Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Wednesday Vignette: Water Leak Worries

I'm a worrier by nature.  Maybe I was that from infancy, although I don't remember worrying about much of anything until I was six.  One morning I went to see what my grandmother was up to as she was living with us at the time and generally made me breakfast before I went to school.  I couldn't wake her and somehow knew she was dead, although I ran to wake my mother in the hope she could do something.  Several months later, my father died in a car accident.  I became a committed worrier at that point and, no matter how old I get, I've never managed to break the habit.  

Last week when I saw the amount of our water bill was close to double what it should've been for a period during which I had the irrigation system turned off, I was sure we must have a leak.  When my husband  and I checked the water meter, we discovered that the little blue wheel that signifies water is flowing was spinning despite the fact that no water was running inside or outside the house.  We methodically checked for wet spots, tightened every spigot, and then turned off each water shut-off valve in turn to see if we could isolate the problem.  All we could determine was that the problem probably lay somewhere between the main and the secondary shut-off valves. 

The main shut-off valve is just to the left of the compost bins my husband built for me last year (shown on the right next to the fence in this photo)

The second (of 4) shut-off valves is behind these Camellia sasanqua shrubs next to the house

  

That's a pretty large space.  In between is a row of citrus trees, a persimmon tree, and the raised planters of my cutting garden.  My husband's initial inclination was to start digging beginning at the master shut-off valve.  Not only was I worried about my garden but I was also concerned about wasting water with every passing day.  If you've read my blog for any time, you probably know that I try very hard to conserve water so this approach didn't sit well with me.  I campaigned for consulting a plumber to see if there were ways to detect the leak without digging up the garden.  Following the Easter holiday weekend, my husband called in a service company we've used in the past with positive results, encouraged by information on their website about modern techniques to identify water leaks without digging.  That turned out to be a waste of money but we then contacted a company that specializes in leak detection.

While I was worried about distributing the finished and unfinished compost in my compost bins if we discovered a leak near the main shut-off valve, my husband was concerned that our citrus trees might be impacted, fearing that their roots might have caused the leak. 

While losing the Mandarin orange tree (left) and the lime tree (right) would be sad, losing the navel orange tree in the center would be a travesty.  The fruit of the latter is better than any orange we've ever tasted.  In fact, my husband had recently proposed that we find a place to put a second one.

The oranges are done for the season, thanks in part to thieving critters, but the orange blossoms are scenting the air and offering the promise of next year's crop.  The potential of harming or losing the citrus trees put the prospect of having to move the compost bins in a different perspective for me.

As it turned out, when the leak detection technician got to work yesterday, he fairly quickly found the leak near the 265-gallon rain collection tank located behind the garage.  Luckily for us, it was several inches shy of the tank itself, which is still about one-third full.

The tank is more than twice as long as it is wide

This is the view from the other side.  The hose carries any overflow under the gravel into the bed containing the citrus trees, which lies beyond.

We paid the technician to repair the leak once it was identified.  The work area was very close to the tank.

The technician used sound to detect the source of the leak.  Given the trouble the leak caused and the amount of money it cost to remedy the situation, the hole in the pipe itself wasn't impressive.

This is the section of the pipe that was replaced.  Can you see the hole?

There it is in closeup.  It's what's referred to as a pin-hole leak.

We're waiting for the work area to dry out before stowing everything that was removed from behind the garage.  That's a project we can put off for another day or two.

There's a lot more outside the frame of this photo that needs to go back, including gravel

At least I've one less thing to worry about this week.  Of course, if we've had one pin-hole leak, it's likely that there will be others in the future within our half-acre property but there's some comfort in knowing what to do about it if it happens again.

For more Wednesday Vignettes, visit Anna at Flutter & Hum.


All material © 2012-2021 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party





28 comments:

  1. Discovering your grandmother’s death at a tender age of 6 would be quite traumatic alone, and then suffering the loss of your father from an accident, is life-altering, Kris!
    Having had 5 different pin-hole leaks within 6 years and the resultant damage they have inflicted on different parts of the yard has caused me my share of heart-aches! In fact, one leak had caused kitchen cabinet etc. damage and pushed us to do a significant remodel that included replacing the copper pipes with PEX.
    I’m happy to hear this was resolved for you!

