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Here’s How to Avoid Costly Water Leaks

Dripping faucets and running toilets are more than just a nuisance.  They waste water and cost you money.  If your water usage increases noticeably for no apparent reason, chances are that there's a leak somewhere.  Finding and fixing leaks can be easy and inexpensive and can help you avoid costly water bills.

Toilet Leaks
Toilet tank problems are often the cause of a leak, but repairs are the most common do-it-yourself household plumbing project.  Usually it is caused by a faulty or worn flapper (when you have to jiggle the handle to stop the water from running). One leaky toilet can waste 78,000 gallons of water in one year – enough to fill a backyard swimming pool. When your toilet is functioning properly, water moves from the tank to the bowl only when the toilet is flushed. But when a toilet is leaking, water moves from tank to bowl on its own. You may notice that your toilet seems to flush by itself; that is a definite sign of a toilet leak.

While there are several possible causes, by far the most common source of a leak is the valve that controls the release of water from the tank to the bowl. In most toilets, this is a rubber flapper valve. Depending on water quality and whether you use a toilet bowl cleaner in the tank, these flaps may last from 2 to 7 years.

To check your toilet for leaks:

  • Lift off the toilet tank lid. Without flushing, place two (2) dye tablets (or 10 drops of food coloring) in the toilet tank.

  • If water in the bowl turns color within 10 minutes, you have a toilet leak.

Check Your Main Water Valve
The main water valve is the most important part of the system, because it controls the flow of water into your house.  It’s vital to know the location of this valve in case of a leak – it can save you thousands of dollars in damage.  To locate it, find the utility company’s water meter.  The valve is usually on the side of the pipes feeding into your house.  It is also advised that you test it by turning on a faucet somewhere in the house and turning off the main valve.  All water flow should stop.  If the valve is stuck, leaks, or does not turn off all the way, have it replaced by a licensed plumber.

Washer Woes
The rubber connecting hoses on your washing machine are possibly the weakest links in any home plumbing system. Those hoses can dry out, burst and allow thousands of gallons to rush into your home.  To avoid this problem, get into the habit of turning off the washer supply valves every time you are done with a load of clothes.  If they are hard to reach, have them replaced with a single-lever turn-off that operates both hot and cold water supply valves with a single switch.

Check Your Water Softener
Most softeners have a bypass lever. Turn the lever to allow water to bypass the softener. Check the red triangle at the meter. If the triangle is no longer moving, you have isolated the leak to your softener. (You also can check for leaking swamp coolers, water-cooled air conditioners, ice machines and reverse osmosis units by turning the bypass lever on each and checking the meter.) Back To Top

Check Your Main Service Line
Find the water shutoff valve to your home. It will be either in your front yard, in your garage, or near your water softener. Shut off this valve, which will turn off all water to your home. Turn on a faucet to make sure there is no water flowing inside the home, then check the meter. If it's still moving, the leak is most likely between the shutoff valve and the water meter.

Frozen Faucets
Winter plumbing problems are often caused by freezing weather.  If the thermometer drops too low, open sink and vanity cabinet doors to warm the pipes.  Be sure that outside hose faucets are turned off and drained for the winter by loosening the brass cap on the side of the valve.

It’s a good idea to insulate any supply pipes that are exposed in a crawl space or on an outside wall of the basement to avoid frost damage.  If they do freeze, call a plumber or use UL Certified heat tape to thaw them.  If you’ll be away from home overnight or longer, let the faucet drip, as faucets are less likely to freeze with moving water. You might also consider turning off your water at the main valve to eliminate potential problems while you are gone. 

If you've found your leak, you may be able to fix it yourself. Repairs to toilets and faucets can be fairly simple, while other leaks may need a professional plumber. Don't get in over your head. If you're not sure that you can fix it, call a professional. Back To Top

City Water is Pure and Clean

As you may know, there have been several news articles regarding the finding of prescription drugs in drinking water. In some areas drinking water is treated water that has flowed from lakes, streams and rivers. In these areas you may find that treated and purified waste water is being placed back into those lakes and rivers. 

But according to our Service Center Superintendent, this is not so in the City of Niles. Niles City pumps water directly from deep wells. This groundwater is “naturally purified” by the layers of ground material (like rock) that it flows through. “The water we drink in the City of Niles is tested and sampled 15 times each month at various locations throughout the system. We do this to ensure the water is always safe to drink for our customers”, said Hall. He also said that “ All the wells are tested annually and a water quality report is sent each year to residents. The groundwater we use has only a very small chance of ever being contaminated because of the pure aquifier that this water passes through”. “Our groundwater resources are not near or connected to any wastewater plants or significant bodies of water such as a lake or river.  Contamination by prescription medicines is practically impossible.” 

In addition, you may have once seen city water that was slightly yellow or brown. This phenomen happens because of the content of iron in the water. . . . which is not harmful to our bodies. However; the City of Niles Utilities Department constructed a water filtration plant that filters out the iron for those residents who may have been affected by this occurrence.

A Remedy for Residential Drug Disposal

Life Support Equipment

The City of Niles Utilities Department encourages life support customers who use certain electrically operated medical devices to be prepared in advance for both planned and unplanned power outages.

