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Gainesville utility department offers in-home water ‘audits’

POSTED: December 20, 2007 5:02 a.m.
An in-home water audit is not as scary as you might think.

No one shows up unannounced at your door in a suit with a stern face and a briefcase, demanding proof of your water expenditures and more money. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

Brian Wiley and Scarlet Fuller, Gainesville’s environmental monitoring coordinator and water conservation specialist, only come in if they are invited. They bring gifts like faucet aerators and toilet displacement bags that conserve water and cut down on water bills.

They would rather call what they do a "water assessment."

"We like to stay away from the term ‘water audit,’" Fuller said of the service. "It scares people, makes them think about their taxes."

The assessments are a service Gainesville’s Public Utilities Department offers to its customers to help them save water. The department offers the service as a part of Gainesville’s drought-response resolution.

The Times tagged along during Wiley and Fuller’s Nov. 30 assessment of the home of TV18 Program Manager Ronny Childs. The assessment resulted in the discovery of a toilet bowl leak, and may have saved Childs from future water bill woes.

When the assessment team arrived, Childs shared some of his water saving procedures with them. Childs said he had been taking shorter showers and catching water from the shower in a tea pitcher for later use.

"We’re really making a conscious effort to conserve," Childs said.

Still, there was an apparent problem at his home, because his water use had more than doubled in one month, Fuller said.

Wiley and Fuller were on the case, searching every possible culprit for the high water bill. Wiley requested that the meter be read again, and then went searching for leaks.

He and Fuller placed blue dye tablets in the tanks of all five of the toilets in Childs’ house. If blue water showed up in the bowl, it could explain why Childs’ water use had increased. A few days later, when Childs re-administered the test on his own, he found a leak in one of his downstairs toilets.

Fuller took an inventory of all of Childs’ plumbing fixtures and water-using appliances. Fuller asked Childs about the
number and age of faucets, showers and outside spigots at the home.

Childs’ house had most of the same plumbing fixtures installed in 1982 when the house was built. Utilities officials have said that any plumbing devices before 1993 are high-flow fixtures.

Fuller and Wiley put aerators on the faucets in Childs’ house, at no cost, that reduced the gallons per minute flowing out of them in half.

Wiley advised Childs to stop using his garbage disposal, because the appliance is a large water user.

Wiley and Fuller answered any questions Childs had about water conservation, explained to him how to wrap his outside water lines and placed water displacement bags in his toilets.

The bags, if filled with water and placed in the tank of Childs’ 1980s toilets, save one gallon of water per flush.

Wiley said all the measures the assessment team takes are good for long-term water conservation.

"The days of free-for-all water use; I don’t think that’ll ever happen again," Wiley said.

Wiley is familiar with all the measures he takes to conserve water in other people’s homes, he said.

"I don’t push anything I don’t put in my own house," Wiley said.



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