. 2. Shut off all the water meters on the mobile homes and see if the water meter is still moving. This is surely a reason for a leak in the main lines.3. Hire a America leak detection which you already are planning to. 

Are you looking at the what the meter reads or billing?  I ask because I did some diligence on a park recently and the park had a huge water bill.  The park was paying as much as the tenants - after speaking to the water company I discovered that the water billing and usage was correct however there was a flat ‘service’ charge fee for sewer and water and this wasn’t being passed on to the tenants.

Go to the park midday and pop sewer lids off. This is usually the best time for it as most water usage will be in the morning and evening when most people are home.  Look for excessive “clean” flow. Older clay tile sewers systems will have cracks in them and can allow water to flow into them.  Many times it will flow from the leak in the water system straight into the sewer without ever breaking the ground surface.

What about simply looking at water bills? I got 3 years worth of bills from the city, compared them to what the owner was claiming on P&L/taxes, and compared the average gallons used to average per person usage rates. Was a little high but within reason. Usage stayed pretty steady except for one month when the bill spiked 50% and sure enough the seller had a receipt from American Leak detection right around then. Between that (I figure one noticeable leak in 3 years of bills is probably indicative of an OK system) talking to the city, and the local plumbers who worked on the park I felt comfortable enough.    

Thanks everyone for the info, this is such a big item I’ve gone ahead and hired American Leak Detection to further hone in on any issues.While the plumber was running a camera through the sewer lines, they also did an inspection of the water lines that does not look great.  The text was as follows:"-Feed line from meter shed to secondary shed is 2" poly tube. The above grade pipe appears to be in satisfactory condition.-Distribution lines from both water sheds to lots appear to be galvanized piping below grade. Riser feed lines to individual lots are 3/4" or 1/2" galvanized lines with shut offs.  The shut offs were inspected at lots 7, 24, 36, and 58 and were found to be in poor working condition. The vacant lot water risers appear to have some corrosion.  There is reason for concern with the feed lines to the individual lots.  Galvanized piping forms a buildup on the inside of the pipe, causing flow issues.  We would recommend a rework of the galvanized piping to an alternative material."Does anyone have any insights or interpretations to the above?  I’m going to call the plumber tomorrow afternoon.

Update: American Leak Detection just came out and found no underground leaks.  It looks like the submetering has been a source of error (or the city’s main metering!)@tmperrault: I reviewed the bills and the actual water usage is twice as high for the park as it is for the aggregate submetered usage.  The current owners outsource the submetering to a third party company, so I’ll have to dig in deeper and see if there’s errors.

I’m really curious about the significance of the water line inspection too.What part(s) of the report concern you most? I could be totally wrong, but in my (inexperienced) opinion it doesn’t sound that bad. The poor condition of the shut offs is a concern, but if repairs are very infrequent couldn’t you manage by shutting off water to the park when needed? Alternatively, what about getting a price to replace the valves now and use that to justify a reduction in sales price? It seems like their concern about the feed lines to the lots is an attempt to get a huge repair bill out of you. You didn’t mention any tenants complaining about flow issues. If none are, wouldn’t their recommendation simply be the most expensive option as opposed to the realistic & necessary option?

In my limited experience replacing shut off valves can be done fairly cheaply with Sharkbites.I spoke with the plumber and he said one of the main concerns is build up inside a stagnant line, so I could potentially run into issues when I fire up the empty lots if the water was never shut off at the main.  Having stagnant water could have significant narrowed the pipe’s capacity.  I left a message with the plumber today asking about measuring the water pressure from some of the risers on the empty lots as a rough proxy, but haven’t heard back yet.

Plan on upgrading the lots while they are vacant.  It’s certainly easier to dig and install new services while there is no home in the way.

I would like to add one thing to the above beside the good points that DaleM makes.  Anytime you have a water line that is out of service for a length of time, whether valved off or not, it is a ‘dead leg’.  The water in a dead leg will eventually go septic no matter what material the pipe is made from.  When restoring dead legs to service, the proper procedure is to open the line full blast for several minutes depending on the length of run so that all of the bacteria, sediment, rust, whatever is blown out.  Then you would hook up the MH and do the same for it at every faucet including the water heater and hot water.  Keep in mind that water is far cheaper than having a tenant get sick.  And yes, there are pathogens in city water, although the count is so low that they won’t affect you.
A note on water meters.  The typical city buys utility grade meters and installs them expecting to get 10 to 20 years service from them.  As they wear, they become inaccurate in your favor, not the city’s favor.  Thus, when a city changes a meter it will likely ‘capture’ more of the water going through it thus your usage will likely go up.  A 2 inch line will probably have a simplex meter, where lines larger than 2 inch will have a compound meter.  Simplex meters rarely have problems except for the wear due to age.
As SOP, park owners may want to install a cleanout turned on its side in the sewer line between the MH and the ground entry at a convenient, accessible place.  This would allow easy leak inspection when no one is home.  You would just unscrew the cleanout plug and look inside with a flashlight.
Jim Allen

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