Water Management: Minimising the Hidden Cost of Leaks

While fixing leaks and burst water pipes may not top the ever-growing list of priorities for public sector facilities managers, the cost of a disrupted water supply can have a major impact on your organisation. It can also cause logistical issues for organisations with large numbers of people on-site such as universities and hospitals.

The financial cost of a burst pipe can be significant and can lead to the loss of as much as one cubic metre of water – equivalent to 1,000 litres – an hour, which could cost as much as £26,000 a year, if left unchecked.

Many organisations simply aren’t aware of their responsibilities regarding the maintenance and repair of the water infrastructure within the boundaries of their premises.
In the event that you don’t have a preventative maintenance programme in place, you should develop a plan of action, at the very minimum, to fix any issues should you experience an interruption to your water supply.

While, for many, it’s difficult to know where to start, there are some simple steps you can take to be prepared and to quickly get your system and sites fully operational again.

Contact your wholesaler

If you experience a sudden drop in water pressure, or your supply should stop completely, it’s worth contacting your water wholesaler. They are responsible for ensuring the supply of water to your site so should be an immediate first port of call.

Your wholesaler will be able to advise on any problems they’re aware of in the wider network near your site, as well as any actions they’re taking to fix them. They can also advise whether they’re able to deliver additional water to your site while your supply is off.

Early detection is key

The problem with hidden leaks is that they’re just that – hidden. To minimise the costs associated with a leak, you first need to know how to identify it.

Inspect your premises

Thoroughly search your business’ premises for any obvious leaks throughout its infrastructure. This could include faulty taps or urinals, overflowing toilet cisterns, or dripping overflow pipes outside. Each of these drips adds to your water bill.

Monitor your meter

Your water meter is usually a good indicator of consumption, with any unexpected increases often a prime indicator of an undetected leak.

The most efficient approach is to stop using the system completely for at least an hour, taking readings before and afterwards to see if consumption has still risen.

For many organisations, this kind of disruption simply isn’t practical, which is why it’s important to check your water meter regularly so that you can build up a rough idea of how much water you typically use in your organisation, or per site, daily. Once this baseline has been established, any unexpected spikes in usage – often signalling a leak – can be identified and dealt with quickly.

Managing an on-site supply interruption

If you think you have a leak and the wholesaler says there are no network supply issues, you’ll need to arrange a repair. If this is the case, it’s important that you and members of the facilities team know the location of stop-taps on your sites, so they can be accessed quickly to stop the flow of water.

In some cases, a drop in pressure could even be due to your stop-tap having been partially closed by accident – an easily-fixable issue you can solve without needing to contact your wholesaler.

You’ll also need a contingency plan in place for alternative water supplies for use during planned work on the network or if supply stops suddenly due to a burst pipe on site or on the wholesaler’s network.

You can take steps ahead of time to ensure that sourcing a replacement water supply is as painless as possible. This could include installing injection points so that water can be added to your system, putting additional water storage facilities in place, or creating a plan to allow water tankers to access your site quickly and easily with the right connections for them to deliver or inject any water.

Some specific public sector organisations, such as hospitals and prisons, are likely to be classed as “Category 1 sensitive sites” by their wholesaler. This means that they will be given priority for alternative emergency supplies.

Be proactive

Aside from the practical elements of getting your water back up and running, communication is key. As such, you should ensure all employees are aware of any contingency plan so that you always have somebody on-site who knows what to do – and who to contact – should a supply interruption occur.

It’s also really important to make sure your retailer has the best contact name/s and number/s at your organisation to liaise with.

Given how much even innocuous-seeming leaks can cost, not repairing them can be akin to washing money down the drain. Preparation is therefore essential, so facilities managers should focus on having a plan in place to reduce the unexpected costs a burst pipe on site or a supply interruption can bring.