Advice about Water Systems

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Copper vs. PEX Plumbing pipes

Sept 2014

We are looking to replace our old rusty galvanized pipes, and we are trying to decide whether to replace it with copper or PEX pipes. We did some cursory research on both, and will be calling local experienced plumbers to get estimates. However, we would like to hear from the BPN community on your experiences with either of the pipes and your recommendations as well as your referrals of experienced local plumbers. Thanks in advance. Berkeley homeowners

I was asking the same question about 2 years ago. There are some limitations with PEX which result in flow/pressure limitation and there's also issues with making tight bends. While I think PEX is probably alright, I have heard of a few people having leaks with PEX resulting in having to open the wall to fix it. Never heard of that being an issue with copper. As I recall price was about the same. In the end I decided to go with copper. My reasoning was my parents house was all copper and they've NEVER had a problem with it in over 40 years. I would also NOT use the Sharkbite connectors go with solder. If done properly copper will out last you. ANON

How much water do you use?

Sept 2008

I'm curious how much water people use. Our family has been pretty conservative this summer, dropping our usage 17% over last year. We used 201 gallons/day over the past 3 months. Not sure if we should pat ourselves on the back, or try harder to conserve. I know the average American uses 160 gallons/day, but what about the average BPN reader? Water Hog or Water Miser?

Our family of 4 used a total of 60-65 gallons a day over the past 4 months, down from 96 gallons per day in Feb-April since we started trying to conserve -- but I think we're at the low end of things. We have a single-family home with front-loading washer, low-flow shower heads, efficient dishwasher, 1 high- efficiency toilet (and one old guzzler). We have a yard and veggie garden but no lawn, which I think makes a big difference, and I have a rain barrel that covered some of it. I thought there was no room for improvement from the 96/day, but we got the water use test packet from EBMUD and did all the tests (fun for the kids!) and found out our old toilet was leaking ($5 to fix the flapper, plus a new-found knowledge of plumbing), put a water-saving bag (free from EBMUD) in the old toilet tank, little things like that. Plus we don't always flush if it's just pee (''if it's yellow, let it mellow'' -- I know, TMI), save up water from washing/cooking veggies to water plants, etc. I suppose we sound like total hippies, but it hasn't really been that big an adjustment. Water-wise

Excellent question. Our family of 3 (and two pets) used 103 gallons per day for the past three months. This is down from the 269 gallons we used last year for the same period. We got a front load washing machine, and we have shortened our baths and showers, which is how I think we got our water usage down so much. I'm pretty pleased and hope to continue conserving. Anon

We just got our statement and our family of 4 with a green, landscaped 8000 sqrft lawn uses 132 gallons per day. We eat out once in a blue moon, and cook with and drink tap water. We have a toddler (2) and a 4 year old, so we do a lot of laundry. We were using 202 gallons per day at this time last year and dropped it to 177 gal/day the past statement, but we're down to 132 this statement.

Changes we have made - we recycle our bathwater (used for flushing toilets and occasional watering of annuals). We also upgraded our washing machine to a front load in March because our old one died. We water our lawn every 3 days with a sprinkler system. sarah

We are a family of 4, two adults and twins age 2. We use just over 100 gallons a day, around 107-110. We give the girls daily baths and they play outside every afternoon in a kiddie pool with the hose running on the lowest possible drizzle. We hand wash about half our dishes and we use a dish washer for the rest. We do about 4-6 loads of laundry a week (front loader). My husband and I take a shower about every other day. We have a 1/2 acre of land (Orinda) but we do not water any of it. That's right... NONE. We have a tangle of Oaks and brush and lots of hard-scape. Actually we were joking about putting in a small loan because our allocation was significantly raised recently due to the doubling in family size with the birth of our twins. We won't do it, but it's nice not feeling like we need to cut back much more than we already have. Hope that helps. we use what we need

I don't mean to come off like this, but yes, I think you use too much water. We are a family of four and last year from July to Sept we used 196 gal per day. This year over the same time period (yes, I just got the bill), we used 106 gal per day. My vote is for you trying harder. conservation isn't that hard

