waste water averaging

Toilet Rebates End December 31, 2018

As we enter waste water averaging season (November through February), we are all trying to use the least amount of water possible so that our waste water averages and charges will be lower next year. So, let’s talk toilets as an easy way to reduce the consumption of water inside your home. It involves no behavior changes, you don’t have to think about it, it just saves water each time it’s used (which is every day).

You have a direct impact on your waste water 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 every day. They account for the greatest 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 waste water charges. We’ve come full-circle now!

Now, the City has had a toilet rebate program, on and off, since 2009. To qualify for the rebate there are three criteria:

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 2006. Here’s why that date is 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 of “low-flow” toilets.

So, fast-forward a few years to 1996 and efficient toilets were redesigned and now actually flushing the way they were supposed to. Around 2005, toilets underwent another generational change and dual flush toilets were introduced, as well as those using less than 1.6 gpf. That’s where we stand with the date. However, not all toilets are the same, which leads us to #3.

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 “WaterSense” have been third-party tested for performance and lasting efficiency. When purchasing a product that has the WaterSense logo, you know the product will perform as expected and will retain its water savings for its life expectancy. The list is continually updated as more products get tested.

If you haven’t already participated in the rebate program to replace your pre-2006 toilets, it’s time to do it!! The rebate program is ending permanently on December 31, 2018, 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 use 1.28 gpf or less, per the Texas Plumbing Code. You really have no choice but to purchase an efficient toilet; so, we’d like to start using the toilet funds for another program.

Freeze Protection

Welcome to the new year!  Did your landscape look like any of these pictures recently??  Those beautiful icicles and “snowy” grass is a hint that you have probably left your irrigation system on and it ran during the freezing temperatures we’ve recently had.  Please, go turn them off now!  

I will admit that I like to go drive around town the morning of a freeze to see who has left their systems on.  It’s very dangerous–with frozen sidewalks and streets, but also a little humorous.  I hope to not have a picture of your house or business!

Having the irrigation system on in freezing temperatures can cause a lot of damage to the system–freezing pipes and heads, which can cause broken pipes and heads, and then leaks.  This means water waste and higher water bills!  It can also damage the plants, being coated with water that freezes is hard on the plant and could essentially freeze it to death.  You don’t want any of that!

Having your irrigation system on during the winter months is also not recommended since we’re still in waste water averaging mode.  The less water you use from November through February, the lower your wastewater (or sewer) charges will be the rest of the year.  Find more on wastewater averaging here.

Here’s a quick list of things to do to protect your irrigation and landscape investments during freezing temperatures:

  1. Turn off your irrigation system.  (Reasons stated above.)
  2. Compost and mulch outdoor plants thoroughly.  These two layers will help insulate the plant’s root zones while supplying the plant with needed nutrients.  Two inches of mulch is ideal, and remember, not too close to the trunk of trees or shrubs.  Mulch should be about two finger widths away from the truck.
  3. Water well, but avoid moisture on the plant leaves and stems–this means hand-water.  No irrigation use (of course, underground drip is fine).  Water saturated soil holds heat better than dry soil.  Keep damaged plants well watered, but be aware that plants needs much less water in cooler months.
  4. Water only when temperatures rise above 45 degrees or higher the day before a freeze.

During most winters, supplemental watering isn’t necessary.  Think about your landscape, and water bill, before adding additional water in the winter.

 

Winter Wonder, not wasting water!

Winter has come, finally!  It’s already the middle of November and wastewater averaging (WWA) is upon us.  What is wastewater averaging, you ask?  Well, let me tell you…

In the winter months (November, December, January, and February) the City assumes that our water use is lower than any other time of year, simply because it’s cold out, its winter, and we’re not watering our yards.  These are the months when water use is lower thanfrozen_faucet the rest of the year, so the City uses these 3 winter billing cycles (Nov-Dec, Dec-Jan, and Jan-Feb) to determine how much we’re going to be charged for wastewater (aka sewer) for the rest of the year.

See, the City doesn’t have meters on the wastewater line coming out of your house; so, essentially, we make an educated assumption that all water being used is going down the drains at your houses.  Since no water is being used outdoors. (Right? Turn off those sprinkler systems!)  All water is being used indoors for necessary purposes: baths, showers, toilets, sinks, dish and clothes washers, etc…

So the average of those 3 months water use is what you are charged for wastewater for the remainder of the year.  For example, if you use 5400 gallons on your December bill, 4900 on January bill, and 4500 on February bill then your WWA would be 5400 + 4900 + 4500 / 3 = 4933, which would be rounded to 4900 gallons.  So, for the rest of the year, the most you’ll be charged for wastewater is 4900 gallons!  That’s good!  No matter if your water use goes higher in the summer; the wastewater use is capped at 4900 gallons.

This is a number that is recalculated annually, so if you “mess up” and refill your pool or keep watering that yard the whole winter, you can fix it the next year by keeping the water use down.  But, we want you to save money and water now, so turn off those sprinklers!

