The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the average American family uses 300 gallons of water per day — enough to fill a 6-person hot tub. The average American water bill is $70.39 per month (depending on where you live — bigger cities and cities in the hot, dry West tend to have the highest water bills). Nothing can be more of an unpleasant shock, or a wreck to your monthly budget, than to see that your normal water bill has suddenly spiked. The first thing that comes to mind is “What happened? What did I do differently this month?” Here are some ways to investigate what’s behind that surprise bill.
Causes of a high water bill
An unusually high water bill is most often caused by a leak or a change in water use. Some common causes of high water bills include:
- A leaking toilet, or a toilet that continues to run after being flushed (most common)
- A dripping faucet (a faucet drip can waste 20 gallons or more of water a day)
- Filling or topping off a swimming pool
- Watering the lawn, new grass or trees (typically higher in summer)
- Irrigation systems (check automated systems; you may need to reprogram)
- Kids home for summer vacation or school holidays, or houseguests
- Water-cooled air conditioners
- A broken water pipe or obvious leak (check the pipes and water heater in the basement or crawlspace)
- Water softener problems (cycles continuously)
- Running the water to avoid frozen water pipes during cold weather
- Service line leaks between your water meter and your home; check for wet spots in your yard
- Changes in water pricing (If all else fails and there are no leaks or other reasons you can discern, call the water company and ask whether this might be the case; they’ll also be able to tell you whether your water meter is malfunctioning; be sure to check your water meter’s “tattletale” dial for movement — if it’s moving, so is water)
How to lower your water bill
Here are some things you can do if your bill is higher than usual:
- Ensure that faucets are completely turned off and not dripping.
- Ensure that any leaks in pipes are quickly repaired.
- Keep in mind that the most common cause for a high water bill is running water from your toilet. A continuously running toilet can waste up to 200 gallons a day or more depending on the volume flowing down the drain. This can cause a terrible increase to a family’s typical water use, so fix toilet leaks as soon as possible. Some leaks are easy to find, such as a dripping faucet or running toilet. You can usually hear a running toilet, but not always.
- Avoid continuously running water when washing dishes, shaving, brushing teeth, etc.
- Avoid running a half-full washing machine and dishwasher.
- Avoid overwatering a garden.
- Install low-flush toilets. These low-flow yet high-efficiency toilets use 1.28 to 1.6 gallons per flush.
Do‐it‐yourself toilet assessment — by using food coloring
If your toilet is leaking or running, first check for the most common leak: a deteriorated or defective flush valve (flapper) ball at the bottom of the toilet tank. If it does not make a tight seal, water will leak into the toilet bowl. To check for a leaky toilet, follow steps 1 through 4:
- Take the lid off the tank behind the bowl, flush the toilet, then wait for it to fully refill.
- Put a few drops of dye or a colored dye tablet (food coloring works well) in the tank. Wait at least 20 minutes, or longer if you suspect it is a small leak.
- If there is any color in the toilet bowl, there is a leak.
- The second-most common type of leak has to do with an improperly adjusted or broken fill (ball cock) valve. To check for this, take the lid off of the toilet tank, flush, and see whether water is draining into the overflow tubes when the tank is full.
What if you have unexplained high water usage?
If you’ve looked and listened for leaks and called the water company to check your meter and/or bill, and you still haven’t resolved or located the issue, it might be time to call in a professional. A diagnosis by a plumber can usually be done within the first hour, so the cost would include a service call plus trip charge (if the contractor has a show-up fee).
Get a remote diagnosis with Anew
If a water bill continues to increase, it might be symptomatic of a more serious issue, and you might want to consider hiring a professional. Anew offers an easy, efficient and affordable repair service with remote diagnosis for only $20.
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