indoor water use

Your Water Bill, part 2

back of bill

I want to follow up on my last blog, Reading Your Water Bill, to see how much water you and the people in the property with you (a.k.a. your family), are using.  Have you done it yet?  To refresh your memory, it’s looking at the gallons of water being used, rather than just looking at the dollar amount.  On average here in Round Rock, a person uses 75 gallons per day.  How did your house compare?

So today, in addition to looking at the gallons, I want you to pull those bills out again and look in two other places that will offer you insight into what’s going on with your water bill and what’s going on around the City’s water department.

Now that you know where to find the gallons of water used, you should know WHEN these gallons were used.  Meaning, the billing dates.  A lot of times we hear remarks from customers saying there’s no way they used the water, or (sometimes) thinking the usage would be higher because of something that happened at their house.  It all depends on the dates the meter was read for the bill.  You can find those dates on the back of the bill.

Look at the top, middle of the back of the bill under the words “READ DATE.”  This tells you the “previous” and “current” reads, along with the dates.  This is the time period that you are being charged for.  The dates in the example are September 19, 2016, and October 19, 2016.  The 12,400 gallons of water used on this bill was for that month of mid-September to mid-October.

front of bill

Don’t be surprised if the dates on your bill are from over a month ago.  That’s the way it goes with water billing.  You are charged for what you use, after you use it (so we know how much to charge you for); and then it takes some time to create the bills and mail or send them all out.

If you are surprised by the amount of gallons of your bill, you can check those dates the bill is for and then look at your calendar (if you’re like me: the big paper calendar hanging in the kitchen with everyone’s activities on it!) or search your memory, or phone, to think about what was going on weather-wise or around your house at that time.  Did you have new sod installed and had to water it more?  Was the weather very rainy and you turned off the sprinklers for several weeks?  Did you have a toilet running for a few days?  These are all things to think about when looking at your water bill, as they all affect it.

Next, the second place to look is on the front of bill at the SPECIAL MESSAGE section.  On my example bill, this area is circled in green, and it’s empty!  No special messages this time.  However, it’s a good idea to glance here to find out what is going on the City.  Here’s where we’ll make a note about rate changes, waste water averaging, rain barrel sales, water rebates, and other interesting information.  You wouldn’t want to miss out on a great opportunity by not reading this section!

That’s it!  Thanks for learning about your water use!

 

Read Your Water Bill

front of water bill

I want to ask you a very important question: Do you read your water bill?  No, not just look to see how much you owe; but look at how many gallons you used during the last month?  No?  Not really even sure how?  Or what you’re looking at?  I understand!  I feel that way about my phone bill!!

In this blog I wanted to point out several things to start looking at on your water bill.  Maybe not every month, but at the very least each quarter or each season to check in and see how you are doing with your usage.  This may run long though, so I’m going to break it into a small series of things to look at on your bill.

Today I want to point out what I consider to be THE most important place to start looking at on your monthly bill, because you can’t save water if you don’t even know how much you’re using!  Right?  And then, you’re going to need to know if that amount is a high number or low one.  And what (or how much) is  a “normal” amount of water to use each month?

Of course, I have no exact answer about how much water is “normal.”  The answer depends on several factors, like the number of people in the house and their ages, the age of the home or the age of the appliances (like the toilets, dish and clothes washers, showerheads, and faucets), and whether your house has a water softener.  I’ll discuss this more at the end.

back of water bill

So look on the front of the bill at the little graph that shows the gallons of water used during each of the billing cycles for the last year (note: chances are the billing cycle is not for the entire month, it’s part of one month and part of another).  The x-axis (bottom) shows each month’s usage and the y-axis (vertical) indicates the gallons.  See the upper bill picture, I’ve circled the water use graph in red.  We measure the amount of water used each month in gallons—the same amount as a gallon jug of milk and you are billed by the thousand gallons used.

Another place to look at the amount of water used each month is the back of the bill.  Here is written the actual number of gallons used for the current bill.  See the bill at the bottom, I’ve circled that amount in orange.  The water bill says “total consumption in gallons” and then 12,400 is to the side.  That’s 12,400 gallons used this last billing cycle.

Now, many things can determine how much this number will be, as I’ve already listed a lot of those variables–number of people in the house, age of house and appliances, etc.  I will tell you that here in Round Rock, our average winter bill is for 5,868 gallons and our average summer bill is for 12,252 gallons.  How does yours stack up?