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    1. The cost of one such leak was bad enough - I can't imagine dealing with five, Kay. It seems likely that there could be more pin-hole leaks here as time goes by as I assume most of the pipes were laid at the same time. I'm just glad there have been improvements in the art of detecting them.

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  2. Whew, what a relief to find the leak and to learn it was NOT underneath the citrus. I've had my share of leaks over the years, including the day when my house pipes burst at the same time that my rental house pipes burst in a city an hour away. That special day I wore my BIG GIRL PANTIES. This year when my house pipes burst in the big Texas freeze, I fixed them myself using PEX and shark bite connectors. I have no plumbing aptitude.

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    1. That's impressive! It sounds like you learned a lot from that first experience, even if you had to acquire that knowledge the hard way.

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  3. I would probably be a worrier too if I had all that trauma at a young age.
    A leak is scary. I would dread the thought of digging up the garden to find it. Glad it is resolved.

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    1. The thought of digging up the garden following the trail of pipe was very scary, Lisa. I'm glad we were able to avoid that.

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  4. Oh dear, sorry about your early losses. And sorry about the leak. I'm glad they found it. I tend to be a worrier, too, but at some times of my life more than others. I hope you can chill for a few days and enjoy the special moments. I understand.

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    1. I spent the day happily doing a lot of simple cleanups in the garden, Beth, and it was a pleasure not to cringe every time I turned on the water.

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  5. Terrible traumas for one so young, Kris. I'm sorry you've had to shoulder that burden.
    With water at such a premium where you live, a leak is a big deal. Glad that it was found in a relatively easy place to fix.
    My son in Truckee had a leak a couple months ago that was hemorrhaging 25,000 gal/day! Luckily, the guy is handy, the day was sunny and above freezing, so he guessed where it was, dug it up and fixed the break. The psi of their water is so great it had burst the coupling!

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    1. The loss of 25,000 gallons of water a day would be truly frightening, Eliza. I'd given little thought to plumbing-related issues until now. I guess we were lucky to get a relatively gentle introduction to the problem and the methods available to deal with it.

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  6. Your childhood traumas were difficult and I can understand their lasting effects. Interestingly, there were some big traumas in my very early years, too, and though I didn't really discover them or understand their significance until I was well grown, your sharing made me realize that yes, it affected my parents but yes, it no doubt had a big impact on me, too. I'm also a worrier so now I have a little more insight on it. What a relief that you found the right person to locate and fix the leak. It might be time to start a Leaky Pipe Fund for future issues. I wonder if they can trace the pipe through the yard so you know ahead of time what areas might be impacted, especially if you can just go ahead and replace the whole pipe when the time is right. Hopefully that will be far in the future.

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    1. I think what affects parents is often felt by children, Barbara. I know that was true in my case as my mother never really got over either of those losses, although of course I felt them directly as well. As to the outdoor plumbing, my husband has a good general idea where the water pipes run as he's done work on the sprinkler system a few times since we moved in but unfortunately these pin-hole leaks apparently can't be identified until they occur.

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  7. Oh, Kris! No little kid should have to experience what you did... I bet I would leave lasting effects on anyone. So glad you had competent help fixing the leak, and that your citrus grove survived unscathed. How does such a little leak occur anyway? I can't wrap my head around that...

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    1. Apparently, pin-hole leaks are the result of corrosion inside copper pipes. One option is to replace all the copper pipes with PEX (polyethylene) pipes, although that means a lot of digging. Methods to diminish the risk of corrosion include lowering water velocity and introducing a whole-house water softening system to eliminate the hard water that encourages corrosion. All options to explore.

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  8. That is indeed a small hole to have caused such a disturbance. Glad you found someone who could root it out. I'm sorry you've had such sadnesses early in life, Kris. Worrying can obsess us but it seems I never worry about what next thing is actually about to happen, it's always something different I wouldn't have thought to worry about. Hope you can get back to regular programming and enjoy your garden. Hugs!