The good news at our house is we are using half the water we used last summer. The bad news is we were using ~600 gal/day last summer. (!) So our current usage is 340 gal/day. We have 3 adults & 1 kid who take 3 showers/day, daily dishwasher (water saver), daily washing machine (front loader). Our toilets are all water savers. We water plants for only 5 min. three times a week (last year, 12-15 min.) and supplement with graywater. We are working on it! Trying to conserve

Our last water bill said we used 120 gallon/day on average. Our family is one adult, on 5 year old and one 18 month old. To cut back we have been saving water in milk jugs when we run it waiting for the water to get hot and then we use that to water the plants. But with 2 little kids it's often hard to not have water play on the hot days. We are only watering specific plants and the grass has gone brown. We are out of the house to work and school M-F so that by itself cuts back on water usage! Valerie

In the last year, we've used an average of 4 units per billing period (with a rare 3, or sometimes 5). That works out to say 60gal/day.

This is for a one bathroom household of two adults, and a small garden. No dishwasher.

My guess is that our consumption is probably on the very low end.

You can do a few things, other than the obvious (low-flow showerheads, low-flow toilet). Fix any and all leaks. Do this: turn all taps off, and make sure nothing is drawing water. Then go to your water meter and place a toothpick lined up with the needle on the dial. Let about 30-60 min go by, and check to see if the needle has moved.

Having teens at home adds quite a bit.

Install a pressure regulator to your main supply pipe. Where we are, we get about 80 psi from EBMUD, which is about the max pressure allowed. With the pressure regulator we are at about 55-60 psi.

Lay mulch on your yard. Weed control fabric also helps with moisture retention. We give our yard a good soak once every 3 weeks, early in the morning. We grow tomatoes, grapes, roses, so we are not suffering.

You can replace lawn with a groundcover. We love dymondia -- no mowing, very soft (kids love it), spreads out, and very low water requirements. If you have lawn, it will be hard to cut down.

Do full loads of laundry.

Turn off the water while you are brushing your teeth, or when you are scrubbing dishes.

Check that your toilet tank does not leak slowly into the bowl (the blue tablet test).

There is also the Dustin Hoffman school of thought in the movie Meet the Fockers ('if it's yellow let it mellow; if it's brown flush it down'), but that is probably a personal choice.

If you want to cut down indoors, think about the things you do that make water go straight from the tap to the drain. Outside, manage your yard watering carefully. Many of our friends easily get to 300/day because they have these timers that water regularly, but most water seeps into the ground and the frequent watering promotes very shallow roots.

It is great that you are thinking about water usage. We found many people here in Berkeley take it so much for granted. Take a hint from EBMUD's new rate schedules -- under 100gal/day it's a fixed rate, so maybe aim for that. They don't account for the number of people, so you can adjust this for your case. anon

According to our bills, in the past few months (since the drought was declared) we've used about 110-130 gal/day. One bill actually said just 89 per day, but since EBMUD water meters only measure full ''units'', not gallons, it probably didn't reflect the actual daily use (but does average out over time).

We are a family of 3-4 (4 all summer with college kid home). During this drought time, we have completely stopped landscape irrigation - we pour collected water from the shower (while waiting for hot water) and sink (collected while rinsing vegetables, etc.) onto our drought-tolerant trees and perennials. We all shower at home daily (teen son takes excessively long showers; the rest of us try to keep it moderately short, but we do leave the water running while soaping, etc.), wash laundry when it's dirty (though we don't do sheets and towels as often as some folks), and drink and cook with only tap water. We run our dishwasher on most days, but use the ''top-only'' option if we don't have a full load. I try to remember to put most things in the dishwasher rather than more wasteful hand-washing. I never pre-rinse the dishes since we don't have to (my husband sometimes does; his mom trained him too well!). We have one old water-wasting toilet, and a newer one that uses 1.6 gal/flush. All of our faucets have low-flow aerators, and our washing machine (front-loader) and dishwasher (Miele) use less water than most. If my son could stop spacing out in the shower, we could probably get down to 100, especially now that college kid is back at school. saving water for the fishies!