Also on average, we here in Round Rock use 75 gallons of water per person, per day.  Of course, this is average because a baby isn’t going to use that much, yet a teenager may use more!  You could make it easy for yourself and say each person in your home uses 100 gallons each day.  The average billing cycle is 30 days, so that would be 3000 gallons for each person each month.  If you have 2 people in your house that would be 6,000 gallons for your water use would be “normal” or expected.

This number can be greatly reduced by installing low water use (or efficient) fixtures, especially toilets and showerheads since they are used the most and the most often (multiple times a day).  Don’t forget the City has a rebate program for water efficient toilets and clothes washers.  Find out those details at www.roundrocktexas.gov/conservation   If there was any one thing you wanted to do to reduce the amount of water in your home, I would say replace your toilets.  If your home was built before 2000, I would replace the toilets with newer WaterSense models.  This allows you to save water without changing anything, you’ll still flush the same way.

I will say those efficient appliances really do make a difference.  My family of 4 (2 teenagers and 2 adults) uses right at 3,000 of water each month for all of us.  We installed new WaterSense toilets, showerheads, and a Energy Star dishwasher when we moved in 2 years ago.  Our house was built in 1999.  We don’t have a water softener.  We do have an irrigation system (that’s turn off currently!).  The clothes washer is a front loader that’s about 6 years old.  We do use them all several times each week!  It really is possible to reduce your consumption without it being a chore.

Now pull out those bills and take a look!  Next time I’ll point out a couple more places to look on the bill.

 

Tis the Season for Water Smart gifts

This holiday season, if you happen to be getting anyone on your list a new appliance, don’t forget to think about water (and energy) efficiency.washing machine  Appliances that have the Energy Star label or WaterSense label are better choices, simply because you know that they will retain their water an/or energy efficiency over the lifespan of the appliance.  So, it’s kinda like the gift that keeps on giving!

The City’s water conservation program has a rebate for the purchase of new efficient clothes washers, if they meet the program criteria, which is pretty easy.  Find out about the rebate here.

New, efficient washers are a good investment, as they account for 22% of the water use inside our homes. By replacing older models with new, front-loading efficient washers, water use can be reduced by 15 – 40%, depending on how old your previous washer is. Energy Star labeled washers use 20% less energy, 35% less water, and have larger wash tubs, which means fewer loads and less detergent use.toilet-clip-art

There’s rebates for efficient toilets too!  That’s a really water smart gift, because, not only does a new toilet save water, it can also help reduce water water charges…so it saves year-round!  The rebate details can be found by following this link.  To qualify, the new toilet(s) must be WaterSense labeled (very easy to find!) and your house must have been built before 2006.

Toilets are the largest water-using fixture inside a property; by replacing old, inefficient toilets with more efficient 1.28 gallon per flush (or less!), commodes, you can save up to 4,000 thousand gallons of water per toilet, per year!  That’s amazing!

Happy shopping!

 

My water bill is how much??

I know I have heard this too many times this summer,faucet-with-dollar-sign-234x300 “there’s NO WAY I used this much water!”  “It’s impossible!”  “The meter must be wrong,” or some version of  “the City isn’t really reading the meters, but estimating.”  Well, let me tell you, it IS possible to use a lot of water (I’m talking 30,000 gallons, 50,000 gallons, 70,000 gallons…or more!).  I’ve seen it.  A lot.  I have seen it due to leaks, or from sprinkler systems, but I’ve never seen it from someone stealing water from their neighbor!  (ha!  People say that a lot too.)

I say this with 15 years of experience behind me doing this type of work.  So, not just this year, but over many years of looking
at sprinkler systems and how they are set and reading water meters.  I still get surprised that people are surprised to find out that high water use is possible and the City ISN’T wrong.  We just really use more water than we realize we do, especially when it comes to sprinkler systems.  This really boils down to an education problem.

When we receive our bill, we automatically look at how much we owe, right?!?  I know I do.  That’s what really affects me anyway, how much do I owe the City?  What we really need to look at is what’s included in that final cost AND actually look at the gallons of water that we used.  That will tell you much more than the amount you owe.

