Building Construction, Renovation, Maintenance & Advice

Identifying and Finding A Leaking Water Supply

"Deja Vu"

A sweet but expensive sound is the gentle whir of a water meter. Did I say whir? That doesn't sound right. Water meters are not supposed to whir, they are supposed to click.....  slowly.

The phone rang. It was Fred.

“The little a wheel, it is a turning veery fast.”

Déjà vu.

I think the first time déjà vu happens it isn’t, it’s the second.

“How can I help you?”

“I have just received a water bill for Rp10,000,000” he said.
“You only pay once a year?” I queried.
“No” he said, “that is for one month.”
“Rp10,000 for one month? Obviously you have just refilled your Olympic size swimming pool” I said.
“But I don't have an Olympic size swimming pool” he said.
“Perhaps you are using the town water to fill your paddy fields?” I queried.
“No” he said emphatically.
“Fish farm? Perhaps a car wash business? A laundrette maybe?”
“No” he said “No, no, no” even more emphatically. “I have a villa.”

The emphaticism was a little convincing so I thought I'd better not tempt fate by asking him how many showers he was taking every day or discussing the high level of evaporation one can expect in Bali. I thought I had better take a look.

“Can you send someone very fast?” Fred asked with a note of desperation in his voice.

Déjà vu.

I think the first time déjà vu happens it isn’t, it’s the second.

From the bill we worked out he had been using 2,000 litres of water an hour, even with a five bedroom villa and lots of guests that is a lot of water. Just as a point of useless information world health standards say that a person needs a minimum of around 13 litres of water per day.

While most people in Bali have a well or bore and pump to provide water to their house there is in fact a reticulated “town” water supply in many parts of the island provided by PDAM. If you have a town supply you will have a water meter. Your water meter, if you have one, records cubic metres of water used and, of course, one cubic metre is 1,000 litres. You are charged per cubic metre.

First we checked that all the taps were turned off and no toilets running. Still there was the gentle hum of rupiah flowing into the tills of the PDAM.

I poked around in the undergrowth. Hidden outside the boundary wall under a beautiful green tree and some rather thriving lush vegetation was a large pool of water. The septic tank was full and overflowing and an outside drain had a healthy flow going into it. It appeared that Fred had been irrigating the whole district for quite some time.

It should be noted that septic systems and drainage should be totally isolated from each other to prevent raw sewerage getting into open drainage.

Now comes the tricky bit. Where do the pipes go after they disappear into the concrete path?

“Do you, perchance, happen to have any drawings of the property with pipes marked on? Sorry, yes, I know, stupid question.”

No paperwork can be a problem. You know what it’s like when you go into a shop and see a beautiful stylish rocking chair. The nice man says they will deliver it the next day. The next day a man turns up with a flat box!

“Oh you assemble it yourself” he says in an offhand manner “it’s very easy, just follow the instructions.” He scurries off down the path a little faster than makes you feel comfortable.

You open the box to find lots of small pieces. “Where are the instructions?”

You turn round to see Fido disappearing out the door with a piece of paper in his mouth. Nothing makes any sense and after a while you give up.

Three years later you have finally got around to the job that never gets done - you are cleaning out the junk room. You come across a flat cardboard box……

If ever you have a building built or you buy a new house always insist that you get copies of the drawings, particularly the drawings of the electrical layout and the services (water, sewerage, drainage, etc.) In the highly likely event that you will have a problem in the future it can save a lot of time and trouble knowing where things are.

I studied the layout of Fred’s place and intuition lead to a healthy looking tree next to the septic tank.

“Dig there.” I said
“There?” said Fred
“Yes there” said I.

I watched frustrated while two local tukangs grovelled around in a muddy hole for an hour trying to dig with a pickaxe and a desert spoon (ever tried to dig mud with a pickaxe?). Eventually, just as Edward James Murphy would predict, a hefty swing of the pick and the pipe was revealed by a hiss and a jet of water. The tukang was surprised, I wasn’t.

A little further digging and we found the cause of the problem - a two inch plastic pipe and a joint had come apart. They do you know when they have not been glued properly in the first place. Funny that. Five more minutes and the job was finished and one cashier at PDAM was worrying about her job.

It is surprising how much water can run from a fairly small leak. Let us say your toilet is running or a tap is dripping and you are losing a cupful every ten seconds, that is three litres a minute which is 134,000 litres a month - that is a lot of water. Do you realise you could clean your teeth three times a day for 366 years with that much water (unless you’ve got very big teeth in which case it will be a mere 244 years).

Plastic pipe joints often come apart in Bali.

Plumbers tend to cut and assemble pipework before they finally glue it together. They then go back and glue all the joints, if they miss disassembling and gluing one joint you have a problem and, with a local tendency to bury plastic pipes in concrete walls and under floors, this can be a serious issue.

So what are the lessons from Fred’s story?

Well first, as I have already said, make sure you get layout plans of the services in your new house. Secondly ask your friendly builder to think of maintenance when deciding where to put pipes and wiring. Thirdly check your water meter to make sure it stops turning when everything is turned off. Fourthly make sure none of you taps or toilets are running and finally do not search for a water pipe with a pickaxe.

As a final comment if you are considering using the town water supply for your new home be aware that the water pressure can vary enormously through the day, I have a friend who has such high town water pressure it blows the pipes off the taps at night but in the morning no pressure at all. In fact it has become quite a talking point. You’ll often see people on street corners discussing how their water pressure is in the morning! “How’s your water pressure this morning dearie?”

Varying mains supply, hmmmm sounds like a recent story.

Déjà vu.

I think the first time déjà vu happens it isn’t, it’s the second.

Copyright © Phil Wilson 2009
This article or any part of it cannot be copied or reproduced without permission from the copyright owner.

8 February 2017 Copyright © Mr Fixit,
Jl Bypass Ngurah Rai, Gg Penyu No 1, Sanur, Bali 80228, Indonesia
Telephone: +62-361-288-789, Fax:+62-361-284-180