High Water Bills
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that an average family of four uses about 400 gallons of water every day. That's 146K gallons of water per year for a home with 2,000 square feet. There are currently about 322M people living in the US, and we use about 32B gallons of water every day.
Most of that water (70%) comes from indoor use, and most of that use happens in the bathroom. Outdoor water usage varies significantly by the region of the country. For example, if you irrigate home landscaping in an arid climate, your water bills will reflect higher outdoor water use.
Making Sense of Your Water Bill
If you want to understand why your water bill is high, you must first make sense of your bill. Or you might want to find water conservation opportunities.
Various utility companies differ slightly in the unit of water measurement they use to calculate your water use. Homeowners are most familiar with gallons. However, centum cubic feet (CCF), also known as hundred cubic feet (HCF), is the most common water measurement. There are 748 gallons in 1 CCF.
How the water company measures your water usage also depends on the company and municipality. Your monthly bill usually combines:
- A fixed-rate to cover the neighborhood's costs of the existing water infrastructure
- A variable fee covering your water usage
How Much Should a Water Bill Be?
The average American water bill is $57. Your average water bill depends on where you live. Water rates and utility bills, in general, vary widely from state to state.
Some of the external factors include state and local taxes, type of utility company, and geography. Alaskan residents have the nation's highest accounts at $95/month. Homeowners who live in Wisconsin have the country's lowest at $18/month.
What Uses the Most Water in a House or Apartment?
A toilet can waste the most water in single-family homes and apartments; they account for 27% of indoor water use. The washing machine is a close second at 21%, followed by the shower, bathtub, and faucets. Leaks, in general, account for almost 14% of wasted water in the home.
Here is a breakdown of indoor water use by appliances (that are not high efficiency):
- Toilet = 5 gallons per flush
- Washing Machine = 25 gallons per load
- Shower = 20-40 gallons
- Bath = 30-40 gallons
- Kitchen sink = 20 gallons per day
- Bathroom sink = 15 gallons per day
Why Is My Water Bill So High?
A water leak(s) or spikes in water use is sudden, and leaks may cause unusually high water bills. Before you assume you have a water leak, consider any changes to your water usage for the month.
Do not underestimate the impact of a house guest on your water bill. Remember that every American uses about 100 gallons of water on average every day. Even one extra adult home from college or in-laws on an extended stay can drive up your water bill.
If you notice that your water bill tends to skyrocket in the summertime, look at your irrigation method and frequency. In general, home water usage increases in the warmest months because lawns and landscaping need more water.
Here are more reasons why your water bill could be high:
- Constantly running toilet
- Topping off or filling a swimming pool
- Water-cooled air conditioners
- Malfunctioning water softeners where the water cycles continuously
- Running water in the winter to avoid frozen pipes
- A defective water-powered sump pump
- Washing dishes by hand
Like single-family homes, a high water bill in an apartment could indicate that you have water leaks. Leaks account for 14% of indoor water use. They are common, and renters and homeowners often have no idea they have one until their water bill arrives.
Here are the most common appliances that leak and locations in your home or apartment to check:
- Leaky toilet
- Main service line between your home and the water meter
- Secondary lines that bring water to the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room
- Hot water tank heater
- Ice machine in the fridge
- Irrigation system
- Washing machine
- Garden hose
High Water Bill Due to a Leak, Am I Responsible?
You are responsible for a water leak that caused a sudden high water bill. If you rent, your landlord is responsible. However, the final verdict will depend on your rental lease statement and state laws.
If your rent does not include utilities, most leases stipulate that tenants put accounts in their names. You are then responsible for paying for your monthly use of water, gas, and electricity every month. The landlord must provide you with a residence without defects in the utility infrastructure (e.g., heating, cooling ducts, and water pipes).
The landlord is responsible for fixing water leaks and reimbursing you for wasted water. You must first present your high water bill and a professional's confirmation that a leak in the house exists.
How to Check for Water Leaks
Proactively checking for water leaks will help you avoid a surprisingly high water bill. Here are four ways to inspect your home for indoor and outdoor leaks:
- Check your meter
Your water meter monitors your water usage. It is the same device that the water company taps into when they calculate your bill every month. You can confirm that a leak exists in or outside your home by turning off your water and performing meter readings.
Ensure that the dishwasher and washing machine are not running, and then turn off all the water in your home. Note the numbers on your water meter. Check the meter in an hour and note the numbers. Are they different? If they are, there is a leak somewhere.
To determine if the leak is inside or outside your home, turn off the main water supply that feeds your house. You can find the shut-off valve where water enters your home, probably in a utility room or basement.
Once you have turned off the shut-off valve, note the numbers on your water meter. Wait an hour and recheck them. If the numbers are different, the leak is in the main service line. The leak is inside your home if the numbers are the same.
- Check your lawn
If you do not use chemical or organic fertilizers, and your lawn is still the neighbor's greenest grass, you might have an underground water leak. Patches of especially green grass might also point to the same problem.
- Look under the sink for signs of a leak.
If the water meter test reveals hidden leaks, look for water signals under the kitchen, bathroom, and utility/laundry room sinks. You should check for puddles or heavy condensation around bathtubs and showers as well. If you find small leaks, turn off the water line to that location and call a plumber.
- Perform a toilet dye test
It is often your toilet (especially older toilets) and the rubber flapper in the tank that is the cause. You can do a simple test with food coloring. It confirms whether the flapper allows water to drip into the bowl continuously.
Add a few drops of food coloring to the toilet tank. Check the bowl 5-10 minutes later for any sign of color. If the toilet bowl water is the same color as the food coloring, your flapper is damaged and causing a leak. Call a plumber or replace the flapper yourself.
Will My Home Insurance Cover a Water Leak?
Your standard home insurance policy should cover sudden and accidental water leaks, such as broken pipes or a ruptured water heater. But know that your basic policy will not typically cover a slow and ongoing leak, such as a toilet or faucet leak. The policy will also not cover leaks resulting from the normal wear and tear of an aging home.
Will Home Insurance Pay for Water Damages?
Your homeowners insurance should cover water damage from burst pipes, broken water heaters, or malfunctioning plumbing systems. The key to knowing if you are covered is if the cause was abrupt and unexpected.
Your insurance policy excludes damage resulting from gradual deterioration, such as a slow and continuous water pipe leak. Home insurance also excludes water damage claims for mold issues, regional flooding, or a leak adjustment. For your insurance to cover these events, you will need to add additional coverage (such as flood insurance) as optional riders.
Disputing a High Water Bill: How Far Can I Go?
If you disagree with your water bill, your dispute will be with the municipal utility department. In many cases, the billing service will have noted an unusually high statement and will be checking your water meter. They will contact you to schedule someone to collect a physical meter reading.
If the technician finds the meter to be accurate, you will be responsible for paying the bill. Unfortunately, there is little else you can do after a manual meter inspection to inquire about the possibility of bill adjustments. You could call the department's customer service, but you may not have much luck.
It is best to hire a construction professional or plumber to find water leak sources to avoid another surprise water bill in the future. Purchasing energy star appliances will also cut down on your water costs.
Hope that helps!
At your service,