Water Waste and Fixing Leaks
Leaks at homes, apartments, commercial properties, and landscapes can result in thousands of gallons of wasted water, bill increases, and potential property damage if not addressed promptly. There are steps residents and businesses can take to reduce the chance of wasteful indoor and outdoor leaks. Routine maintenance and repairs can add up to savings on your water bill and help conserve our precious water supplies.
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The Leak Alert Program sends automated notifications to single-family and multi-family residences, commercial, industrial, and municipal properties, and irrigation accounts.
Automated meters enable the SFPUC to provide customers timely and accurate information about water use down to the hourly level. Customers can view their water use through our My Account portal. We also use hourly water consumption data to provide courtesy leak alerts. We notify the water account holder, property owner, and occupant (if not the same person) of constant water use throughout the review period. The review period for single-family, multi-family (2-5 units), and irrigation accounts is two days of non-stop water use and for commercial, municipal, and multi-family (6+ units) it is three days of non-stop water use. Commercial, municipal, and multi-family also use criteria in addition to number of days of constant use to screen for potential leaks in some specific properties:
- For multi-family properties with four or five dwelling units, we also screen for water use that has exceeded the property's average use for the past 90 days by 50 percent or more.
- For multi-family properties with six or more dwelling units, as well as commercial, industrial, and municipal properties, we also screen for spikes in nightly consumption (1-4 AM) when compared to the nightly average over the last approximately 90 days. More details are provided below under “Why did I receive a leak alert?”.
Please review the frequently asked questions below to learn more about the program and actions you can take.
We send leak alerts by email, mobile phone text SMS, phone call, and mailed letter, depending on the contact information we have on file in our billing system. Please update your account contact information through our online My Account platform. If you haven't yet registered to use My Account, sign up is simple but requires having a copy of your water bill to refer to or knowing your account number. If you don't have a copy of your bill and don't know your water account number, contact our Customer Service Bureau at email@example.com or (415) 551-3000 for assistance.
Why did I receive a leak alert?
Our leak alert is a courtesy to inform you that the water meter at your property has recorded continuous water usage of at least 7.5 gallons per hour every hour over a monitored review period. Additional screening criteria used to identify leaks in larger multi-family and commercial properties are listed below. In residential properties there are typically periods during the day or night, often when occupants are sleeping, when water fixtures and irrigation systems would not be running and no water use is occurring. Therefore, it is unusual for the meter in a single-family home, small multi-family building, or property with an irrigation account to register usage continuously for consecutive 24-hour periods and this may indicate a leak or a tap, hose bib, or valve accidentally left on. At some commercial and industrial properties, nonstop water usage may reflect normal operations, but our system flags when your meter also shows a spike in nighttime water use much higher than recent nightly average use, which may indicate problematic water use that you should review. For all property types, we recommend you check and fix potential leaks or other causes of high water use. While the SFPUC’s courtesy alerts and My Account platform can help inform you if constant usage is occurring, customers are responsible for finding and addressing leaks at their property. The SFPUC provides assistance that can help, including free replacement of old toilets, water-wise evaluations, and water-saving devices.
Additional criteria that apply to some properties in addition to constant water use of 7.5 gallons per hour every hour during the review period:
- Multi-family properties with four or five dwelling units: we also screen for water use that has exceeded the property's average use for the past 90 days by 50 percent or more (1.5 times).
- Multi-family properties with six or more dwelling units, as well as commercial, industrial and municipal properties are further screened by:
- Properties with intermittent overnight consumption that show greater than 1 hour of no (zero) consumption between the hours of 1-4 AM when averaged over the last 90 days. We also screen for water use between 1-4 AM that has exceeded the property's average use from 1-4 AM over the past 90 days by 2 times or more (minimum 100% increase).
- Properties with regular overnight consumption show less than 1 hour of no (zero) consumption between the hours of 1-4 AM when averaged over the last 90 days. We also screen for water use between 1-4 AM that has exceeded the property's average use from 1-4 AM over the past 90 days by 4 times or more (minimum 300% increase).
How was the continuous usage identified?
The meter transmission unit at your property provides us with information on hourly water usage. The meter readings we receive identify every cubic foot of water used each hour (one cubic foot is equal to approximately 7 ½ gallons).
If our data shows hourly water usage of a least one cubic foot every hour for the review period, we will notify the water account holder, property owner, and occupant (if not the same person by email, mobile phone text, phone call, and letter, for all methods we have current contact information on file. If our system notes a successful email or SMS text (e.g., no bounce back error), a letter will not be sent. Our alerts will indicate the dates and amounts of continuous usage. We will notify you up to three times. Our first contact will be shortly after we first detect nonstop water use during the review period, a second time about two weeks later if nonstop use is still occurring regularly, and a third time about two months later if nonstop use is still ongoing. Single family and multi-family homes with two to five dwelling units may also be issued a final courtesy notice in the form of a door hanger if nonstop use is continuing after 10 weeks.
