Water leakage is the silent budget killer lurking beneath the surface of every home, manufacturing facility, road, and commercial building in every village, city, and state in the U.S…
And it is leeching more than $2 billion from municipal, industrial, and residential coffers annually.
That’s $3,805.17 dollars per minute in wasted water… and it is quite literally pouring down the drain, through cracked and damaged pipes, at the astonishing rate of 2.5 trillion gallons per year.
Aside from the incredible cost of all that leaked water, it has left neighborhoods, cities, and entire states without water – all due to blocked, damaged, or cracked underground pipes.
While there is no way to completely avoid pressurized water line leakage, there are ways to find it before it costs you mountains of time, money, and effort to contain a system-debilitating break. The #1 way to catch leakage before it cripples your system is to employ a routine leak detection protocol. GPRS Leak Detection Services employs acoustic leak detection to complete a routine water loss survey to locate small leaks before they become dangerous, expensive headaches.
The average person thinks the only time they need to worry about pipe damage is if their pipes are old, but those of us in construction, plumbing, and facility management know better. Some original wooden pipes in the U.S. are still in use today, some 250 years after they were installed, and working as well as they did on day one. And some brand new PVC pipes will shatter like glass if laid in the wrong area of the country or at the wrong depth.
Add to those concerns blockages like tree roots, or utility strikes by construction crews or a well-intentioned but poorly prepared homeowner, and it becomes apparent why the nation is losing so much water, and money, down the drain.
Here are the main problems we experience in the field when called in to find a leak:
We all know the dangers of using PVC in regions that drop below freezing regularly. Sometimes it is impossible to talk a client out of choosing to cut costs when laying pipe because PVC looks so much better on a budget line – to someone who won’t have to excavate shards of frozen plastic in sub-zero temperatures.
You can argue that as long as you’re laying your pipe below the frost line, you should be fine. However, recent events in the South, Southwest, and Pacific Coast regions have proven that the frost line is not permanent. Pipes that were historically laid at 2-3 ft. of depth now may need to go as far as 5 ft. down to avoid freezing. So, if you want to cut costs with PVC, you’ll pay more to dig deeper, or pay more when you have to shut down the supply, excavate, and repair later.
Costs shift based on material availability, shipping times, and the overall economy, so we won’t talk hard numbers here, but in areas prone to deep freezes, you could save tens of thousands of dollars by laying ductile or cast iron pipes instead of PVC. The same can be said of knowing your soil type so that you don’t lay expensive cast iron in a corrosive soil like peat or in swampy areas.
To demonstrate how costly this issue can be, we only have to look back to Texas in February of 2021. When a fierce winter storm and several days of freezing temperatures knocked out the power to 11 million people in the state, many homeowners had to contend with no heat and flooding due to burst pipes.
What most people don’t realize is that outside of those homes, just a couple of feet under the surface, miles of PVC water utility line pipe laid too shallowly also cracked and shattered from the deep freeze, dumping almost 100 million gallons of water into the surrounding frozen soil.
According to one regional construction source, a full 16% of Texas residences, or about 1.2 million homes, suffered burst pipes, but no solid numbers on industrial or business plumbing losses from the event exist. So, if we extrapolate the 16% damage figure to business, that means at least 480,000 of the Lone Star state’s three million small businesses and 16% of large corporate locations for companies like McKisson, Exon, and Haliburton suffered damaged pipes, all from just one storm.
Now, imagine that impact across the nation, where billions of people and trillions of dollars in commerce depend on a working water infrastructure, then take soil type, pipe variety, etc. into account, and you begin to see the scope of the problem.
Pipe joints are built to allow for expansion and contraction of the pipes they’re joining. And even though industrial pipe joints are tested to be “zero-leakage,” pressurized pipe joints can, and often do, leak, depending on conditions. That’s a given in plumbing. But sometimes joints don’t stop leaking and in pressurized pipes, a joint leak can expel thousands of gallons of water and you might not notice it, even as your costs rise and water pressure drops, until a small problem has become a disaster.
We like to think our pipes only carry the clean, clear water they are designed for, but we also know that’s just not the case. All kinds of material can end up passing down your pipes, making corrosion another “given” that we have to plan and watch for.
Corrosion of metal pipes comes in two forms: internal and external. Industrial materials, cleaning products, and other acidic liquids like carbonated soda and sugars can all cause internal metal loss, pitting, and lead to cracks as the pipe weakens over time. High temperature cycling: running very hot liquids followed by cold liquids can cause rapid expansion and contraction of the pipe, which can also cause cracking. And any pipe running at high pressure for long periods (15 psi for steam and 30 psi for high-temp liquids) can form cracks, especially at joints and in seams.
External corrosion causes the same kind of damage and is caused mainly by the acidity of the soil around the pipe, humidity, and, for exposed pipes, the salt content of the air. The difference is that rust and corrosion on exposed pipes is easy to spot, but buried pipes can rust for years, leaching corroded metal into the water flow and wearing away until they break.
Do not wait until one or more of these risk factors turn your pressurized water line system from a well-oiled machine to a sinkhole of time, manpower, and money. Learn more about our nationwide, specialized Leak Detection Services, and schedule your routine water loss survey here.