While it’s cold, focus indoors on saving money and avoiding headaches

While it’s cold, focus indoors on saving money and avoiding headaches

A cold, rainy winter may prevent many outdoor activities, which means it is a perfect time to focus on what you can do indoors to decrease extra expenses that may arise if home maintenance is ignored. It’s also a good time to consider what you shouldn’t dispose of down your drains or in the trash can or dumpster. 

Look out for leaks

A water leak can not only waste a precious resource but cost you a lot of extra money on your water bill. Small leaks can also turn into bigger leaks and cause damage to your home. The sooner you address the issue, the better. The good news is that the fix for many leaks is easily done without calling a plumber.  


The first method of determining if your home has leaks is to monitor your water bill. Unusual changes in gallons used could be the first sign of a leak in your system. The Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense website notes that if you have a family of four using more than 12,000 gallons of water per month, you may have a water leak.

One of the most common sources of water leaks are toilets. The EPA estimates a leaking toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water per day, which is equivalent to flushing your toilet an extra 50 times per day. Tablets available at many hardware or home improvement stores can help you determine if you have a leaky toilet. Simply drop one or two tablets into the toilet tank. After 15 to 30 minutes, if you see dye in the toilet bowl, your toilet flapper is allowing water to drain into the toilet.

To fix a leak like this, home-repair-central.com recommends determining if the problem is with the flapper or the valve. Fixing the flapper is much easier, so it is recommended to try this first. You can get more tips and advice on the process here. If the leak is still present, valve repair instructions are available here. More skill is needed for a valve repair. The Home Repair Central website also offers estimates of how much it may cost to get a professional to fix the problem.

Also, check your home for dripping faucets or showerheads. The amount of water may seem trivial, but it can really add up over time. The EPA’s WaterSense website says a leaky faucet that drips at a rate of one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons per year, the same amount of water needed to take more than 180 showers. A showerhead leaking at a rate of 10 drips per minute wastes more than 500 gallons per year, equal to the amount of water needed to wash 60 loads of dishes in your dishwasher.

Leaky faucets can be fixed by checking the faucets' washers and gaskets for wear and replacing them as needed. If the faucet itself needs to be replaced, look for a WaterSense label. Many leaky showerheads can be fixed by making sure the connection is tight using pipe tape and a wrench. Likewise, if you decide to replace the showerhead, look for the WaterSense designation.

The EPA website estimates that the average household’s leaks can account for more than 10,000 gallons of water wasted every year, or the amount of water needed to wash 270 loads of laundry. The EPA further notes that 10 percent of homes leak 90 or more gallons of water each day.

A do-it-yourself website, FamilyHandyMan.com offers tips on finding leaks in your home and advice on repairing those leaks. If you aren’t sure you want to take on the task of fixing a leak yourself, hiring a plumber might cost money now, but can save you a lot of money in the long run.

Beware of drain disasters

It’s important to remember grease is plumbing’s biggest enemy, clogging pipes in your home and down the line, which can lead to expensive repairs. Pouring fats, oils and grease down the drain can also cause major disruptions in municipal wastewater treatment systems and could have a negative effect on the quality of our drinking water.

Here are some tips for dealing with fats, oils and grease:

•    Don’t strain the drain. Even if you use a detergent that claims to dissolve grease, it can still build up in the system and cause problems later.
•    Pour oil and grease into a container that can be closed with a lid, such as a coffee can, or if it is not too hot, a sealable plastic bag or container.
•    Wipe greasy pots, pans, dishes and utensils with a paper towel before putting them in the dishwasher or rinsing them in the sink.
•    Place any leftover greasy food items in the trash instead of putting them down the kitchen sink's waste disposal.


What to do next

Once you’ve collected grease in containers, it can be recycled. Internet searches will provide sites for grease recycling stations near you. If you can’t find any online, contact city hall in your community or county government offices to see if there are any cooking grease and oil recycling programs in your area. 

Flushing the wrong thing can cost you

Many times, people flush items down the toilet without thinking it through, which can cause problems for their home’s plumbing. Flushing the wrong thing down the toilet can not only affect your home’s structure but can create huge problems for your local wastewater systems or, in some cases, even your future drinking water.

Toilets definitely should not be treated as trash cans. One of these “unflushables” are baby wipes. Baby wipes or prepackaged moist wipes, which some manufacturers previously called flushable, are among the items that should not be discarded in commodes.

Donald Malovets, a regional maintenance superintendent for the Brazos River Authority, said wipes should not be flushed because “they are not biodegradable. This can cause massive buildup and create clogs in manholes and lift stations that bring waste to the wastewater plant for treatment,” Malovets said.  

“They come together, clog the pumps and cannot pass through which causes inefficient pumping and vibration to the pumps that can lead to damage,” he said. “This can lead to extensive labor and repair costs when staff have to go in and manually remove the clogs. Increased maintenance and pump equipment replacement costs could result in higher sewer rates for customers.”

You should also avoid flushing old prescription drugs. Wastewater systems are not designed to remove prescription drugs from drinking water. As a result, trace amounts of many different types of prescription drugs have been found in drinking water that will then be consumed and absorbed into the human body.

In an investigation by the Associated Press that was cited by Web MD, drinking water supplies in 24 major metropolitan areas were found to include traces of pharmaceutical drugs. Although the levels are low and utility companies say the water is safe to drink, there are potential risks. Sarah Janssen, a doctor and science fellow with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the scientific community has recognized pharmaceuticals such as oral contraceptives are present in wastewater and potentially contaminate drinking water.

Scientists have linked oral contraceptives in the water to biological changes in fish.

Dr. Janssen said there is some concern “because hormones work at very low concentrations in the human body.” However, she added that “we don’t want people to be alarmed and think they can’t drink their tap water or that they shouldn’t be drinking water.” 

She said further EPA studies are needed. However, you can help make a difference now by making sure old prescription drugs are not flushed down the toilet.

Watch what you trash

You may wonder why certain items are not accepted by your local trash collection agency or landfill. The answer is that many items are hazardous to your health. And, though they may seem to be contained in a landfill, these items can leak hazardous material that may eventually end up in your drinking water.  

Things that can’t be disposed of in the trash can include oil and paints, batteries, old medicines and fluorescent light bulbs. Many of these items are collected on special hazardous waste collection days sponsored by your city or county government. Other items have specific collection programs that are ongoing. For example, batteries can be recycled at various retail collection sites. You can also call 1-800-8-Battery for information about where to drop off batteries.

Fluorescent and compact fluorescent light bulbs contain small amounts of mercury, so old bulbs should not be thrown away. They can be taken to participating Home Depot locations. For other places to dispose of old light bulbs, go to Earth911.com.

Environmental experts say that one gallon of motor oil can contaminate 1 million gallons of fresh water. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality notes that it is illegal to dump motor oil on land or in sewers or waterways. Many communities have motor oil recycling programs for safe disposal.

While disposing of items properly can take a little extra effort, it’s worth it to protect our water resources and the environment and help keep your family and the community safe.