Adulting 101: Checking for water leaks in your home

Isn’t adulthood a drag sometimes? We came home from a New Year’s weekend away, visiting family, and discovered the bathroom sink downstairs overflowing with water and the floor covered by a giant puddle. The culprit was a set of pipes set in the outer wall of the house that freeze every time the temps dip too far below zero. Turns out that a tiny drip in the sink is enough to fill and overflow the basin if you give it a couple of hours.

In fact, according to the U.S. EPA, the average American household wastes 10,000 gallons of water per year, purely due to leaking toilets, sinks, and sprinkler systems.

Earlier this year, I set out to create a short video demonstrating how to check for common household water leaks, and in the process discovered that I’d never actually seen our water meter before. After nearly an hour of searching upstairs, downstairs, outside, and even behind the scary Halloween werewolf that lives in the second chamber of our basement, I finally located the water meter behind our stinky cat litter boxes. Do you know where yours is located?

Once you find the water meter in your home, it is actually quite easy to use it to check for leaks. To begin, turn off all the water sources in your house – don’t run your dishwasher, make sure that all of the faucets and outdoor sprinklers are off, and avoid the urge to flush any toilets. (On second thought, checking for water leaks is nearly impossible because it’s easiest done if no one else is home. In my case, I had to wait two weeks before an afternoon when that happened.)

Make note of the number on the face of the water meter. That’s the amount, usually in gallons, of water that has passed through the meter. After you’ve recorded that number, do nothing for two hours. Take the dog for a walk, run an errand, read a book, but whatever you do, don’t turn on any water in the house! At the end of two hours, check the number on your water meter again and see if it has changed. If it’s the same, congratulations! You have no water leaks. If it has changed, however, it means that you’re losing water somewhere in your home.

If you have water leaks, the next step is to figure out where. Dripping faucets should be easy to see, but you’ll need to do a little investigation to determine if your toilets are leaking. Happily, the toilet test is a fun one to do with kids because you get to use food coloring. Simply lift up the lid of your toilet tank (the back of the toilet) and add a few drops of color to the water. Then wait ten minutes before checking the toilet bowl. If the water in the bowl begins to change color, that means you have a leak. For advice on how to fix the leak, check out: or this short video from Home Depot.

During the winter, any leaks you’re able to identify with your water meter will be inside the house. However, it is quite common to have problems with in-ground irrigation systems as well. Often, sprinkler heads get broken, buried, pushed out of the ground due to freeze-thaw cycles, or bumped so that they no longer spray the right direction. If you have an in-ground system, make a note to check it in the spring before you turn it on.

For more information on finding and fixing common household water leaks, head to And, congratulations on graduating to Adulting 201!