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How am I using 21,000 gallons of water a month?
Old 03-23-2012, 12:47 PM   #1
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How am I using 21,000 gallons of water a month?

I live with DW in a 2,000 sq ft home on a 5,000 sq ft lot in north Texas. No kids, no pets, no pool. Our water bill said we used 21,000 gallons in February. I never paid much attention to this, but this is not out of line with our previous usage. How on earth are we using all that water

Our lawn sprinkler system runs for 1 minute per "zone" (which is the lowest time possible) and there are 5 zones. Right now it runs once a week. I confirmed that the water meter ID# matches the # on my bill. I watched the meter for an hour last night when no one was in the house and it moved 0.1 gallons in an hour with no water usage. So that leak is only 0.1*24*30 = 72 gallons per month. Neither of us takes baths or uses the tubs (shower only). We have a front load washing machine and a dishwasher. As far as I know our shower heads and toilets are normal for builders in the 1990s when the house was constructed (e.g. they are not low-flo).

How on earth do I explain the rest of the usage? Has my water meter been broken for the last 4 years?
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Old 03-23-2012, 12:52 PM   #2
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You might want to have a plumber check for leaks. That sounds bad.

For comparison, I have an old fashioned top loading washer and I always use less than 1000 gallons per month, or actually 2000 gallons for every two month billing cycle. That is the minimum charge, now $5.41 for two months. But then, with the high rainfall in my location I never feel any need to water the grass or plants outside.

Perhaps they don't actually READ your usage each month, and were estimating until this past month. Then they would have had to catch up with your actual usage.
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Old 03-23-2012, 12:57 PM   #3
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I agree I would check for leaks and if none can be found, I would try to shut off the main water supply during the night for a one month billing period or when you are away and see if there is a noticable difference. The main shut off would most likely be close to your water meter.
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Old 03-23-2012, 01:01 PM   #4
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yeah, that's a lot... a little over 2800 cubic feet of water, or enough to fill a pretty large bedroom entirely (16ft x 18ft)

or make a cube 14 feet on all sides.
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Old 03-23-2012, 01:06 PM   #5
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We got a bill like that once, and it turned out there was a leak right near the meter. At the bottom of the bill, it said "Thanks for conserving water!"
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Leak detector
Old 03-23-2012, 01:17 PM   #6
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Leak detector

To check for leaks, find your meter and look for a dime sized toothed wheel on the meter face. When you are sure no fixtures in the building are running, that wheel should not turn. It is quite sensitive to flow.
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Old 03-23-2012, 01:22 PM   #7
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To check for leaks, find your meter and look for a dime sized toothed wheel on the meter face. When you are sure no fixtures in the building are running, that wheel should not turn. It is quite sensitive to flow.
+1. Even a small toilet leak will show.
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Old 03-23-2012, 01:25 PM   #8
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I call bills like this "paper leak detectors".
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Old 03-23-2012, 01:28 PM   #9
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Some people seem to be missing this line from the OP:

Quote:
Originally Posted by soupcxan View Post
I watched the meter for an hour last night when no one was in the house and it moved 0.1 gallons in an hour with no water usage.
So there is not a large continuous leak. I think you need to keep checking/log this throughout the day/week/month. There must be something causing it to jump. 21,000/month is 30 gal/hour average.

What is the billing, fixed and variable? Is this costing you a lot? Are you sure that is monthly, not a quarterly bill?

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Old 03-23-2012, 01:31 PM   #10
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I use 3k every two month and I think that is crazy. It sounds like you have a leak.
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Old 03-23-2012, 01:35 PM   #11
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All good advice. I would also contact the municipal water supplier and see if they conduct free water audits. Most do for residential customers. You might also ask if the amount of water you use is similar to other customers in your neighborhood. Texas is just now recovering from severe drought conditions, so I would presume your water company would be interested in helping you conserve water if at all possible.

By the way, you might consider a separate water meter for your lawn watering - if you don't already have one (since you did not mention it, I am presuming you don't). If you are also on a public sewer system (and it sounds like you are), most sewage bills are based on total water usage that your water company bills you. So, you might have a double-whammy with regard to costs; high water and sewer bills. In our neck of the woods, our municipal sanitary sewer authority allows the subtraction of any water used for lawn irrigation, if you have a separate meter for that water use.

