As a water department representative, I was often sent to homes and businesses complaining of high water bills. Many times the customer would meet me at the door and say; “My bill is higher now then it was in mid-summer, and I’m not even watering now. There must be something wrong with the water meter. I have no leaks.”
Having worked in the water department for many years, I would explain this is highly unlikely. Water meters used to measure consumption in residential homes and small businesses are positive displacement meters. This means water must move through the meter for the meter to advance. It is impossible for the meter to move without water going through it. The water must be going somewhere.
First Thing to Check
First, take a look at the water meter. All water meters have a small needle, triangle or similar gauge on them referred to as a usage indicator. The indicator turns as water is being used. If no water is being used, there should be no movement on the water meter. None was so ever! Remember, it takes water going through the meter to make it move. If it is moving and no one or no device (IE: ice maker) is using water in the home, you have a leak.
Perhaps upon initial observation you find the meter is not moving. Take a moment to mark the usage indicator with a pencil, or a piece of tape. Wait a little while and check the meter again. If you haven’t turned any water on in the home, the usage indicator should be in the exact same place it was when you marked it. If it is not, water has moved through the meter and you have a leak some place.
Finding that Water Thief
Remember, at one time, water was the cheapest utility of them all. But those were the old days. Aging under ground infrastructure, population growth, pollution, EPA regulations, climate change, drought and scarcity of water have forced communities to invest in their water plants, replace water mains, and improve their treatment of sewage. All drive the cost of clean, drinkable water up.
A little drip on a faucet, which could be ignored years ago, can drive the cost of your bill up 20 or 30 dollars a month very easily today. If that drip is hot water, it is also running up your gas or electric bill. Remember, that drip is dripping 24 hours a day, 30 days a month. It doesn’t take much of a leak to run your bill up. And don’t forget that is on top of your normal usage. Fix those drips and your wallet and budget will thank you for it.
The biggest water thief of all however is sneaky and often quiet: The toilet. Many times the homeowner will never notice this thief stealing right from the monthly budget. Toilets are by far the biggest problem when it comes to high water bills. They can use water without being detected and often run up the water bill with little notice. They can also slowly run your bill up using a little more water each month as their efficiency and correct operation degrades.
Toilets – The Quiet Water Thief
Most toilets use a tank filled with water awaiting the next flush. When the toilet is flushed, water flows from the tank into the bowl and the weight of the water opens the flap valve in the drain of the bowl. The sewage and water go down the drain, the flapper closes, and the tank on the back of the toilet begins to fill with water again, waiting for the next flush.
However, toilets that are stealing water often don’t work so perfectly. Sometimes the float that is supposed to turn off the water supply when the tank reaches a certain level will stick, causing the customer to “giggle” the handle. Many times the float is set too high and needs adjusting, causing the water level in the tank to run into the over flow. And some times, the flapper at the bottom of the toilet doesn’t seal properly and water will escape the tank and go into the bowl slowly, eventually causing the float to drop and the water supply to fill the tank again.
Imagine this cycle happening over and over again, day in and day out, 30 days a month. Perhaps it started out slow and you never noticed because the toilet only cycled unnecessarily once or twice a day. As the leak progresses, so too will your water bill increase.
An easy way to check your toilet or toilets for leaks is an old tried and true method. Color the water in the tank of the toilet with food coloring. Make the water in the tank colored. Wait a little while. None of the colored water should get into the bowl of the toilet without flushing. If there is colored water in the bowl, your toilet is leaking water and helping to run up your water bill.
Also, if there is no colored water in the bowl when you check, make sure the water in the tank is still as colorful as it was when you began. If the colored water is gone, water is seeping into the over flow and bypassing the bowl.
Lastly, listen for leaks. Water escaping a pipe makes noise. With the house quiet, listen intently for a hissing sound, not just near the toilet but also in all your water use areas.
Remember, water in this day and age is expensive. Repair any drips or leaks you find, check, double check and check again those sneaky toilets, and be conscience about your water usage and you should have no trouble keeping your water bill reasonable.