HIGH WATER BILLS

Ignoring a leak is the same as flushing money down the toilet

We’ve recently seen an increase in calls about suspected water leaks due to higher water bills and thought it might be time to offer some tips about identifying active leaks and water conservation. A high water bill often indicates an active leak, usually in a toilet or somewhere underground in your yard, but this isn’t always the case. We’ve seen an influx in calls where there are no leaks in the plumbing system, but the customer believes this is the only explanation for their high bills. This article attempts to address some common concerns and explain what we think is going on in most of these mystery cases.

WHAT ARE YOU ACTUALLY PAYING FOR?

Let’s start by reviewing just what you are paying for when you get your water bill. Unless you have a private septic system your water bill includes your water usage and an additional charge for sewage disposal. Sewage can not be metered independently and is charged completely on your water consumption. This means you are charged for sewer treatment on water even when it isn’t going down your drain. When watering your lawn you are paying for a sewage service that you aren’t actually using for that water since it is going into the ground instead of your drain system. If you use a lot of water that isn’t actually being dumped into your drain system you may see a savings by installing a second water meter that is dedicated to irrigation and can avoid the sewage charges. Adding a second meter requires a meter fee and the initial cost to install the tap from the water company isn’t cheap. You also have to consider the cost of connecting that new meter to an irrigation system. It isn’t always worth the investment, but may be worth researching if you have some water hungry landscaping.

RATES HAVE INCREASED

Spartanburg water raised their rates last year and customers are now paying more for every 1oo gallons of water used than they were the year before. This issue has been compounded since many billing cycles were changed from monthly to bi-monthly around the same time as the rate increase. People have noticed this dramatic change in expense, but haven’t always noticed the decrease in frequency of those charges. This seems to be the most notable factor that has people questioning their water charges. According to a study produced by Michigan State University scholars, “water rates have increased 41 percent since 2010” nationwide and that trend is expected to continue. The study predicts the number of “households that [may not] afford water and wastewater services could soar to an estimated 40.9 million, or 35.6 percent of all households” by 2022. The only way to keep your water and sewer costs from soaring is going to be through conservation.

CONSERVING WATER

Saving water isn’t as hard as you might imagine. The easiest way save is to remain vigilant and discover, identify, and correct any leaks you may have. Once you have a leak free system, you can focus on upgrading to Energy Star compliant appliances, using low flow fixtures, and maintain best practices such as turning water off when not in use.

Old toilets are the single largest source of wasted water. Older toilet tanks are still around and they can use 5 gallons of water or more per flush. Today’s high efficiency toilets can cut that number down to 1.28 gallons per flush and get the job done just as well. The days of poor performing toilets are gone. Engineers have found ways to do more with less and a good quality toilet is just as reliable at clearing waste as those old water hogs were. Toilets continue to be the most common source of water leaks. If your toilet occasionally fills back up all on its own, you have a leaky flapper. We also find toilets that are running constantly at a slow pace and if your hearing isn’t the greatest it can be easy to miss. You can easily check a toilet for leaks using some food coloring. If you want to test your toilet for leaks just give it a flush and once the tank begins filling up, drop some food coloring into the tank. If you see the color appear in the bowl before you have flushed it again, you know you have a leak.

Get a nice shower head and reduce your consumption from 5 gallons per minute (GPM) down to 1.2 GPM. This will also greatly extend your available hot water and reduce your energy costs to heat it. Lower flow doesn’t mean weaker flow. A good shower head will reduce the volume of water, but give you the same sensation by increasing the pressure of the water spray.

If you do have landscaping that needs watering use a timer and install a rain sensor so you don’t needlessly water while it is raining outside. You can also look into rain collection for some of your irrigation needs by utilizing rain barrels or cisterns. If you are really dedicated you could even look into repurposing your gray water drainage such as washing machine discharge and water from your kitchen and vanity sinks being used to fill your toilets and provide adequate water for flushing.

CHECK YOUR WATER METER

This is a common find inside water meter cans. This one was about the size of a blueberry!

You can quickly assess your home for any active water leaks by looking at your water meter. Most of the homes in our area still have older analog water meters that feature a little gear like wheel that spins whenever you have water flowing through the meter. Digital meters aren’t as easy to read, but you can still check for leaks by following a few simple steps. Our water meters are typically buried in the ground near the street and have a metal lid on top of them. They lid may be round or oval in shape and is usually around 12″ across. I recommend gloves and being cautious when you open the lid, particularly in the summer, as black widow spiders love to make meter cans their home. They are not an aggressive spider and if you do see one just try not to disturb it and it will leave you alone. You can find an excellent how to by clicking here. Note the location of the dial (or the numbers on a digital meter) and make sure you don’t use any water for about 20 minutes. If the meter shows any changes over that time period, you are leaking water somewhere and should give us a call. If the meter hasn’t budged you are in good shape and can start looking for ways to lower your consumption.