Another way to keep water use low in winter is to check for leaks, especially in your toilets.  Watch my video on how to check for leaks and check your toilet to see if it’s efficient.  What I say in the video is that toilets using 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf) or less are considered efficient.  I want to add to that a little, by saying that on January 1, 2014, it became state law that all toilets sold in Texas must use 1.28 gallons per flush OR LESS.  So that means, even if you have a 1.6 gpf toilet, you can make it even more efficient, and save more water each time you flush (and reduce those waste water charges further) by upgrading to a new 1.28 gpf toilet!  The City’s water conservation program’s has a rebate program for this upgrade.  Find the details at www.roundrocktexas.gov/conservation.

 

Winter Waterland

I’ve frozen irrstarted hearing the question: “how much to I water the lawn in the winter?”  from the newly moved here Texans; of course, the answer depends on who you talk to!  As you know, the winter months are a great time to cut back on water use, reduce water bills, and make sure things are running properly and efficiently at your property.  Winter is ideal, because during these cooler months, your irrigation system doesn’t need to run as often, or at all, and many utilities use the average of the winter water consumption to determine the wastewater charges for the rest of the year.

Central Texas doesn’t typically have the long, hard freezes that more common to the northern areas of the state and country, so often “winterizing” the irrigation system isn’t as a necessity as it is where freezes are more prolonged.  In our region, the most valuable adjustment you can make is to reduce the watering schedule or simply turn off the irrigation controller during the winter months.  Because the temperatures are cooler, less water is lost to evaporation and transpiration and plants simply do not need as much to replenish what is lost.

In addition to cooler temperatures, winter is typically our rainy season too, so it’s best to take advantage of the free, nitrogen-rich rainfall.  During normal winter conditions, the irrigation doesn’t need to be turned on more than once per month, if at all.

If you DO want to turn it off completely and winterize your system as a precaution and to ensure water savings, there are a few quick steps to take, or call a licensed irrigator to do it for you.backflow_cover

  1. First locate the backflow prevention device or the main valve to the sprinkler system.  Both are usually located very close to the water meter.  The backflow is located in a box that typically has a green, rectangular, plastic lid.  See the picture on the right.
  2. Next, turn the water off to the system at the backflow device.  Do this by opening up the green lid and turning one of the handles so that it is perpendicular to the metal device.  In the picture, the handles of the backflow are blue.  The arrows are pointing to the handles.  It’s not necessary to turn them both, just one will be fine.
  3. Then manually run each station for a minute or less to blow the rest of the water in the lines out; this eliminates the chance of any residual water freezing in the lines and causing pipe breaks or cracks.backflow device edited

4. Turn the system controller off when all the stations have run and leave the system off for the duration of the winter.

Again, this type of winterizing is not always necessary here, due to the lack of long, hard freezes; however if your irrigation system isn’t going to be used all winter, it certainly is worth the time to turn it off and clean the lines out.

 

Keep Water use Low in Winter and Save Year-Round

Winter seems to have come quickly this year!  It’s already the middle of November and wastewater averaging (WWA) is upon us.  3 month calendarWhat is wastewater averaging, you ask?  Well, let me tell you…

In the winter months (November, December, January, and February) the City assumes that our water usage is lower than any other time of year, simply because it’s cold out, its winter, we’re not watering our yards.  These are the months when water consumption is low, so the City uses these 3 billing cycles (Nov-Dec, Dec-Jan, Jan-Feb) to determine how much we’re going to be charged for waste water for the rest of the year.  See, the City has no meters on the waste water line; essentially the City makes an educated assumption that all water being used is going down the drains at our houses.  Since no water is being used outdoors (right?  Turn off those sprinkler systems!), then the theory is that all water is being used indoors, for necessary purposes-baths, showers, toilets, sinks, dish and clothes washers, etc.

The average of those months water use is what you are charged for waste water for the remainder of the year.  So, for example, if you use 5400 gallons on your Dec bill, 4900 on January bill, and 4500 on February bill then your WWA would be 5400 + 4900 + 4500 / 3 = 4933, which would be rounded to 4900 gallons.  So, for the rest of the year, the most you’ll be charged for waste water is 4900 gallons!  That’s good!  No matter if your water use goes higher in the summer; the waste water use is capped at 4900 gallons.

This is a number that is recalculated annually, so if you “mess up” and refill your pool or keep watering that yard the whole winter, you can fix it the next year by keeping the water use down.  So again, turn off those sprinklers!

Another way to keep water use low in winter is to check for leaks, especially in your toilets.  Watch my latest video on how to check for leaks and check your toilet to see if it’s efficient.  What I say in the video is that toilets using 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf) or less are considered efficient.  I want to add to that a little, by saying that on January 1, 2014, it became state law that all toilets sold in Texas must use 1.28 gallons per flush OR LESS.  So that means, even if you have a 1.6 gpf toilet, you can make it even more efficient, and save more water each time you flush (and reduce those waste water charges further) by upgrading to a new 1.28 gpf toilet!  Find the details at www.roundrocktexas.gov/waterconservation.

 

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.