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Friday, August 24, 2012

Why my water bill was so high this last month

This last week we received our water bill, which covers the last 2 months. My first reaction was "Whoa! What happened?!" Our bill was about $40 more than I had expected. My first thought was, "do we have an underground leak somewhere?" That's a scary thought, because that would mean we'd have to have some of the property torn up, likely at our expense, and a pipe repaired. It's not totally out of the realm of possibility. Our home is 35 years old. Things do go wrong.

Next thoughts, "who's been taking the super long showers?" and "are we just running more laundry loads now the kids are bigger?" But the jump in water usage happened in just one billing cycle, so that's likely not the cause.

So, I went online and googled "water bill high". Enlightening, to say the least, and memory jogging. We actually did use all the water they said we did, and here's how.

One of the questions they ask is "did you have a house guest during this billing cycle?" Answer -- yes, my father-in-law, for one week. On average, an individual uses between 40 and 80 gallons of water a day. It isn't that they're taking super long showers. But just the additional laundry, extra water used in cooking and consumption, the dishes to be washed, toilet and sink use, combined with showers/bathing. It all adds up.

Now, I do not, for one second, regret having my father-in-law stay with us that week. And actually, with all of our water usage this summer, even the excess, I do not regret a drop. This post is merely to explain how much water can be used.

Next question, "did you fill a swimming pool?" Uh, guilty! We have a pop up swimming pool, about 15 feet in diameter and 3 feet deep. Yes, it uses a lot of water to fill it, compounded by a leak that occurred and we had to top off the water a second time. Your typical hose, (1/2 inch diameter) delivers about 600 gallons of water per 24 hour day. We had our hose running for about 24 hours, maybe a bit more, due to the leak for which we had to refill the top few inches of our pool. But the pool has been used a lot, and added to our enjoyment of the summer.

"Did you run a pressure washer?" Ooops, well. . .um. . .yes. Remember the driveway refinishing project of last month? Before it could be caulked, patched and resealed, it had to be cleaned. The pressure washer ran for about 9 hours that day. Our driveway had years, and years of moss built up on it. A pressure washer uses about 4 gallons of water per minute. Multiply that by 9 hours, and washing our driveway used 2160 gallons of water!!! Oh, wow! I had no idea it would use that much water!

So, our water consumption, when compared to this same time last year, was about 3000 gallons more for same period this year, according to our bill. However, the pressure washing, the pool filling (no pool last year, too cold), and having a guest should have added 3180 gallons. In actuality, we did better in our water use, this year over last, if you factor out the water used for the driveway, pool and guest. So, I think I'm supposed to not feel so badly about the high bill. Sort of, well maybe. I guess I'm just bummed that I didn't plan ahead for this higher bill. I'd at least have been more prepared mentally for that shocker of a bill.

There are other causes for higher than usual water consumption, for your reference, should you get a surprise of a bill some month.  Consider this:

  • Running a lawn sprinkler for just 1 hour will use 400 gallons of water.
  • If you have an automatic irrigation system, a leaky pipe underground can use up to 6300 extra gallons per month.
  • A running toilet (one whose little flap in the tank fails to shut properly) will use an extra 1 gallon of water every minute, or 1440 gallons per day. Or if there something wrong with the shut-off valve or the  float is set too high, and water continues to fill the tank and then pour into the overflow tube, 7000-8000 gallons of water can be poured right down the drain.
  • Faucets and shower heads that drip can use 1000s of gallons per year, just in those little drips!
Eye-opening, yes?

Information on water consumption from the city of Kirkland, WA, Dept. of Public Works


  1. In a pet column in the newspaper, I read about another unexpected high use of water. Apparently after a man went to work, his cat sat on top of the toilet and flushed it continuously. The cat like to watch the water swirl in the bowl. Before the man came home in the middle of the day and caught the cat, he had been trying to find the leak he was sure he had.

    1. Hi live and learn!
      That is really funny! You always wonder what your pets are doing while you're out. Here's one thing they might be doing. Maybe the kitty was flushing the toilet to torture the doggy who was trying to drink from same toilet, while the guy was away.

      Thanks fro your comments!

    2. Ha! I was just about to tell the same story! I got it in an email, complete with a video of the little kitty flushing the toilet over and over and over. Gremlins!!!

  2. Wow--you're right, it's easy to forget about everyday things that use a lot of water. I got my electric bill and was shocked at the amount until I realized that I actually ran the a/c for a couple of days.

