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Water surges in house pipes – an ACTEW problem?/ any ideas?

By BrassRazoo - 21 June 2010 10

For about a year we have been in contact with ACTEW about a water surge that occurs from time to time in the pipes of our freestanding suburban home, apparently originating from the ACTEW system outside our property (we are not using water at the time), but registering three or four units on our water meter and sounding like a flush of several seconds ended by a water hammer-like sound of a tap turning off. 

After a surge commences there is usually a similar event  at regular intervals – usually anywhere between ten and thirty minutes for say two to three hours at any time of the day, but every 3 or 4 minutes one night the week before last between the hours of about 2300 and 0300 – sheer torture.

We have not had abnormal water use and sometimes may go for weeks without being troubled, so it is unlikely there is a leak within our property that is being ‘topped up’ by the pressure of the system – and three or four units on the meter appears to be bugger all (compared with over 60 for a load of washing, but of course it all adds up). We do share a line with the house next door to the main water pipe across the road, but next door activity has been ruled out – why would anyone turn a tap on and off at regular intervals for hours during the middle of the night and why in any case should it register on our meter?  However, we do recall that some years back during summer nights we would sometimes hear in our water pipes what appeared to be sprinklers operating.

ACTEW claims to be bamboozled by ‘our’ problem, but has suggested it might have something to do with say, sprinklers at a nearby school (but there are a few hundred metres and many houses between), our evaporative cooler (would think highly unlikely as it is only operated during the peak of summer heatwaves) and does not think it worthwhile replacing our meter (one of the new type installed just a couple of years ago).  The initial suggestion by an ACTEW crew who fitted our water meter with a household type ‘water hammer valve’ (made no difference) that we should replace all our washers was scotched by their technical people who called by (when we were out as it happened) and checked out our hot water heater, noted the evaporative cooler on the roof and talked with the people next door, but have had nothing further to add apart from asking us to keep a log of events.

OK, this is not in the same league as half the world not having fresh water, but it is bloody annoying  at best, torture during the middle of the night, and we probably shouldn’t have to put up with it in suburban Canberra in 2010. 

Any ideas or similar experiences?

(From asking around it appears that in newer suburbs all homes have their own line to the main water pipe in their street. Obviously ACTEW would not be too keen having to retro instal a dedicated line to even a small number of properties.  It has also been claimed that some of the recent batches of water meters have had to be replaced.)

What’s Your opinion?


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10 Responses to
Water surges in house pipes – an ACTEW problem?/ any ideas?
BrassRazoo 11:12 am 29 Jun 10

Thanks again Ags. Early on I asked ACTEW whether they might have been boosting pressure locally, but they said that our area is supplied purely by gravity feed (from a reservoir somewhere nearby I presume). I’ll further investigate our neighbours to see if I can find whether anyone might be running their own pump to maintain pressure for whatever reason (hopefully not irrigating an illegal crop or manufacturing process). And yeah, we do pay our bills on time, including the so called ‘supply charge’ component, so I’ll ask that our neighbour’s shared line is fitted with an arrestor for a start.

Ags 7:44 pm 28 Jun 10

Happy to help,

Firstly, I left Actew about 7 years ago and have never seen the ‘spinning top’ arrestor that you mentioned. Yes, you should ALWAYS put arrestors on both houses of a shared line.

Surging or ‘water pressure fluctuation’ is usually caused by a pump cutting in and out.
There are a few places in canberra that have a pumping station to boost pressure in low areas,or as I have mentioned it could be at a residentional/commercial property in your area.

Many many years ago Actew did run dedicated lines in these situations but this is costly a exercise by the time you dig it up, ‘tap the main, cut the road, run the pipe etc…
This practise also ceased because ‘by law’ all water pipes are to be laid 90 degrees to the watermain. If you cut the pipe where the “T” junction is and run yourself a new line, your neighbours pipe is no longer at 90 degrees. It took an engineer to work that one out.
You see Actew is no longer a public service, it is a business that needs to make money.

I am sure Actew would be happy to do it if you paid, but I wouldn’t. Why should you pay the same water bills as everyone else but not get the service.

BrassRazoo 10:37 pm 27 Jun 10

Ags – my belated thanks for your helpful comments.

When these events start they usually repeat at precise intervals (every 3, or 10, or 17 mins etc) so we’ve been able to have one person standing by the meter and another person inside – and sure enough the meter advances as the surge is heard inside. It’s really a surge rather than your usual water hammer [I’ve lived in units where the water hammer has been quite violent]. In fact, the ‘water hammer/ tap turning off effect’ at the end of the surge is really quite mild and can only be heard with an ear against a wall (unlike the surge). And I’ve never heard of a water hammer occurring every 3 or 4 minutes between 2300 and 0300 as happened a few weeks ago (and only two short series of events since).