Does this mean I have a leak?
Continuous usage may indicate your property has a plumbing or irrigation system leak or that a tap or hose bib was left running. Select standard toilet repair parts and other water-saving devices are provided free from the SFPUC. Residential customers with toilets installed before 1994 may also be eligible for a free new toilet, including installation, through our Plumbing Fixture Replacement Program (PREP). In addition to visually inspecting plumbing fixtures, other ways to help detect leaks include:
Register or log on to My Account to view your household’s or property's hourly, daily, weekly and monthly water use. Sudden increases in water use could mean a plumbing or irrigation system leak has developed or some other unusual water use is occurring. If My Account shows that your hourly water usage never went to zero over the review period and/or had a sustained spike in usage, it could indicate you have an ongoing leak.
You may also request a free inspection by the SFPUC that will include performing a manual read of the water meter while all water fixtures and irrigation systems are turned off, which can help identify silent leaks that could occur from breaks in the main water supply line leading into your home.
Do I need to contact the SFPUC if I receive a leak alert?
Our leak alerts are issued as a courtesy. You do not need to contact us if you receive one unless you would like assistance with SFPUC’s Water Conservation incentive programs or to be opted out of receiving certain methods of notification, such as mobile phone text or any such notices in the future. Use the resources on our website and My Account for guidance on how to identify the most common types of leaks that may be occurring around your home, multi-family property, or landscape. If you suspect you have a leak but cannot repair it, please contact a plumber or irrigation expert. Customers are responsible for repairing leaks on their property. Routine water-fixture and irrigation system maintenance and repairs can help prevent leaks and avoid wasted water and money.
How much water could I be wasting?
For a general estimate, multiply the continuous usage rate noted on our leak alert by 24 hours to calculate how much water is being wasted through constant usage in a single day. Then multiply this daily amount by the number of days nonstop usage has been occurring at your property. Our leak alert will note when constant usage started, or you can check hourly use on My Account and scroll back through days to see how long constant hourly use occurred. The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that ten percent of U.S. homes have leaks that waste 90 gallons or more per day. A leaking toilet can waste upward of 3,000 gallons of water in just a few days, while a faucet that drips at the rate of one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons per year.
The reporting tools available on My Account can help you see hourly, daily, monthly and seasonal patterns in your water use, and spot unusual increases in water usage that could be attributed to a leak.
My property has a leak, but I didn't receive a courtesy alert in any format (email, text, phone call, or letter) from the SFPUC.
To avoid sending too many alerts and notifying people about a situation that might be leaks, we send courtesy alerts after the review period of nonstop water use that is 7.5 gallons or more per hour to the following property types:
- Single family properties (since September 2015)
- Multi-family buildings with up to five dwelling units (since September 2018)
- Multi-family buildings with six or more dwelling units (since June 2021)
- Sites with dedicated irrigation meters (since March 2019)
- Commercial and industrial properties (since June 2021)
- Municipal properties (since March 2022)
Some properties may experience intermittent leaks in toilets, irrigation systems, and other plumbing fixtures that last a few hours or only a day or two, which would not trigger a courtesy alert from the SFPUC. In particular, toilets often run intermittently as flappers and fill valves age, and we advise residents to check and replace internal parts before occasional leaks become constant. Likewise, irrigation leaks may occur only when the system is on and never reach the review period of constant use threshold. We recommend visually checking irrigation systems periodically to check for problems.
We screen nonstop water use from multi-family buildings of four or more units and all commercial, industrial and municipal accounts for certain additional criteria as described above under “Why did I receive a leak alert?”. It is possible that the screening criteria may miss a leak that is small in volume relative to the hourly use at the property, depending on typical consumption patterns.
A small number of multi-family, commercial, industrial, and municipal properties, and about one-third of irrigation accounts, have a particular type of 1.5-inch or 2-inch diameter meter that only registers when water use reaches 75 gallons an hour, and because of this would not receive an SFPUC courtesy alert for constant usage under 75 gallons an hour.
If none of these conditions apply, and you believe your property experienced multiple days of nonstop water use and you didn’t receive a courtesy alert from the SFPUC, check that your contact information on file with us is up to date. You can do this online through My Account, by mail (see directions on your bill), by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at (415) 551-3000.
How can I use hourly data on My Account to identify possible leaks or high or unusual water use?
