Customers call CopperStone Plumbing after receiving a high water bill. Sometimes it creeps up a little at a time and sometimes the bill shoots up suddenly
How do you determine what is causing your bill to be high? Is it due to usage or do to a leak? You have two very helpful tools to help you search.
- Your meter
- Your water bill
Most meters are located outside of the home. The meter is usually in the yard or close to the curb and has a cover over the meter pit.
The first thing to do is determine if the leak is inside your home or outside. Once the meter is located you need to be able to see and read the meter. If the meter pit is full of standing water, you will need to pump out the water so you can read the meter.
Once you are comfortable reading the meter, shut the water off. Once you have shut the water off to the home, open a faucet inside the home to make sure the shut-off valve is completely holding. There may be some residual water in the pipes and it will come out of the faucet, but that flow should stop in a few minutes. Once no further water is flowing, you have verified your home shut-off valve is working. Now go back to the meter and check to see if it is registering any flow.
If the meter is moving while you have the water shut off at the home, you have a leak on the service line between the street and the shut-off valve for the home. If the meter is not moving when water to the home is shut off, your water usage or leak is inside the home past the shut-off valve. Turn the water back on to the home and begin following the same steps listed for an inside meter:
- Make sure no water is being used in the home. If the meter continues to move, or if your meter has a red triangle (flow indicator) that continues to move, there is water flow and something is using water.
- Start shutting off water using devices one at a time inside the home. Make sure to include toilets, clothes washers, dishwashers, ice makers/water dispensers, water softeners, irrigation systems, hose bibs, showers and faucets, and hot water heaters. After each water-using appliance or fixture is turned off, check the meter to see if the meter has stopped moving. If it has, you have found the culprit.
- If the meter does not stop moving, you likely have a hidden leak under a slab floor or in a wall.
Where do I find shut-off valves for fixtures and appliances?
1. Toilets – Usually at the bottom and back of the toilet.
2. Clothes Washers – There should be two valves. One for hot, one for cold. They could be behind the washer, on the utility sink or in a recessed box in the wall near the washing machine. Turn both valves off.
3. Dishwashers – Normally under the kitchen sink. It may be near the shut-off for the sink faucets.
4. Ice Makers/Water Dispensers – At the back of the refrigerator, the supply tube connecting the water to the refrigerator has a valve that can be used to stop the water supply.
5. Water Softeners – These valves are usually behind the softener. Commonly, there are shut-off valves for cold water, hot water and a main shut-off. Close all three valves for the meter test.
6. Hose Bibs – There are usually outside hose bibs for garden hoses. The shut-off valve can be inside. Sometimes the valve is behind a wall or in an access panel.
7. Irrigation systems – Irrigation systems have a main shut-off valve where water can be shut off to the entire system. It is usually outside in a pit.
8. Sinks – Most sinks contain shut-off valves near the sink or in the cabinet for the sink.
9. Water heaters- The shut-off valve for the water heater is normally on the pipe bringing water to the tank.
I shut everything off. Nothing is using water. But my water bill is still too high!
Before moving on to analyzing the bill itself, there is one more issue to check. Is there any appliance or fixture, such as a water softener or irrigation system that is on a timer and might have been inactive and therefore not using water when you performed your meter tests? If so, either disable the timer and activate the appliance or fixture to use water now, or set the timer to the current time so the appliance or fixture is actively using water. Check your meter to see that usage is registering and then begin to shut off the valves to the appliance or fixture and check the meter again.
2: Water bill
What your water bill looks like varies from City to City. But most have some items in common. Gather together several months’ bills and begin to analyze your bills.
- Reading Type
Somewhere on your bill, usually in a chart, the type of reading performed is shown. There are normally two types of readings: Actual and estimates. This may be indicated only by an A or E. If your meter is unable to be read, usage is estimated. Sometimes a huge water bill can happen when your meter is read and the estimated usage is much lower than the actual usage shown on the meter. If your bills contain any estimated usage periods, contact your water provider to see why the meter could not be read.
- Unit of Measurement
What unit of measure is used to measure your water consumption? The two most common units of measurement are cubic feet and gallons. One cubic foot of water is equal to 7.48 gallons. Most water providers that measure in gallons set rates based on 1000-gallon units. Your bill will reflect rates per 1000 gallons.
- Service Period
Your water bill will show you the calendar period for the bill and the number of days of service. Compare this to previous periods on previous bills. Some bills have a graph showing your water usage history which will aid you in this analysis. Are your water usage patterns consistent? Is there a month where your usage was abnormal? In the time period for your bill, has there been a one time or unusual event that caused water usage to spike? Did you have guests or an increase in occupancy? Did you fill a swimming pool? Has it been extremely dry causing you to water the landscape more frequently? Did you have a leak, such as a running toilet that has now been repaired? Is the service period different in any of the bills? Service periods can fluctuate due to the number of days in the month or if the meter was read at a different time of the month due to a holiday.
- Water Base Rate and Charge
Few utilities charge only on consumption. There is usually a base rate or charge for anyone able to receive water from the water provider, regardless of the amount of water used. Sometimes this charge includes a certain amount of usage and any additional usage is charged separately. Sometimes the base rate includes no usage and all usage is charged separately. Check with the water provider if this is not clear on your bill. Compare this rate with previous bills. Has there been a change in the base rate?
- Sewer Base Rates and Charges
Most cities charge for sewer on the same bill as water and the sewer charges are based on water usage. There is usually a base rate for sewer just as there is for water regardless of usage. The base rate may or may not include a certain amount of usage. What is your base rate for sewer? Compare this rate with previous bills. Has there been a change in the sewer base rate?
If after performing the meter tests and analyzing your water bill, you find nothing to explain the high water bill, you will want to continue to monitor the incoming bills to understand your usage patterns. If your usage drops back to normal, there must have been a one-time event, such as a faucet being left on or more than normal laundry. If the usage continues to be higher than normal, you should check anything you have on a timer, such as water softeners or irrigation systems that might be cycling longer than you set them for originally. If the home is unoccupied during the day, you might want to cut off the water supply to outside hose bibs in case of unauthorized usage during your absence.
If you are concerned that your water bill is too high simply because you just can’t believe you used the amount of water the meter indicates, you may want your city to test or replace your meter. But, be aware. Meters normally slow down with age (register less water passing through). Rarely do they speed up with age (register more water passing through).
The average American uses around 88 gallons per day per person in the household. That means a family of four would use around 352 gallons per day or 10,560 gallons in a 30-day period. Roughly 70 percent of this usage occurs indoors.
Toilets are by far the main source of water use in the home, accounting for nearly 30 percent of an average home’s indoor water consumption. Older, inefficient toilets that use as much as 6 gallons per flush also happen to be a major source of wasted water in many homes.
Nationally, outdoor water use accounts for 30 percent of household use but can be much higher in drier parts of the country.
Have you identified a probable hidden leak after performing the meter test yourself? The professional technicians at CopperStone Plumbing can find that hidden leak for you.
No one wants to throw money down the drain!