On Round Rock’s water bill, what’s also included in that cost (besides the water), is wastewater (sewer) charges, garwater use chartbage and recycling collection, stormwater (or drainage) fees, and taxes.  The water portion of the cost is maybe less than half of what the actual amount is you owe.

Look at that little graph. That shows you the gallons of water your household has used that month, and the past several months.  It’s also under the “water” section of the bill on the back.  That’s a better way to judge how much water you are using each month.  [Of note, a very average amount of water used each month is 2,000 gallons per person, per month.  Again, that’s pretty average.]  If you are using more than that for your family, you may check toil
ets for leaks, or consider replacing any old toilets with new, efficient ones (remember, the City has a rebate for that), and bring your water use down.

Also, the graph should, ideally, be shaped like the one in picture, that’s what we expect to see.  It’s a bell curve:  Low use in the winter, a little higher in spring, peaking–the highest–in summer with the highest month usually August or September, then lower in fall and back to lowest in winter.  That’s a water use curve that is expected and means you are paying attention to the seasons, and the weather patterns and not using water outdoors when not needed (winter).

The water rates will go up, so just looking at the dollar amount isn’t always helpful, or provides any insight to what you’re using.  I challenge you to look at your bill in more detail this month!

 

 

New Year’s Water-lution!

It’s that time of year when we make resolutions about how to improve our lives for thLogo-we're for watere upcoming 12 months!  This year, how about a Water-lution?!  Resolve to save water–it may be easier than losing those “last” 5 pounds!  There are easy ways to save, especially when the WaterSense program can help identify appliances that are water efficient and will maintain their water savings over the years.  Sounds good, right?

When purchasing and installing products with the WaterSense label, you know you’ll get the water savings…unlike all that working out and dieting!  Is that 5 pounds ever going to go away?!?

WaterSense labeled products are backed by independent third party certification and meet EPA’s specifications for water efficiency and performance. So, when you use WaterSense labeled products in your home or business, you can be confident you’ll be saving water without sacrifice.

Also, the City’s toilet replacement program only rebates WaterSense labeled toilets.  Another good reason to look for WaterSense.

By clicking on the We’re for Water logo, you can take a pledge to save water and there’s great tips to get you saving.  It’s easy!  And there’s a money-back guarantee!  Just kidding…this is a free pledge.  (Though you could save money by fixing leaks.)

Happy New Year!

 

 

Shower Smarter

I can’t believe that December is almost over!  I just realized that it’s been a month since I wrote my last blog…time flies!  Well, as you know, it’s winter time, which means it is waste water averaging (WWA) time for the water utility.  showerheadI talked about WWA during my article relating to toilets. To keep with the bathroom theme, I am moving onto showers–showerheads specifically.

Showers are similar to toilets, in that they are used daily and account for about 17% of our daily indoor water use.  Also, like toilets, they are regulated by national and state codes regarding how much water they can use; for showers, it’s rated as gallons of water per minute (gpm), versus toilets, which is gallons per flush (gpf).  Currently, the EPA requires that any and all showerheads sold must use no more than 2.5 gpm.   This has been the law since 2010 and there are plenty of showerheads on the market that use less than this.

I know, low-flow showerheads just don’t sound appealing.  I always think of that old Seinfeld episode where low-flow showerheads are being introduced in Jerry’s apartment building and Kramer is purchasing black-market, elephant washing showerheads that knocks him out of the shower and starts doing everything in there-food preparation, washing dishes…it makes me laugh!  And cringe.

The thing is, showerheads aren’t really “low-flow,” as in low-pressure.  Although they use less water, they simply use the same water pressureshowerhead edited that your house currently has; they don’t change the water pressure.  Us water nerds prefer to call the fixtures “efficient” showerheads, or “water-conserving” showerheads.  Sounds much better than “low-flow”!

I’ll admit, I’ve had my doubts too.  The heads I’ve installed at my house use 1.50 gpm, and honestly, I was skeptical about them and put off installing them for a while.  Finally, for the sake of research and water efficiency, I installed them and was pleasantly surprised–they worked great and have plenty of pressure and water!  And, if you are considering a bathroom remodel that includes multiple showerheads in the same shower, just remember that that doubles or triples the amount of water that is being used per minute, while multiple heads are in use (2.5 x number of heads = total gpm).

