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Leaking Hot Water Pipes

Finding and Repairing Leaks In Your Hot Water System.

Leaks in your hot water system can be very expensive. Electric water heaters are one of the highest consumers of electricity in a house. If the hot water pipes are leaking, large amounts of hot water can be lost.

Here we look at how to find why you are using a lot of electricity, how to track down hot water leaks, what causes them and steps you can take to find and repair them.

An very effective way of pouring money down the drain is to dissolve something very expensive, such as electricity, in the water before pouring it down the drain. But, I hear you think, you can't dissolve electricity in water - no that's true, but you can heat the water up before pouring it away. Yes indeed, we now have a very efficient and effective way of divesting ourselves of large amounts of that horrible dirty money stuff.

The phone rang and I was greeted by a polite but somewhat disturbed voice on the other end of the line.
"We have a villa, only 2 of us live here but our electricity bills are very high."
"High, how high?"
"Around $400 a month."

A few straightforward questions were not providing answers and so I went around for a look.

An Electricity Audit Identifies Problems

It is often the case that people are not aware of just how much power they are using as they gather appliances around them to ease their lifestyle and so we sat down and checked through everything that would use electricity.

I noted a reasonably sized swimming pool but not much else that would use a lot of power. They didn't have a tumble drier or heated washing machine, they did use air conditioners but only at night, no 2,000 watt electric kettle or electric cooking stove. They were being efficient and should not have been using so much power. Our attention turned to the most obvious users of power - the electric water heaters in their 2 bathrooms. These can use large amounts of power if left on all the time.

Reducing power consumption

It was decided to try air conditioner water heaters, low cost but highly effective units for collecting the heat expelled from air conditioner units. They were using their air conditioner anyway and this would heat water at no extra cost and remove the expense of those power hungry electric heating elements.

Two air conditioner water heaters were installed. One bathroom had lots of wonderful piping hot water but mysteriously the other didn't. The water would be sort of warmish first thing in the morning, quickly deteriorating and by midday the water would cold.

Serious interrogation of the housemaid followed to determine who much hot water was being used for general household chores such as clothes and diswashing.

No explanation for the loss of hot water could be found, there could only be one answer.

The Obvious Answer

"There must be a leak" our technician said, "it is obvious the hot water is running away somewhere."

But then things took an unusual twist. The gardener disagreed, his expansive knowledge derived from years of tending the gardens told him that this simply could not be the case.

"But we can't see any water" he argued, "where could it be going?"
"Into the walls, into the ground, who knows? All we know is that there is a leak and it is costing a lot of money."

The doubtful gardener held out.

A Pressure Test To Prove the Cause

A pressure test was carried out on the suspected section of pipe and, sure enough, proved that somewhere there was a leak in the hot water pipes.

But strangely still the gardener would not accept our conclusion.

Access to the pipes and a repair problem

But then an additional problem arose. An examination of the suspect bathroom made it clear that there was to be a challenging removal and repair of nicely finished luxury marble and stonework involved in replacing pipes.

Bypassing the leaking pipe solved the problem

The technician retreated, time passed and eventually the cold water in the mornings took their toll. The technician was finally believed, the leaking pipe was bypassed with a new pipe so the bathroom wasn't damaged and, sure enough, the problem was solved. Steaming hot morning every morning put the smiles back on everyone's faces.

Electricity is expensive

Electricity is expensive and is bound to become a lot more expensive. The Governments around the world are are very wisely starting to develop more efficient electricity generation such as in Indonesia geothermal power, an obvious source of energy in what is probably the most volcanically active area of the world. But this will take time and a lot of financial investment to get up and running. We can only expect electricity prices to keep on rising for some time to come.

Leaking hot water can cost you a lot of money.

Steps you can take to Avoid Problems

Check you electricity consumption

It is a good idea to check your electricity consumption. Particularly look for unexplained high electricity usage or usage that doesn't match the occupation and use of bathrooms. Carry out an audit of how much power your appliances and equipment use.

Install stop valves

In the case of water heaters and pumps it is a good idea to have stop valves to isolate sections of pipe or pieces of equipment. This is helpful when identifying problems or when carrying out maintenance work.

Make sure the plumbing is of good quality

Pipe leaks are very common and often caused by plumbers who usually cut and assemble pipework then go back to glue all the joints. Some joints are often missed only to be found when the building is complete and the water finally turned on revealing sickening wet patches which appear in the beautiful marble bathroom walls.

There are, of course, many highly skilled plumbers around but unfortunately there are quite a number whose plumbing skills are lacking. It is wise to watch them glue a few joints to see if they know what they are doing. Fittings should be good quality and fully pushed onto the ends of pipe with a good coating of glue on both the fitting and the pipe. Solvent cement and not PVC glue should be used.

Bypass leaks

As we have said it is often difficult to identify exactly where the actual leak is and the solution is often to install a new piece of pipe to bypass the leaking section. This can also help in avoiding or minimising damage to that beautiful bathroom or kitchen.

Use high quality pipe

If you are having to work on your hot water pipes you might consider taking the opportunity of upgrading the pipe to PPR (Polypropylene Random Copolymer) pipe. This is a high quality pipe with a thick wall, usually green in colour and particularly suited for use with hot water ( there are hot and cold water versions). The joints are welded with specialist heat welding equipment so there should be no chance that pipes will leak. It is very strong and the thick wall provides excellent heat insulation properties to reduce heat loss.

Copyright © Phil Wilson April 2014
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