Regularly checking your daily and hourly water use can help you understand what is typical for your property and what may be unusual and reflect potential leaks, taps or equipment inadvertently left on, or other problems. To best assess your property’s water use trends, we recommend you check your daily and hourly water use at least monthly and look at data over at least a two-week period. Make a note of the days and times your property may engage in the following water use activities and consider these when you review your daily and hourly usage: irrigating landscapes, filling hot tubs and pools, indoor and outdoor cleaning, laundry, and any other water-intensive practices that may be unique to your site. Consider also if there have been any changes in occupancy in your property or periods of no or reduced occupancy. For single family and small multi-family properties, water use that never goes to zero during any hour within a 24-hour period may indicate there is a leak or the irrigation system or a tap was left running. For any property type, a sudden spike in hourly and daily use that can't be explained by changes in occupancy, scheduled irrigation, or other specific activities may also indicate a leak or running or faulty equipment.
I am part of a business/organization that received a leak alert, and do not directly maintain the irrigation/landscape on the property. What are my next steps?
If you are a business or organization and received a leak alert from us, we encourage you to contact the property landscape contractor to assist in reviewing the irrigation system for leaks by inspecting irrigation valves, identifying missing or broken sprinkler heads, and flagging muddy or wet areas in the landscape along the irrigation lines that may be cracked or ruptured. You may also schedule a free landscape irrigation assessment by the SFPUC that could also help you identify leaks and ways to save water. A follow up report of our findings pointing out ways to improve your irrigation system efficiency will also be provided to you. Registering to our online My Account system can help in monitoring the site's water use over time. Remember while leaks can happen to anyone, it is your responsibility to resolve leaks in your property in a timely manner.
Repairing or replacing a leaky faucet can save hundreds of gallons per month. Faucet leaks commonly occur from worn parts or from loose water supply connections. Leaks may be obvious, such as a persistent drip, or more inconspicuous, such as a leak under the sink. While a persistent drip may be an annoyance, a hidden leak can cause water damage to walls if not identified early on. Either way, please do not ignore these leak signs!
Keep Your Faucet from Leaking While Delivering Maximum Performance
Check for leaks and provide regular maintenance, including:
- Replacing worn fittings, washers and gaskets inside the faucet. Depending on the manufacturer many types of faucets require new o-rings, cartridges, or ceramic discs.
- Tightening the water supply tubing at the fittings. Make sure the fittings are secured tightly at the wall and faucet. If this does not prevent more leaking, the water supply tubing may need to be replaced.
- Removing the aerator and soaking it in vinegar to remove mineral buildup; recommended once a year.
Order the free Practical Plumbing Handbook
For more information on faucet replacement parts and detailed repair instructions, call (415) 551-4730 or email email@example.com to order the Practical Plumbing Handbook – a do-it-yourself guide to water-saving plumbing fixture maintenance.
If you think you have a more serious leak or problem, please contact a plumbing professional. Or, if you’re a renter, be sure to report any suspected leaks to your landlord or property manager.
Free, Efficient Faucet Aerators
If you do not have aerators on your faucet, you may be using more water than you need! These small devices help make an existing faucet more efficient by adjusting the water flow. Aerators attach to the spout of the faucet and mix air and water to provide a smooth flow of water without sacrificing performance. We can provide customers with free efficient faucet aerators, available for pick-up at the customer service office or by participating in a free in-home Water-Wise Evaluation.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency has partnered with manufacturers to make it easier to identify water efficient fixtures, just look for products with the WaterSense® logo to save money and water!
A water bill can double or even triple in the summer and early fall months due to overirrigating your landscape and irrigation system leaks. If you're irrigating in the late evening or early morning, it's difficult to observe broken irrigation pipes and common maintenance issues in your system. Broken or missing sprinkler heads, leaking valves, and cracked distribution lines contribute to excess runoff, deteriorate the health of your landscape, and can lead to an increase in your water bill!
Common Irrigation System Leaks
Broken irrigation pipes, leaking valves, and malfunctioning backflow devices can all lead to constant irrigation system leaks.
- Broken Irrigation Pipes: A cracked or broken irrigation lateral or pipe can run constantly and waste thousands of gallons of water a day. To find a broken irrigation pipe, inspect the area between your water meter and irrigation valves looking for wet or muddy areas. These areas may indicate an underground pipe leak.
- Leaking Irrigation Valves: Over time, irrigation solenoid valves can deteriorate and fail to seal properly, allowing constant water flow through your irrigation system. Check to see if valves are functioning properly by activating each of them and visually inspecting they open and close correctly.
- Malfunctioning Backflow Device: Contact a backflow device professional to inspect your system's backflow device to ensure it is operating correctly.
