Looking into mains water leaks

Looking into mains water leaks

© ROSNANI / Adobe Stock

Jeff Howell’s Wise Howell column for Professional Builder continues, this time discussing mains water leaks

The freezing weather in January caused a number of mains water leaks near me. This always strikes me as strange. We take all sorts of frost-proofing precautions with our own plumbing work, but the guys who install the pipes under the roads and pavements seem to take a more relaxed approach.

Anyway, I came home one day to find a man on his hands and knees on the pavement in front of my house. He was staring intently at my water meter.

I was puzzled, because the meter had only recently been switched to a so-called “smart” meter. It’s not smart at all, of course. All it does is transmit the readings to the water company’s headquarters, thereby doing away with the need to employ someone to walk around and look at the meters.

Or so I thought. In fact – the man kneeling on the pavement told me – the system was programmed to flag up small constant flows to domestic premises, because these might indicate internal leaks.

My first thought was to be alarmed. Since compulsory water metering was introduced a few years ago, my big fear has been paying for underground leaks from my water supply pipe under the front path. So before I re-paved my front garden, I replaced the old lead supply pipe with a new run of MDPE. Surely this hadn’t sprung a leak?

The water man told me to check by going indoors and turning off the stop valve. The flow stopped, so there was no leak in the supply pipe. And he showed me that when water is flowing through the meter, a little symbol blinks next to the numbers, so that was useful to learn.

Meanwhile, I asked my new friend why Thames Water (for it was they) were so worried about a tiny leak in my house – for which I would be paying them – when just round the corner was a “gusher” that was washing away the tarmac from the road surface, and had been doing so for the best part of ten days.

The reason, he said, was that a leak is a leak, and Thames Water is committed to fixing every one of them. Mmmm, and I’ll bet the reason they have suddenly become so keen on that is because the water regulator Ofwat is threatening them with a big fine if they don’t reach their leakage reduction target. (And fixing the “gushers” is done by a different department, of course.)

My little leak turned out to be a classic – a WC cistern with an internal overflow pipe. The water was trickling silently down the back of the bowl, and I had never noticed it. I’m glad that Thames Water alerted me to it and saved me paying unnecessarily for water down the drain.

And I’m glad that they eventually fixed the gusher on the High Street, too.

If you have any building or tradespeople questions, E-mail Jeff via his website www.askjeff.co.uk.

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