We and everyone else around here had a new meter installed a couple of years ago as part of a scheduled ACTEW replacement program. ACTEW has fitted an arrestor (a small ‘spinning top’ shape with a bicycle tube type valve on the top which we were told to pump every now and again – to no avail) and given our shared line I will ask whether they should be doing likewise to our neighbour’s meter. I did hear somewhere – not from ACTEW – that occasionally ACTEW has had to provide a dedicated line (across the street to the main line) when problems occur with the shared arrangement – whether this is true or not I don’t know and it would obviously be a costly proposition for them – are you aware of this occurring?

Thanks again.

Ags 9:50 pm 24 Jun 10

I used to work for the said department on a water crew and have delt with water hammer hundreds of times. I must say that water hammer is a very tricky thing to trace.

Firstly I have a few questions.

When you have the ‘surge’ did you run out to the water meter to see it moving although you are not using water? because it only takes seconds to register 3 to 4 units.
Have you spoken extensively with your neighbours about their water activities? I once chased water hammer 4 houses away on the opposite side of the street.
In my experience water hammer is caused by several things.

1. Anything with a soldnoid….ie. washing machine, dishwasher, newer hot water units.
2 Installing anything new…eg. tap washer, water meter, any water appliances.
3. Loose pipes.
These 3 things make a banging noise.
4. Ticking noise usually is a water meter ticking over. Could be several houses away.

As I said before it could be a few houses away that have the hammer. Water noise can travel through the pipes a long distance.

If you are on a dual system with your neighbour, did ACTEW install a new water meter and hammer arrestor to both houses. They should have. And what type did they install, was it the type that is incorporated inside the outlet union or the older, better type that looks like a dildo. (sorry but thats what it looks like)

Chasing water hammer is best done by eliminating one thing at a time and do keep a log book of your findings and noise times as this will help piece it all together.

Good luck…..Keep hassling ACTEW…..

BrassRazoo 12:20 pm 21 Jun 10

And no, we don’t have irrigation… but some of our neighbours do, as well as the odd pool.

BrassRazoo 12:18 pm 21 Jun 10

And thanks Troll – we usually have the tap to the evap cooler turned off April to October and do not switch the unit on, but I’ll give it more thought and also try to test each tap etc one by one as you suggest. Any idea what the solenoids could be associated with during the middle of the night?

BrassRazoo 12:11 pm 21 Jun 10

Thanks for your comments grundy and andy. We’re on a corner block, but not being near the margins of our suburb think it would be unlikely we’d be at the end of the main. Not only are we being driven crazy during surges, but also paying for it, albeit in a whole lot of 3-4 unit meter increments. The strange thing is we might not hear anything for weeks and our water usage certainly doesn’t suggest a leak. ACTEW hasn’t been able to attend on the couple of occasions they’ve been invited during a surge session (and I’ve made it clear we would not want their crew to be diverted from an emergency). It’s getting to the stage where we may need to engage a ‘forensic plumber’ (ha!) and send the bill to ACTEW if the problem is shown to come from outside our block.

In the meantime, does anyone have any idea what sort of equipment operates by being turned on and off at regular intervals in stretches of up to four hours, sometimes during the small hours?

(and we’ll continue to pay our rates, including the service supply charge….)

troll-sniffer 11:47 am 21 Jun 10

Do you have irrigation?

The evap cooler sounds like it is a prime suspect. Have you tried turning off the stop cock that provides water to the unit? You could turn it off right through until October now and that would give a clue I would think.

The noises you are hearing sound a lot like solenoids somewhere. I can’t think of any way that it could be adding to your meter readings unless it was on your property, an event outside your meter won’t affect a reading as far as I am aware.

On the assumption that it is in your place you can slowly troubleshoot by locating the various switches and taps that go to each of the water connections in your house, and as soon as you hear an event starting, turn off each stop cock and/or power in turn. If the noise stops, you have a chance you have found your problem.

andym 10:48 am 21 Jun 10

Are you at the end of main? Most mains tend to loop but some end at a dead end. Are you one of those? It would be more suceptible to pressure variations from external sources I think.
Does your meter still show water usage even when you are sure all taps etc are off. Measure over a few hours – would indicate a leak or is someone else tapping your water (water theft)?

grundy 9:46 am 21 Jun 10

Sounds like when someone sticks on a dish washer…. but who knows why you’re hearing it!
Makes the pipes bang when the water is turned full open to full off at the start of the dish washing cycles.

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