My boyfriend and I do this weird thing where we brush our teeth together, peering at each other in the bathroom mirror, toothpaste frothing up in our mouths.
However, this endearing habit often leads to us bickering.
Jacob lets the water flow freely from the faucet as he brushes. I automatically reach over and shut it off as images of cast-off plastic water jugs flood my mind. The environment. Money. Why.
Thanks to a recent PBS article, I have new, Penny-Hoarding ammo for these arguments and why he’s going to want to stop wasting water.
The PBS piece highlights a recent Michigan State University study, which predicts the average monthly water bill in America will increase $49 over the next five years.
This increase could leave many folks unable to afford the staple utility.
Why Water is Likely to Become More Expensive
The average water bill for American households is currently about $120 per month.
I have to say this number shocked me. But sure enough, my mom told me our average water bill here in Florida is about $160 a month. Like many others, she’s watched it increase over the years.
In fact, between 2010 and 2015, a survey of 30 major U.S. cities tallied a 41% increase in water bills.
Now? The Michigan State University researchers, led by Elizabeth Mack, are saying it’ll increase even more in the next five years — $49 more.
There are several driving factors behind this hike, the big one being our country’s water infrastructure; it’s seriously old. Much of our system dates back to World War II or earlier, PBS reports.
For example, take our nation’s capital — Washington D.C. Apparently, water still runs through wooden pipes from the mid-1800s.
This isn’t going unnoticed by lawmakers, either. This past Tuesday, Senate Democrats shared their $1 trillion structure plan, including $110 billion for water and sewer rehab and $36 billion for droughts, flooding and other fun stuff, PBS reports.
In addition to fueling new infrastructure, there are other factors, too — like urban flight. City-dwellers are moving out and leaving fewer people to cover the expense.
However, Water Environment & Reuse Foundation research manager Justin Mattingly told PBS the old infrastructure is the main reason for price increases.
What a Water Price Increase Means for American Households
We need water.
To drink, shower, brush our teeth, use the restroom, do laundry, prepare food, water plants… the list goes on.
Mack, the Michigan State University geographer who led the recent research, says most Americans assume water is a non-negotiable staple, something built into each budget.
However, Mack compiled some existing reports to reveal some pretty scary numbers. The EPA estimates water bills, on average, consume about 4.5% of a household’s income.
Once water prices cost more than that, money will have to be siphoned out of other areas of the budget.
Mack deducts that, to afford this hefty bill, a household has to earn at least $32,000 a year. Based on that assessment, nearly 14 million households couldn’t afford water in 2014.
If prices do rise 41% over the next five years, that puts 40 million Americans in danger of losing affordable water.
(If you want a more mathematical, scientific, thorough explanation, PBS has you covered.)
Will You See an Increase in Your Water Bill?
If you live in the South, an urban center or a low-income community, you face the highest risk of increased water bills, according to Mack’s research.
The most susceptible states include Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.
However, Mattingly told PBS no one is in the clear.
“Some regions are affected more than others in regards to rising water prices, but it’s unlikely that there are any regions that won’t see increases,” he says.
How to Save Money on Your Water Bill Before the Flood Hits
You can also resort to simple hacks: Turn the water off while brushing your teeth (looking at you, boyfriend) and let your yellow mellow (aka don’t flush).
But here are a few simple steps you can start implementing now — and not have to think about every single waking moment of the day. A few of these tips might require you to initially invest a few dollars, but you’ll save more than that in the end.
1. Ask your water management company for a free audit.
Next time you get a bill in the mail, call your utility services and inquire about a free water audit. Someone will come out and let you know about any leaks or where you’re losing water.
If you have no such luck, do your own audit. The American Leak Detection has a great list of obvious signs you have a plumbing leak.
2. Invest in Tank Banks — or a brick.
Three of these little Tank Bank pouches cost $12.99 via Amazon Prime but can help you save $35 a year on your water bill.
All you have to do (cue infomercial voice) is clip the Tank Bank onto the side of your toilet tank. It displaces about 0.8 gallons of water — per flush. If you really want to go wild, clip two Tank Banks in the tank to save that hefty $35 per year!
You can also improvise and clunk a brick or two in the bottom of the tank.
3. Get a dual-flush toilet.
A bad toilet with bad settings can actually cost you more than $110 a year, according to the EPA.
So if you need a new throne, dual-flush toilets are a nice money-saving solution. They’re like the ones in Europe where you can opt for a small flush… or a larger one.
If you don’t want to get a new toilet or install new parts, check in on your fill valve and float. If you don’t know what that means, we have all of your toilet needs covered right here.
4. Consider the water temperature.
If you think about it, cold water costs you twice: when you suck it into your home and when it leaves via the drain. Hot water costs even more because you have to heat it, too.
Using your clothes washer is an especially good time to remember these differences.
You can save $40 a year washing your clothes in cold water, according to one of our previous posts. And you’ll prevent color bleeding. Win-win.
5. Get a smaller water meter.
Do you know your house’s pipe needs? Yeah, me neither.
The size of your water meter directly affects your water bill, according to one of our archived posts. Unfortunately, the water engineer probably didn’t take detailed measurements to customize your meter.
“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,” Cade Simmons writes.
A bigger meter means a higher flow, which means more water and more money sucked away.
To see if your water meter is too big for your needs, read more about what Simmons had to say.
6. Check for rebates.
Yup, we love shopping rebates. Did you know you can get them for being energy efficient, too?
The EPA has a nifty tool that allows you to search by product and state to see what you can get a rebate on in your area.
Have a nice water-saving toilet? Perhaps you could get money back!
For more water-saving (aka money-saving) tips, read “Cut Your Water Bill by $250 a Year Without Changing Your Daily Routine.”
Your Turn: How much is your average water bill?
Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. After recently completing graduate school, she focuses on saving money — and surviving the move back in with her parents.