Uninterrupted electric service cannot be guaranteed by the City of Niles Utilities Department. The Utilities Department is not liable for the specific health and welfare issues of life support customers. It is the responsibility of the customer to have an emergency plan and a back-up system to deal with such emergencies. Back To Top

Here are some suggestions that will help you prepare for an emergency:

  • Cordless phones do not work during a power outage. We recommend that you purchase a corded telephone that does not require electricity.

  • If you require oxygen, it is recommended that you have a 24-48 hour back-up supply of portable oxygen available to you in the event of an emergency.

  • You may want to consider investing in a portable emergency generator. Remember, it is important to follow all safety guidelines when installing or operating a portable generator. The City of Niles Utilities Department does not provide generators for customers during outages. It is your responsibility to plan for, and acquire, a generator if you need one.

  • If you require a sleep apnea machine, it should be equipped with an alarm to alert you when the power is off. During a short outage, those with this condition should consider staying awake until power is restored. 

  • In situations of long duration, help of a friend or relative should be enlisted.

We will contact you annually to determine if your medical situation or equipment needs have changed. Be sure to contact the Utilities Department (683-4700, ext. 2071) if your phone number changes. 

Employee Spotlight - Utility Crews

The Utilities Department's Electric Division consists of highly skilled electric line workers who respond to emergencies - natural disasters, accidents, and other "routine" power outages.  They use specialized tools and equipment to perform maintenance and emergency work.  These workers are prepared to respond immediately when public safety is at risk.  This includes de-energizing and removing power lines before other rescue personnel can begin their work a the scenes of accidents, fires, or other disasters.

The Utilities Department's Water Division oversees the operations and maintenance of tour City's potable water system, including the production, storage and distribution facilities.  Our crews respond to water emergencies such as water main breaks, service leaks, valve leaks, damage to hydrants, highline leaks, pressure problems, etc.  They are responsible for making sure our water supply is adequate and our tap water is safe.

Yes, when your utilities go out. . . . we do too.  Regardless of the hour, the weather. . . or how dangerous the situation may be. . . our Utilities Crews work hard to restore power and water as quickly as possible to those who need it most.Back To Top

Do You Have a Cross Connection Within Your Home?

Are you a weekend plumber?  Do you wash your car at home? Do you apply herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizer through an aspirator attached to your hose?  If the answer is yes, you may have jeopardized the quality of the water in your home, your neighbor's home, and the entire City.

A cross connection occurs when the potable water supply from the City is directly connected to a waste drain or sewer.  Through back-siphonage and back-pressure the reversal of flow can happen. In back-siphonage, the reversal of normal flow in a system is caused by negative pressure on the City's system that would reverse the flow in normal house piping.  In back-pressure, the reversal of normal flow occurs when downstream pressure is greater than the City's pressure.

You, as a home owner, share the responsibility of protecting the City's water supply.  As a homeowner here’s what you should do:
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  • When you purchase new toilets, make sure they are equipped with an approved anti-siphon ballcock. When replacing ballcocks make sure the new one has an approved anti-siphon device built in.

  • When installing a water softener, do not install the waste pipe directly into the sewer.  If the solenoid valve should stick and the City was to have negative main pressure due to a broken water main or repair, you could siphon raw sewage into your house plumbing. Follow the discharge line from the back of the control box mounted on top of the small cylinder. This is where you make the settings for time of day, grains per gallon, etc.  (The other tank is where you put the salt in.) There has to be a small discharge line that should lead to a floor drain; make sure that it does just that and that there is not a plumbing fitting tapped into the sewer pipe.

  • Do not leave hoses submerged in tanks, pails or wet areas.

  • Install approved anti-siphon hose bibb vacuum breakers on all outside faucets.  Frost proof units are available.

  • When installing a yard sprinkling system, you must use some kind of backflow prevention.  Do not delete this item from your system. If you have a valve of any kind downstream from your control box, towards your sprinkling heads, you must use a pressure-type vacuum breaker. If there is no valve downstream from your control box you may use a vacuum-type backflow preventer. This, however, must be one foot above the highest sprinkler head.      

  • If you heat your house with a boiler, you must have an approved backflow preventer on your boiler feed line.  A single check valve is not adequate.

  • If you have purchased a lawn aspirator from the local garden store or nursery, make sure it carries an NFS, ANSI, or UNDERWRITERS stamp of approval. These are the jar-like devices that fit onto the end of your hose.  You place a small tablet containing a concentration of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers into the bottom of the container.  As water passes through the device, a portion of the concentrate is diluted and applied to your lawn. However, if there should be negative pressure on the City's system, the flow of water containing this same herbicide, pesticide and fertilizer would enter your home plumbing, your neighbor's, or even worse…. into the City Water System.  If the manufacturer states that he has built an anti-siphon device into the aspirator, it usually is for only a few pounds per square inch and would not work if the device were used outside of the range intended. If you insist on using these devices, place an anti-siphon device on all of your outside hose bibbs.

  • Do not breach air gaps. Air gaps are built into sinks and tubs. Do not put a hose on the faucet and extend it below the flood plain of the sink.

The City's water system and your house plumbing are nothing more than pipes attached together that carry a fluid, potable water.  When you raise the elevation at one end or another you make a barometric loop.  As we learned in science class, that same fluid can go back and forth making a direct cross connection. If the water quality does not change, there is no problem, however, when that water quality is contaminated the whole loop is contaminated.

A good rule of thumb to follow when using potable water in your daily activities is…. would you drink that same water if the flow was reversed? Chances are you most likely would not.

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