About 100 gallons per day for a family of two adults and two kids in Berkeley. anon

Our family of 2 adults and 1 baby uses anywhere from 50-80 gallons a day total. This is probably lower than most households, but we try to conserve as much as possible. My husband showers every day because he needs to go in to work, I shower every couple of days because I stay at home with the baby and don't have to look great. The baby bathes every day but I use a small tub and water the plants with the water. We catch all of the dish water for the yard, have a front loader washing machine and do all cycles on the quick setting, I trained my baby to pee/poop into the toilet at 2 months old, we have a low flow toilet which we rarely flush, a low flow shower head and I am exploring putting an outdoor shower into the yard. We haven't set up a grey water system although I know many who have, but this would also help with watering the yard and reducing water usage. Its great to reduce water usage even when it is not drought time if you think about how precious a resource it is for many areas around the world. sandy

I, too, would love to see the answers to this one. We are a family of 4 and some months use 350 gal. of water per day! We have a large house, one teen, one pre-teen and a large yard, in Berkeley. I try hard to get the family to conserve, but it's always a struggle, although the increased rates for water hogs are helping provide some incentive. You didn't say how many are in your family, but still, 200 gal/day sounds very reasonable -- pat yourself on the back! Anon and trying to do better

This is scary, 'cause we use 582 gallons/day. Compared to us you're doing great. And we reduced our water consumption by 21% compared to last year. I'm VERY curious to find out what others say. You didn't mention the size of your family, which would have an impact on the overall water usage. We are a family of 5, so our usage per person is 116 gallons/day. joj

We are under 100 gallons/day. Family of 4. Cory

140-150 gallons per day, which I find shocking. And yet I haven't found a way to get below that. Details: small house, one bathroom 3 people drought tolerant front yard small lawn in the back don't flush every time save water from kitchen sink for outdoor plants (just carrying out a few bowl fulls every night, or emptying our old water bottles outdoors.) Elisa

We're a family of two parents, toddler, and baby, and own a house in Berkeley. Our water usage average for July to September was 190 gallons a day. We decreased a bit from last year, I think mostly by watering our garden less frequently, though I also changed how I wash hands and dishes and how often I flush the toilet. Trying my best

You didn't give any details about the size of your house/yard/family and thus it is hard to determine whether you are a water hog or miser. We are a family of four w/ one bathroom and an average backyard which we water almost every day and the bill I got today read 74 gallons per day. This is considerably less than your daily average... we do not flush the toilet every time we go to the bathroom, we save the bathtub water for the plants, we try to take a shower only every other day.... trying to live dry

We use just over 200 gallon/day for a family of 5 in a 2400 square feet house. I'm not sure why we use so much, since we really try to conserve. We water the lawn in the back of the house once a week or less, and don't water much in front of the house (we just directly water some of the trees so they don't die and leave everything else dry). We have a front-load washer. The dishwasher probably isn't very efficient but we can't afford to get a new one. We don't shower every day and the kids don't bathe all that much. We don't flush if it's yellow. I'm thinking we probably have a leak somewhere in the plumbing, but haven't had the time/money to investigate. -anon

Controlled-access water spigot

May 2008

I'm looking for something to attach to a water spigot on our property right off the sidewalk, so people can't walk up to our house and help themselves to our water, but that will still allow us (the homeowners) to access the spigot when we need to. Now that news of water rationing is sounding more like a possibility around Alameda County, my husband and I need to keep close tabs on our household water usage.

Does such a thing exist, if so, what is it called, and where would I find a fixture like this? Ordinarily I would attach one of those things that just closes off the spigot semi-permanently but we do need to access our faucet.

Don't laugh, I'm not being paranoid. Already we've discovered that in recent months that someone had siphoned gas on more than one occasion from my husband's car when it was parked in our driveway (we've since then bought a locking gas cap for his car). I've seen at least one person roaming our neighborhood filling a 5-gallon jug of water from our neighbor's faucet on their property.