    1. I have read that it's more expensive to run the a/c than to heat your home. I always think I will be tough enough to forego the use of a/c, that is, until the heat hits!

      We have city water to our house, but installed a well and a pump a few years ago for watering our garden. It's less expensive but can still add up. Especially when the only thing I can get my kids to do outdoors in the miserable heat is to play in the sprinkler.

    2. I had no idea A/C could use so much electricity. Okay, so there's an argument not to install A/C when our furnace finally dies. We go back and forth on A/C, do we, don't we.

      We are fortunate here in Seattle, to not need to use too much water for the garden and lawn. We never even used a sprinkler on the lawn this summer. Just used some hose water on the garden for the last few weeks. But some years it would be nice to have a well, just for the outdoors.

    3. After I rescued Princess, my latest feline addition, my electric bill skyrocketed. She had to be kept separated from the other cats until we were sure she didn't have anything contagious, and she also had to be shaved because she was covered with mats. So I had this naked little kitty living in the most sparsely heated section of the house... which meant that I set up a space heater and kitty heating pad for her.

      Even after she got integrated with the other cats, she was still glued to that heating pad. Since I didn't have the heart to take it away from her, I set up several more heating pads throughout the house. It wasn't until CatMan read an article about a house burning to the ground from a heating pad that we called it quits, and my electric bill went back down to normal. You don't realize how much energy things like that can gobble up when you run them 24/7!

    4. Hi Cat!

      Oh, that was one lucky little kitty who got her own heating pads throughout the house!

      But you and CatMan are right about the fire hazard. I have a girlfriend whose husband is a firefighter, and he won't even let her leave the dryer running when she has to dash out to get the kids from school. And so, now, I don't do that either. The laundry is right next to the garage, so just before I head out, I always pop the dryer door open when I have to go out and there's load in there.

  3. Our water is usually relatively stable, but the a/c usually comes on in May and sometimes a little earlier. We've had some freaky years where it has stayed hot right on into early October. One of the quirks of the South. Often it isn't just the heat, but the humidity that does us in. I'll be the first to admit I'd rather eat a diet of nothing but beans and rice and be able to afford the a/

    I love the stories about the kitties.

    1. Hi Shara,
      I feel the same way about heating the house. (We don't really need A/C here.) I'd rather eat nothing but beans than be too cold. Being too hot is miserable too. I can't seem to do anything when I'm either too cold, or too hot. So, in the end, I'm much more productive if I'm in a comfortable temperature range.

      Thanks for visiting!

  4. Wow, how easy it is to not think about the things we do everyday and how they'll add up. Sounds like fun in there with the pool though! Definitely worth the extra money. :)

    1. Hi Belinda,
      I know. It is really kind of surprising how many gallons we all must use each day, if 40-80 gallons per day is the average. That's a lot of water. But the pool has been a lot of fun for our family. It's been well-used.

      Thanks for your comments!

  5. It's crazy how much water costs! We are planning to move to FL and I really want to try a rain barrel for watering flowers outside. I know FL is really picky/limiting on water usage.

    1. Hi Kalynbrooke!

      We've been using two rain barrels for the last 15 years or so. They're great for the garden. For us, here in Seattle,with 2 barrels, the rain water lasts until mid to late July. Then we switch to city water. But all it takes is one good rain storm, mid-summer and the barrels are full again. Good luck with your move.

      Thanks for visiting!

  6. Great points. I have had the same "Oh my gosh is there a leak?" moment of panic as well. But there's usually a simple explanation. It's good to have a reminder of how much water simple things like a swimming pool or a power washer take up.

    1. Hi Rebecca!
      Glad I'm not the only one to first think it's a leak. That's probably a common first thought. Finding and fixing a leak would be such a headache. I do hear those horror stories of people getting water bills in the thousands of dollars, due to leaks that went undetected for a month or more.

      Thanks for reading!

  7. Lili I think you got your moneys worth out of your $40 extra on the bill. How much would it have cost for your family to go swim at a pool? Gas & fees add up quickly. Can you put a price on a visit from Grandpa? I think not.If you had hired someone to do your driveway it would have cost an arm & a leg and you still would have paid for the water used to clean the driveway.

    1. When put that way, yes, I can definitely see a financial benefit to this extra expenditure. I think the pool fees, alone, would have easily topped what we spent on water, given how much we've used the pool this year. When all down in dollars and cents like that, it looks much better.

      Thanks for the perspective!


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