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How to Find and plug Commercial Leaks

The Challenge

This story involves a 92-unit condominium that has one commercial unit-owner who rents to a radiology clinic. The building has only one water meter. Last year, a water bill came in at $50,000 for the quarter, when the normal bill is $11,000.

The Solution

The first thing you do in a situation like that is call your resident manager and say, “Do we have any obvious leaks?” You should go through a major checklist. Is the meter broken? Inspect the plumbing. Go around the building to see that faucets are not open. Check the rooftop water tank. Is there a valve open? Is there a leak from the tank? Where is this water loss coming from? We had an outside plumber investigate. And lo and behold, in the radiology clinic, he found that there was a valve open on the water supply to the clinic. The clinic has MRI and CAT scan machines that are water-cooled. But, according to city codes, they should be in a closed loop; the water that cools the machine is supposed to be recycled.

One of the radiology lab’s service people left a drain valve open, so water ran continuously from the city main through our meter and into their system and then down the drain. The plumber came in and saw that drain. We called the clinic people, they sent their technician over to shut that valve, and finally the water usage went down to normal. The clinic made restitution to the condominium for the excess portion, as calculated by our water consultant. The inspection was less than $1,000 with the cost of the meter consultant and the plumber.

The Lesson

Be prepared. We have asked our plumber to prepare an estimate for a submeter. We can’t charge the radiology clinic, because it’s not in the condominium’s bylaws that they pay for their own water. But if we have a submeter, at least we’ll know empirically if they’re using excess water.

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