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Are You Drowning in Water Bill Expenditures?

Jessica Easto
Jessica Easto is a writer and editor based in Chicago. Her primary areas of expertise include personal finance, risk management, and small business. Her book Craft Coffee: A Manual teaches you how to make cafe-quality coffee at home on a budget.
Updated on March 18, 2021
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Water bills are on the rise. Here's how you can cut your consumption and, in turn, your utility costs.

Since last year, the average water bill has increased by 3.6% in 50 cities, according to a 2019 study by Bluefield Research, making it the eighth straight year of increases. And since 2012, water bills have increased by 31%, which has outstripped inflation as well as the pace of increases for groceries and gas.

With the cost of water bills on the rise, the average U.S. household can expect to pay $104 a month for water and sewer bills this year. That amount of money can be challenging for households that are struggling to pay the bills. In fact, according to a PEW research study, most people — nearly 70% — who take out payday loans do so to pay for ordinary recurring monthly expenses, such as utilities like water.

Conserving water is always good for the environment, but with these stats in mind, it’s also clear that it’s good for your pocketbook. Let’s take a look at a few ways to kill two birds with one stone.

Cut down on lawn maintenance

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), lawn irrigation makes up almost one-third of all residential water use, which works out to 9 billion gallons a day. What’s more, the EPA estimates 50% of water used outdoors is wasted due to bad water systems and watering practices. Here are some tips for cutting down on outdoor water waste:

Reconsider your foliage. Consider replacing the standard green grass that likely covers your lawn with native plants. According to the U.S. Forest Service, native plants not only use less water than traditional lawns (because they have already adapted to the climate in which you live), they require less or no fertilizers and pesticides, reduce air pollution, and provide a home and food for native insects and wildlife. In some areas, the root systems of native plants can actually strengthen the structure of the soil and increase its ability to store water, which reduces rain run off. They usually require little to no maintenance, too.

Cut down on lawn watering. The EPA says if families followed its WaterSense guidelines when it comes to watering their lawns, they could each save an estimated 9,000 gallons a year.

And while it costs money and time to take steps — such as reworking your irrigation system or landscaping with native plants — to cut down on water, simply letting your lawn wither is a legitimate option that costs nothing. If your neighbors raise a fuss, you can tell them that you’d rather not contribute to the 4.5 billion gallons of water that we waste on lawns every day.

Look for local incentives. If you live in an area that is affected by drought, there may even be an incentive program to help you switch out your lawn for more sustainable options. Right now in Southern California, the Metropolitan Water District is offering a rebate program that pays $2 for every square foot of removed lawn.

Conserve water in the bathroom

Showers, sinks, toilets. The bathroom is an easy place to target for increasing water efficiency and savings. However, it may require some personal adjustments.

Mind your own habits. One of the easiest (and free) ways to save money on your water bill is to challenge yourself to take shorter showers. According to the Regional Water Providers Consortium (RWPC), every minute you shave off in the shower can save up to 2.5 gallons of water. Throughout the course of a month, that 1 minute per day calculates to about 75 gallons a month. For a family of four, that’s 300 gallons.

While you’re at it, don’t let the water run continuously while you brush your teeth. Everyone’s favorite purple dinosaur was on to something, because according to The Water Project, you can reduce your teeth-brushing water usage by 80% if you just turn the tap on in short bursts.

Install a high-efficiency showerhead. These cost about $10 to $20 at your local hardware store, and can save an additional 1 gallon of water per minute. The RWPC recommends testing whether or not you could benefit from a high-efficiency showerhead by placing a bucket in the shower. Turn the shower on and time how many seconds it takes for the water to hit the 1 gallon mark. If it takes less than 20 seconds, you could benefit from a high-efficiency showerhead.

Upgrade your loo. If you are looking for a longer-term solution, consider switching out your toilet for one that is WaterSense certified. According to the EPA, these toilets can save up to 13,000 gallons of water per year — or about $130 a year on your water bill. You can find basic WaterSense models for less than $100, so in theory, it would take less than a year to make back the cost in savings.

Reduce water use in the kitchen

The kitchen is another place in your home that is rife with opportunities to waste water and unnecessarily inflate your water bill:

Fully fill the dishwasher. If you have a dishwasher, start by never running it unless it’s full. If you think about it, the dishwasher uses the same amount of water whether it is full or not, and the RWPC estimates that just one less-than-full load wastes 8 to 10 gallons of water. The EPA says only running the dishwasher when it’s full means one less run every week, which saves the average family about 320 gallons annually.

Skip the rinse. The RWPC also recommend scraping your dishes, rather than rinsing them before putting them in the dishwasher. They estimate this can save you up to 20 gallons of water. Most modern dishwashers and detergents are designed to clean your dishes properly so you don’t have to rinse them before being washed. If you do need to rinse the dishes because they sat out too long, use the rinse feature on your dishwasher, which will use much less water than your rising by hand.

Reconsider hand-washing if you have the choice. Many people think that hand-washing dishes uses less water than the dishwasher, but it actually only takes about 4 minutes of running water from the tap to equal the amount of water used in a conventional dishwasher; it would be less if you have an energy-efficient one.

If you do have to hand-wash, fill your sink with soapy water, and only use the faucet again to rinse the soap from dishes. You save about 2.5 gallons of water for every minute your kitchen faucet does not run, the RWPC says.

Monitor for leaks and fix them immediately

The EPA estimates that 1 trillion gallons of water are wasted each year in U.S. homes due to leaks, and the average household leaks 10,000 gallons each year (or enough to do 300 loads of laundry). This calculates to about 10% of your water bill, so catching and fixing leaks can be a serious money saver.

The EPA’s WaterSense program has created a 10-minute checklist for finding leaks in your home, which includes monitoring your water bill and meter in addition to testing your toilets, showers, taps, and more for leaks. There are a couple big red flags when it comes to water leaks:

For example, if you check your water bill and notice that your family of four is using more than 12,000 gallons (16 CCF) per month in the winter, chances are you have a leak somewhere. Likewise, if you monitor your water meter for a two-hour period when no one is using water in your home, and it does not read exactly the same at the end, then you likely have a leak. The EPA recommends reading these tips for monitoring both your water bill and your water meter.

How it all adds up

Many Americans take water use for granted because it can seem relatively inexpensive. But if pricing trends continue their upward climb, water won’t be this cheap for long, and besides, there is no reason to pay for unnecessary water usage.

To prove this point, take a look at Circle of Blue’s graph of average monthly water costs for U.S. families. In 2018 a four-person family using 150 gallons of water per person per day paid an average of $112.04 a month. If that family reduced its water usage by 100 gallons per person per day, the bill was only $35.49 — a savings of more than $76 a month or $918 per year. That may seem like a lot of water to cut, but the savings that come with minor lifestyle changes can really add up.

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