Best Practices for Maintaining your Irrigation System
- Have your irrigation system checked at least seasonally by operating each zone to identify inefficiencies such as broken, misaligned, or clogged sprinkler heads and to check for leaks at the irrigation valves. An observer is the most important part of any efficient irrigation system. Performing simple and immediate repairs are the quickest way to maintaining your system's efficiency, preventing water waste, and prolonging the useful life of your irrigation system.
- Check your irrigation controller schedule to ensure that it is set to properly water your landscape. Consider your plant and landscape water needs when setting your irrigation schedule. Look for signs such as plant wilting or discoloration and examine soil moisture often to identify if the landscape is being watered efficiently.
- Adjust sprinklers to water the landscape, not the concrete or asphalt. Irrigation overspray is a common water waste in the landscape.
- Irrigation overspray is a prohibited water waste activity.Water between 8 p.m. and 10 a.m. to reduce evaporation and water loss from windy conditions.
- Check the soil moisture at various points throughout your landscape after each irrigation schedule adjustment to determine if it is being over- or under-watered and adjust the schedule accordingly.
- Connect a weather station or rain sensor to your irrigation controller to better meet the water demands of your landscape during dry spells, cloudy days, or storm events.
- Harness the power of your irrigation controller by utilizing the percent-adjust feature which allows you to turn the entire irrigation system up or down by percentages, instead of reprogramming each individual station.
- Consider removing any unused turf and replace with San Francisco climate-appropriate plants that require little or no irrigation at all! For a list of over 2,000 plants and their water use ranking (low, moderate or high) check out the San Francisco Plant Water Use List. Large irrigated landscapes over one half-acre may be eligible for detailed technical evaluations and grant funds for water-saving irrigation and landscape retrofits.
The average household could save more than 2,300 gallons per year by installing a water-efficient showerhead. Since these water savings will reduce demands on water heaters, households will also save energy.
Simple Fixes for a Leaky Showerhead
Shower leaks commonly occur where the showerhead attaches to the shower pipe. This type of leak may cause water to drip or spray from the back of the showerhead. Here are some simple ways to keep your showerhead from leaking, while delivering maximum performance:
- Remove the showerhead and soak it in vinegar to remove mineral buildup; recommended once a year.
- Replace the washer or “O” ring inside the showerhead to create a tighter connection.
- Apply Teflon tape or plumbers putty to the thread of the shower pipe stem before reinstalling the showerhead to prevent leaks
Claim your free Showerhead
New and improved showerheads deliver great performance at efficient flow rates of 1.5 gallons per minute or less while saving thousands of gallons of water per year (compared to 2.5 gallons per minute). Our free showerheads meet EPA WaterSense® standards and can be claimed by visiting SFPUC Customer Service to or by scheduling a Water-Wise Evaluation.
As a general rule, showerheads that were manufactured and installed before 1994 should be replaced. Older models could be using more than three times the amount of water.
If you think you have a more serious leak, contact a plumbing professional. Or, if you’re a renter, report any suspected leaks to your landlord or property manager.
The Environmental Protection Agency has partnered with manufacturers to make it easier to identify water efficient fixtures, just look for products with the WaterSense® logo to save money and water!
Water Meter Plumbing Leak
Water use is measured by a meter which is usually located on the sidewalk in front of your home.
New automated water meters are now in place for nearly all of San Francisco’s 178,000 water accounts. This new technology transmits hourly water use data to our billing system by wireless network. For properties with automated water meters installed, customers now have easy online access to bill and water use information with our customer website, My Account.
Registered My Account users can also download detailed daily and monthly water use reports. This accurate and frequent water usage information allows you to monitor use and identify possible leaks faster than was possible with the previously used manually-read meters by reviewing your hourly water usage.
In order to prevent personal injury and damage to SFPUC equipment, water meters should only be accessed by skilled SFPUC field staff. To request a courtesy site visit from an SFPUC representative contact our Customer Care Center at (415) 551-3000. This site visit will include a check of your water meter as well as additional information about how the meter registers and transmits water usage information.
Hidden Plumbing Leaks
There are many causes for hidden plumbing leaks. If you can’t see dripping or a constant stream coming from a particular fixture, a good place to start looking is your toilets, the most common household leak. We can help you learn more about identifying leaks and provide standard toilet repair parts during a free Water-Wise Evaluation.
Water Meter CheckFor simple, do-it-yourself instructions on repairs for household plumbing fixtures call (415) 551-3000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to order the Practical Plumbing Handbook.
When do I need to call a plumber?
- When making repairs to leaks between the meter and the home or in the water supply line
- If you suspect leaking on a large appliance such as the water heater or dishwasher
- If you think you might have a blind leak and need help addressing it immediately, call a plumber right away.