If your home is new, you probably already have efficient fixtures.  You can check for yourself just by reading the fine print on the showerhead.  See the middle picture.  Where the red arrow is pointing is where showerheads typically have printed what their gpm is.  The one shown says 1.75 gpm max–meaLogo-WaterSensening the most it’s going to emit is 1.75 gallons per minute.

So, this winter while you are fixing leaks, replacing toilets, and otherwise making your home water efficient to get the lowest WWA possible, think about replacing your showerheads too.  The City is giving away free 1.75 gpm showerheads at the water billing office, while supplies last, or purchase a model of your choosing at any store that sells showerheads or plumbing fixtures.  Don’t forget to look for the WaterSense label, those have been tested and approved as good quality, water saving devices.

Find out more about efficient showerheads at EPA’s WaterSense site.

Best Seat in the House

As we’ve entered into wastewater averaging season (November – February), we are all trying to use the least amount of water possible so that our wastewater averages and charges will be lower this next year.  So, let’s talk toilets as a easy way to reduce the consumption of water inside your home.funny toilet  It involves no behavior changes, you don’t have to think about it, it just saves water each time it’s used!  First though, maybe I should explain wastewater averaging quickly, to make sure we’re all on the same page.

Wastewater averaging happens every winter.  It’s the way the City calculates what you’ll be charged on your utility bill for wastewater (or sewer, same thing).  The City doesn’t have meters on the wastewater lines coming from your property, so we don’t know exactly how much waste is leaving and we’re treating.  We make assumptions based on your water use.  During the winter months (November – February), it is assumed that all water used at your property is being used indoors (and goind down the drain–think sinks, toilets, baths, washers, showers).  It’s winter, the plants go dormant and we’ve had so much rain, no additional irrigation is needed.  Evaporation to pools is minimal.  So, this winter water use is the lowest amount of water used all year.  Those winter months of water use are averaged and that average is what you’re charged for wastewater the remainder of the year.  And yes, wastewater does cost more than water.  It just takes more time, chemicals, and other treatments to clean it, so the charges are slightly higher for it.

You have a direct impact on your wastewater charges by using less water during the winter months.  First, turn off your irrigation system.  Easy, done.  The next major impact–and my topic today–toilets.  Everyone uses one everyday.  They account for the largest use of water indoors, using up to 30% of our indoor water use.  The less water you flush, the lower your water use will be, and that directly impacts wastewater charges.  We’ve come full-circle now!

Now, the City has had a toilet rebate program, on and off, since 2009.  To be eligible for the rebate there are three criteria:Logo-WaterSense

  1. You must be a direct City of Round Rock water customer.  This is because the water conservation program is funded directly by a portion our customer’s water charges; MUDs and others not on City water do not contribute to the program and aren’t eligible.
  2. Your house or property must have been built before January 1996.  I get asked about that date and here’s why it’s there: In 1991 the EPA determined that all toilets manufactured and sold in the U.S. must use 1.6 gallons of water per flush (gpf) or less.  At that time, all the manufacturers did was fill up the tanks with less water, but kept all the plumbing parts the same.  The toilets were terrible and most had to be double-flushed, which is why the bad reputation is still made fun of today in sitcoms.  Water usage was actually increasing, rather than decreasing and the manufacturers knew they had to make other changes to the design of the toilets.  So, fast-forward a few years to 1995 and efficient toilets were redisgned and now actually flushing the way they were supposed to.  The date is there since all toilets manufactured since then were good, working 1.6 gpf toilets.
  3. The toilet(s) purchased must be WaterSense approved.  WaterSense is an EPA program that is basically like Energy Star, but for water use.  Items labeled with WaterSense label have been third-party tested for performance and lasting efficiency.  When purchasing a product that has the WaterSense logo, you know the product is good and will retain it’s water savings for it’s life expectancy.  The list is continually updated as more products get tested.

So, if you haven’t already paricipated in the rebate program, or replaced your pre-1996 toilets, it’s time to do it!!  The rebate program is ending permanently on December 31, 2013, so there is only a month left to take advantage of the rebate!  Why is it ending, you ask?  Well, starting January 1, 2014, all toilets sold in Texas must be 1.28 gpf or less, by law.  The City isn’t keen on providing a rebate on an appliance that is efficient, when that’s the only choice available. We’d rather start using the funds for another program.