Meet the ‘leak detectors’ . . . and their wooden listening stick

Scott Walker, leak detective at United Utilities
Scott Walker, leak detective at United Utilities
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A crack team of leak detectives has tracked down and plugged more 18,000 hidden pipe leaks in the North West over the past 12 months - thanks to a device that has been used since the Victorian era.

The 140 strong team from United Utilities saved an average of 900 million litres of water using wooden ‘listening sticks’, which work like an ear trumpet to give clues to where leaks are.

The long wooden sticks with an ear-trumpet style end vibrate when a leak is detected, producing a distinctive sound. They have been used for more than 100 years and are still a staple for modern leakage engineers.

Many of the most wasteful leaks are underground and hidden from view, requiring the team to rely on good hearing, old fashioned know how and latest digital technology to find them.

Digital sensors and remotely operated pressure monitoring equipment are also used to turn the tide on hidden leaks.

Many leaks are detected late at night, when reduced traffic noise makes it easier to hear the sound of escaping water.

Hannah Wardle, United Utilities leakage manager said: “We’ve spotted and stopped thousands of leaks over the past 12 months, using a combination of tried and tested, old fashioned techniques, and cutting edge technology.

“These leaks are often hidden under the streets, with no visual signs that water is being wasted. We track many of them down at night, when it’s easier to hear the escaping water.

“We encourage our customers to save water around the home, as it makes good economic and environmental sense. Our nightly battle against hidden leaks is a way of keeping our own house in order.”

Members of the public who spot leaks in the road or footpath can report them to United Utilities by filling in a leak form on the company’s website - unitedutilities.com - or by calling 0800 330033.