When Baby Wipes Won't Cut It

I used to have a strange fascination with the car wash. It seems weird, but so does my childhood dream of owning a balloon, bike and gun shop, so it’s easier to not ask questions. I just know I really enjoyed going to that car wash next to the snowball stand.

What I remember most is going through in my mom’s Oldsmobile, which, as the name suggests, was quite old. So old, in fact, that water used to leak through the top of the doors.

Anytime we went through the car wash, my mom would hand my brother and me empty baby wipe containers. We were instructed to hold them like buckets where the door window met the roof, carefully collecting any water that made its way through. Our everyday life, it should be noted, didn’t mirror The Beverly Hillbillies. Just this.

As kids, the do-it-yourself rainwater reclamation system was a barrel of laughs. For my mother—who no doubt wanted to sit in the front seat like a normal person rather than hoarding empty baby wipe containers in the car—it was a pain. But it was manageable.

While my mother was able to MacGyver her way out of spending an arm and a leg to get the leak in her Oldsmobile fixed, apartment owners aren’t so lucky. For those who are operating such costly assets, baby wipe containers just won’t cut it.

When faced with the tiny but expensive problem of pinhole leaks in copper and galvanized steel piping—a frequent occurrence caused by galvanic corrosion—many Independent Rental Owners (IROs) are spending thousands of dollars to re-plumb entire units.

IRO Frank Barefield was experiencing as many as 30 leaks per month at a community when he decided to seek a more cost-effective solution. Today he uses a powdered compound and system that has eliminated the need for re-plumbing, reducing the number of leaks to five to seven per month.

To use the product, known as Leak Guardian and manufactured by FLO-TEC, a storage tank must first be installed on the water line. A supply of powder is placed in the tank, where the powder is dissolved. A pump then injects the powder into the water line, coating the inside of the pipes as water passes through the line.

The product—a non-toxic, inorganic, crystalline chemical—creates a film in the pipe that isolates, suspends and inactivates most metallic ions in water and stops further eroding. Once in the pipes, the compound continues to control metallics in the water.

After the initial water testing and equipment installation—which costs approximately $2,000 for a 45-gallon tank that serves 100 to 150 units—the manufacturer’s maintenance technician will check and refill the tank two to four times per month for $400 to $450 per month per tank. Not as cost-effective as my mother’s solution—which could be found next to the diapers at Walmart—but reasonable nonetheless.

Owners must monitor the tank at least once a week and recharge it with the prescribed amount of powder Otherwise, if the tank runs dry, pinhole leaks will again appear. Barefield says the plastic tanks should last indefinitely. The pumps inside the tanks can last can seven to 12 years or more.

The same can be said for baby wipe containers.

For information about cost-effective solutions for pinhole leaks, check out IRO Insider in the October issue of units, which mails Oct. 8.