Saving water is a powerful way to reduce your utility costs. Why? You actually pay for it multiple times.
Think about it. Cold water costs you twice: when you bring it into your house, and when you send it down the drain. Hot water costs you at least one more time: when you heat it (and reheat it, with a standard water heater) with fuel.
While Google will give you about 300 million results for “how to save water,” most of them require you to change your behavior. If you can stay focused on a few of these strategies, like not running the faucet while brushing your teeth, you can save a significant amount of money — but it can be tough to stick to them.
Instead, or in addition, here’s how to lower your water bill without changing your behavior or routines. Yes, you’ll need to do a bit of work up front, but then you’ll never need to think about it again — and you’ll save money on every gallon of water you use.
Get a Smaller Water Meter
You probably aren’t an expert in the size of pipe your house needs, the diameter of your water main or the ideal meter for your use. That’s OK. Your water company should be.
The combination of these factors is generally referred to as your “service.” The size of your service, controlled by your meter, governs your water’s pressure and speed.
And these days, it also governs how much you pay. American Water, which operates in 47 states, charges different prices for different meter sizes in many of their jurisdictions, like California and New Jersey. Many other water utilities do the same, such as Las Vegas Valley Water District.
To decide what size meter to give you, a water engineer carefully measured your house, logged every apparatus, extrapolated your consumption and custom-designed a meter just big enough to supply your water. If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
No, you got whatever was on the truck that day, whatever the company had in the store room and whatever the employees thought would cause the least customer complaints — which tends to be a larger meter.
When I first moved into my home, I had a 1-inch meter. I didn’t care. Then the utility convinced the governing agency they should be allowed to charge “water criminals,” like myself, more money because we used larger meters than other customers.
It worked! I got a quarterly bill $60 higher than I ever had before. Being university trained in utility pricing, I read their price tariffs and regulatory filing to find out why. Answer: The meter charge.
I called to complain and asked to have the meter replaced with a smaller one. To my surprise, the representative tried everything you can imagine to convince me to keep my existing meter. These were my favorite reasons:
- “But sir, you could have a pool someday and if you want it to fill faster, you need a larger service.”
- “If you run a sprinkler system and have other things running, your pressure could be low.”
- “Your shower pressure won’t be as hard.”
- “Filing a water bottle will take longer.”
Why would they want someone they just complained about to keep an oversized service?
- Bigger meter = higher flow = more water = more money for the company
- Replace meter = cost of person replacing meter and less money for the company
Think overdraft fees. Banks complain about overdrafts, but thrive on the fees. Cops hate criminals, but don’t have jobs without them. Get the idea?
Why You Should Reduce Your Service ASAP
Even if your rates aren’t structured this way today, they could change. And when they do, you’ll be stuck paying the higher bill until you reduce the size of your service — it will only affect future bills.
Having a smaller service means you’ll pay less in meter charges (as high as $20 per month in Iowa and $15 in New Jersey), you’ll use less water per minute on every faucet and you’ll pay less in sewer bills.
If your company charges for the swap, complain. In addition to sharing your frustrations with the company, let your state’s governing utility boards know by searching Google for “[state] utility board.”
Could your water pressure decrease with a lower flow rate? Maybe, though sometimes the pressure increases even with less flow, like putting your finger at the end of a hose. But after a week, you’ll be totally used to it — and glad you’ve got an extra $200 a year in your pocket.
Test Your Toilet
“If it’s brown, flush it down; if it’s yellow, let it mellow” is a popular strategy, though opinions vary on its effectiveness as a money-saving tactic. I have young kids who put things in the toilet, dogs that drink toilet water and a nose that smells urine, so I’m not on board with this one.
If you’re flush (pun intended) with cash, you could choose to buy a dual flush toilet. Or you can simply adjust your toilet to help you save money.
Put your toilet to the test: Food coloring in the top of the basin should not leak to the bowl without a flush. If it does, you probably need a new fill valve. They’re cheap and easy to change.
While you’re there, adjust the float to use less water. The lower the float ball is in a full tank, the less water it uses.
Depending on your toilet, you can adjust the screw at the top of the fill tube, screw in the float ball or change the clip lock setting. Set it as low as possible and work backwards until you can flush all waste with the smallest amount of water.
Since the EPA estimates bad toilets and settings cost consumers $110 a year from unnecessary water use, it’s worth taking a few minutes on these tweaks.
Ask for Freebies and Rebates
Need to replace a fixture, buy a new utility-related product or reduce your water use even further? See if you can get a deal at the same time.
Start by checking this list of rebates from the Environmental Protection Agency to see what products they recommend and what programs might be available in your area.
Next, gather phone numbers for your water, fuel and sewer companies. Call them and ask about any conservation or rebate programs on the list, or if they have any that aren’t listed.
Ask whether the fuel company provides free audits that include water-heating products. These packages usually include low-flow faucet aerators, shower heads, water-heater blankets and pipe insulation.
If you’re already in great shape and can’t get additional savings from this post, bookmark it for the next time you move so you can start off on the right foot.
Your Turn: What other non-behavior-dependent ways do you save money on water costs?
Disclosure: We have a serious Taco Bell addiction around here. The affiliate links in this post help us order off the dollar menu. Thanks for your support!
Cade Simmons works in energy efficiency oversight and has a Master’s degree in Economics specializing in public utility regulation from New Mexico State University.