Leaky Pipes Are Costing You at Home and on Your Tax Bill

Written by Posted On Sunday, 09 April 2023 00:00

The leak started as just a tiny ripple in the toilet bowl. Not even something most people would notice, and I didn’t pay much attention to it. 

Then it got a little more pronounced, and some quick attempts to fix the problem didn’t work. I still wasn’t particularly concerned about it.

Then I got my water bill and became concerned.

In the three months that included the period when the toilet was leaking, my City of Toronto bill says the house used 142 cubic metres (m3) or 142,000 litres of water. A year later, with the leak repaired, it was down to 39 m3, or 39,000 litres. And the water bill, which more than doubled during the leaky days, was back to normal.

The City of Toronto says leaky toilets can waste up to 600-plus m3 a month, or 20 m3 a day. That can add up to charges of $81.47 a day or $2,444.10 a month. “All water use, including water consumed by leaks, is your responsibility and will be charged to your utility account,” says the city.

Holes in water pipes can also be costly. A 1/16th hole could waste 3.57 m3 in 24 hours, costing $14.54 a day. A 3/16th hole wastes 32.13 m3 in 24 hours, costing $130.88. Clearly it’s a good idea to make sure you don’t have any leaks around the house, before the water bill arrives to deliver the bad news.

But toilets and pipes in houses are not the biggest problem when it comes to wasting water due to leaks. A new study by the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO) says that millions of cubic metres of treated drinking water are being lost every year due to broken and leaky pipes.

It says many municipalities routinely report a leakage rate of about 10 per cent, but that consultants doing assessments in Ontario have found rates as high as 40 per cent. Smiths Falls, Ont. had rates between 41 per cent and 67 per cent between 2003 and 2019.

In Toronto, the leakage rate is 10 to 15 per cent, the study says. That’s 103 million litres per day, which the study says is enough to supply a water system for a population of about 250,000 people or fill more than 15,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools a year.

“The findings of this study are alarming because they confirm that our water infrastructure is aging and in dire need of repair,” says RCCAO executive director Nadia Todorova. “Governments must provide sustained funding to fix and replace these critical infrastructure assets. It’s incredibly inefficient and almost singlehandedly defeating our water conservation goals when treated drinking water never makes it to the taps because of leaky pipes.”

It’s not just Ontario that has a problem. The study cites a report by the American Society of Civil Engineers, which estimates there is a water break every two minutes in the U.S. About six billion gallons of treated water are lost as a result of leaky pipes each day in the U.S., which is equivalent to 9,000 swimming pools or six days of water consumption in Toronto. The study says that according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the volume of water lost through distribution systems is 1.7 trillion gallons per year, at a cost of (US) $2.6 billion. “Many of these wasted gallons are lost through the 240,000 watermain breaks that take place annually across the United States,” says the RCCAO study.
A survey of 308 water utilities in North America in 2018 found that the typical age of a failing watermain is 50 years. The study says that is disturbing because about 28 per cent of all watermains are already at 50 years or older.

In Toronto, 16 per cent of the city’s 6,000 km of watermains were built 80 to 100 years ago, and 11 per cent are more than 100 years old.

“It is imperative that Ontario stay the course to preserve the value of its water infrastructure assets as well as embrace new asset management practices to make the infrastructure more resilient,” says Tamer E. El-Diraby, a professor in the department of civil and mineral engineering at the University of Toronto and the author of the RCCAO study.

“We must pivot to face future challenges,” says El-Diraby. “If we let our guard down, the repercussions will be much higher than the simple issue of crumbling assets and lower levels of service.”

In the study, he writes, “Leakage is not just an economical issue as it is often perceived. It is also an environmental, sustainability and potentially a health and safety issue. To manage leakages, municipalities have to increase water pressure to prevent infiltration. The extra energy and the associated carbon emissions are unnecessary impacts that can be avoided through adequate and proactive asset management.”

El-Diraby says leaking water is a waste of natural resources.  “It may come as a surprise to many that, while Canada is lucky to have 20 per cent of global freshwater resources, only around seven per cent is considered renewable, and most of that drains north towards Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean – away from the 85 per cent of Canadians that live along the southern border.”

The study says that a five-per-cent reduction in water distribution system leakage would 

save 270 million gallons of water per day and 313 million kWh of electricity annually, equal to the electricity use of over 31,000 homes. It would also reduce CO2 emissions by about 225,000 metric tons.

The numbers seem mind-boggling, but we can all do our part – and save some money – by making sure we don’t have any water leaks at home.

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Jim Adair

Jim Adair has been writing about Canadian real estate, home building and renovation issues for more than 40 years. He is the former editor of Canada’s leading trade magazine for real estate professionals, as well as several home building, décor and renovation titles. You can contact him at [email protected]

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