Boy, you know times are getting bad when...just be nice to your neighbors, OK? Alameda County homeowner

I think you can get these at Ace or definitely at a plumbing supply and any relatively handy person can install it. Depending on your current shutoff you may be able to adapt what you have. It is a valve with a stem that requires a ''water key''. Sometimes you can just remove the handle from the existing stem and up a water key to turn it on and off. If not you may need to replace the existing valve. The water keys are around $4 and are readily available at Ace but people don't walk around with them in their pockets. At our elementary school, we use them so adults can water the gardens but kids can't have access to the water. Water wise

Aren't there spigots that have a keyed top, like you'd use a wrench to operate it, or stick a metal thingie down into the top where the knob would be on a regular spigot? You know, like the kind of thing you'd have at your gas shut-off? I know I've seen these in institutional settings, such as schools and parks. Maybe a hardware store that caters to commercial contractors (Home Depot?) would be able to help you out. Another alterntive would be a locking box around the spigot. We have a metal box out by our pool that has some circuit breakers nd timers in it. It is a metal, weather-proof box, that has a place to put a physical lock on it. You might be able to find some similar thing for a spigot.

Dark Colored Spigot Water

April 2008

Hi - I made a mistake and hired an unlicensed contractor to remodel my bathroom (dumb I know!). After the ''remodel'', I noticed that when I turn on the water from the tub spiget it is dark for the first few seconds and then runs clear (it looks rusty). This didn't happen before the remodel. What is this? How big a problem is it. Is there a way to get the water tested to make sure it's safe? No More Unlicensed Contractors for Me!

Here are some possibilities:

Water testing: Call EBMUD. They can no doubt recommend a testing service or perhaps give you a list. The UC Extension Service MAY be able to help.

It sounds like rust got knocked loose in an old galvanized pipe. Or...even worse, the Contractor installed rusty pipe. Do you have a way to check what was done, or is it hidden in the wall. You should have either copper or PVC. Galvanized steel is no longer used.

The other possibility is that the new pipe was dirty inside, or was not flushed properly after installation. It should have been disinfected and flushed by the installer.

I assume you do not have a well for your water source? Ray

Water Flow Problem After Pipes Replaced

June 2007

We had some of our old galvanized pipes replaced under the house (including those that come out of the water heater). To our dismay, instead of improving the water flow upstairs, the result has been to DECREASE the water volume and seriously DISRUPT the flow of hot water, for some reason. We know that the water heater holds more than enough water for 3 long hot showers. Yet suddenly after a couple of minutes in the first shower, the hot water begins to turn luke-warm. The temperature on the water heater is up and the first water to come out is hot, so that's not the problem.

We thought it might be debris that was loosened when the pipes were replaced, but we have flushed out the shower by taking off the head with no improvement. Also, I don't see how debris would account for the CHANGE in water temperature over a few minutes.

Can anyone shed light onto this mystery???

Also, would you think that the contractor who replaced the pipes is responsible to fix the problem, which clearly arose after the work?

Thanks! Miss My Old Good Shower

What you're describing isn't a water pressure problem, which is what the new pipes could improve, but rather simply a problem of not enough hot water. Have you checked the thermostat setting on your hot water heater? It sounds like it may be set low, and if that's the case, your problem will be over once you turn it up. Setting it lower is a way to conserve on the gas or electricity it's using, and also a way to remind yourself just how much (expensive!) water you're using! Cece

Might be unrelated. If there are white flakes in your faucet aerators, it's a dip tube failure. Ours failed and it went on forever, with cool showers in chilly weather, until large chunks of white plastic clogged the hot water in our faucets completely. We thought we had a pressure problem and called EBMUD. They accurately diagnosed the problem and BPN- recommended plumbers promptly returned our calls and we have hot showers once again. Depending on the age of the water heater, you either replace the dip tube or the water heater. Good luck troubleshooting the problem. Hot water once again

I would definitely have the contractor come back and look at the work. Although this is a different story we had the pipe outside of our house increased. We developed an awful water hammer in our kitchen whenever we turned on the hot water. After living w/ this for +2 years I had a plumber in for an unrelated issue. I told him about the hammer and he reached down, opened a valve and the problem went away. I can't believe we lived w/ this for so long!!! So, have someone check it out. Anon