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    1. Yes, the problem with worry is that most of it is absolutely futile, and rarely on target. I'm fairly solution-oriented with respect to most immediate problems. It's those that are outside my control that are the most bothersome. Working in the garden is always a way to turn that "noise" off, at least for awhile.

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  9. Life comes at us with all kinds of doozies, but the the tragedies of your youth are unfathomable! Water worries (that plague my nightmares too) diminish in comparison.
    Thankfully, those magnificent citrus trees weren't disturb in addition to paying a bunch of money to the leak detectives. Plus, you can have them on speed dial now :-D

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    1. The leak detection service was VERY responsive - the problem was latching on to the right service. The lesson learned there is: don't rely on general descriptions provided on plumbing service websites. My husband and I are considering ways to improve what we do in terms of monitoring for water problems and perhaps preventive strategies, like those I mentioned in my response to Anna.

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  10. My heart was in my throat on reading the citrus were threatened! I will vouch for the fruit of that navel orange tree, the best bar none I've ever had! So glad it was a relatively easy fix, at least not much disturbance to the garden. The losses from childhood are the ones that cut so deep. Glad you've got a respite from plumbing worries!

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    1. My husband also appreciates those oranges above all others, Denise, which is probably why that is the threat that he most feared when the problem arose, while I was focused on the general disruption of digging and what was going to happen to my compost bins and possibly the large rain collection tank.

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  11. Oh Kris, what an incredibly sad experience esp. at such a young age. I'm glad that you were able to find the source of the leak & have it rectified with little damage to the surrounding area. I'm always concerned that what seems like should be a simple fix will turn out to be a large, expensive and disruptive repair. Around here, it's usually a 50/50 chance.

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    1. Given that this house is 70 years old, I guess we've been lucky over the 10 years we've owned it, Margaret. The only other super-scary issue surfaced during our remodel and involved a corroded gas pipe, which was promptly fixed. It does occur to me though that copper pipes may be a general concern...

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  12. I too am a worrier. Sometimes I have to talk myself back from an anxious state by asking "what exactly are you worrying about?" Often times I can't identify a single thing that caused the worry! I am so sorry you were set up for a lifetime of worry by two very traumatic occurrences at such a young age.

    As for your leak, wow! I don't know which I find more "impressive" that so much water flowed from such a tiny hole, or that someone was able to find it. I guess this is where I should be relieved that we don't have an irrigation system. Of course there was the winter night I woke to the sound of rushing water and laid in bed thinking "oh no! I forgot to turn off the sprinkler!" but then I realized it was winter and the sprinkler wasn't running. Turns out the main water line from the street to our house had burst. Fun times! At least that's behind us now.

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    1. Ha! More than once, I've woken up thinking about whether I turned off a sprinkler and have run out in the middle of the night in a robe to check. Water line breaks seem to be a regular feature in the LA Times and I've always wondered why the water companies don't monitor their lines to prevent those but now I have a better sense of the difficulties in doing that.

      Stopping to ask what you're worried about and why is a good approach. My husband often asks me that very same question when I'm worried or anxious about something. In many cases, it's something outside my immediate control but pointing that out doesn't always help. I tend to want to "fix" things asap.

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  13. Oh! What luck that the leak was in a 'good' place !!
    Understand that you want to avoid having to move any plants.
    It has been fun to follow your garden for so many years and see the change, hope you have a nice summer with not too much drought.
    Mariana

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  14. Losing your dear grandmother and then your dad...OMG. You may be a worrier but you are a strong one.

    I got to the point where worrying just hurt so much I had to stop.

    Happy you found the leak and that it is repaired. The tiny size of that hole in the pipe--crazy!!

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    1. Unfortunately, it seems that pin-hole leaks in copper pipes aren't at all unusual. We've regulated our water pressure but at present my husband isn't prepared to start replacing all our copper piping - unless or until we start having more of them.

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