Good luck.
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Old 03-23-2012, 01:37 PM   #12
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I know some places don't always read every meter every month. When this happens, they tend to "estimate" based on past usage habits. It doesn't seem like this would cause such a sudden spike if usage hasn't been unusually high lately, but if they underestimate when they don't read the meter, it could lead to a larger adjustment later when they do read it. Obviously I don't know if this is the case but it is one potential source for "sticker shock" on utility bills.
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Old 03-23-2012, 01:39 PM   #13
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You must have a leak somewhere or a bad meter. I hope you have a separate shutoff for the sprinkler system and the toilets. Activate all the shutoff's, if your meter moves, it's probably faulty. Then turn back on the sprinkler supply and check the meter over time, do the same with the toilets. The amount of water used is equivalent to filling 2 NHL hockey rinks for 1" of ice.
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Old 03-23-2012, 01:43 PM   #14
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I live in Texas as well, but I have not watered my lawn since October. Why would you need to water your lawn until next month? Turn off your sprinkler system. Do not just put it on 1 minute per zone. When the system is off, the lowest possible time is zero.

Also in the winter, there is good chance of freezing, so be sure to turn the valve at the riser/backflow device off AND release the pressure in the underground lines. Freezing the back flow device can damage it and you will have water all over the highway in Mystic Connecticut. I doubt you have to blow the lines like folks up north do. This paragraph is for next year.

One year we discovered our meter was broken. The telltale sign was that we had no water usage for 6 months according to our bills. It took them more than another 6 months to fix it.
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Old 03-23-2012, 01:50 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by soupcxan View Post
I watched the meter for an hour last night when no one was in the house and it moved 0.1 gallons in an hour with no water usage. So that leak is only 0.1*24*30 = 72 gallons per month.
Are you sure it is 0.1 gallon per hour and not 0.1 Thousand gallons per hour? Ie are the units in gallons or thousand gallons?

My meter measures in hundred cubic feet which is about 762 gallons. So 0.1 of those would be equal to leaving a bathroom faucet partially on non stop.

.1 thousand gallons per hour (72000 gallons/month) would also be within an order of magnitude of the 21000 gallons/month you were billed for.
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Old 03-23-2012, 02:01 PM   #16
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We use between 10k and 50k gallons per month, depending on the time of year. Lawn watering (about 2000 sq ft of grass I think) takes up most of our water. I'd definitely check the water meter before and after your watering. It must really blast the water out if it only takes a minute per zone! We're currently on about 8 minutes per zone three times a week. I just had to increase from two times a week to keep the front lawn from turning brown. 20k doesn't sound too out of line, but it doesn't hurt to check, and maybe you can lower it some.
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Old 03-23-2012, 02:32 PM   #17
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Are you sure it is 0.1 gallon per hour and not 0.1 Thousand gallons per hour? Ie are the units in gallons or thousand gallons?
I bet you are on to something. 0.1 gallon increments seem very fine resolution for something like this.

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Old 03-23-2012, 02:58 PM   #18
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Here is what my water meter looks like, except mine says 1" instead of 5/8" and it's much dirtier:

http://www.mupb.com/images/watermeter.jpg

So on the lower dial, in one hour with no water usage, it moved from 6.6 to 6.8, which I read as 0.2 gallons (I mistakenly said 0.1 gal in my original post). But even a leak of 0.2 gal/hr is only 150 gal in a month. I guess the red triangle rotates if you have a leak, I didn't notice that before.

I called the utility but they couldn't give me any kind of comparison to my neighborhood except to say that "normal" monthly usage is 5k gal per person plus whatever you use on the lawn. Is running the sprinklers for 1 minute per zone per week using 10,000 gallons a month?

I will turn the sprinklers off and start watching the meter every day.
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Old 03-23-2012, 03:00 PM   #19
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I bet you are on to something. 0.1 gallon increments seem very fine resolution for something like this.

-ERD50
+1

At that level of resolution (reading out in tenths of a gallon), you'd be able to tell if one of the kids got out of bed for a drink of water. I don't think so....... But ya never know.

Just checked my bill. I'm billed in increments of 1,000 gallons. We were billed for 4,000 gallons for the last billing period, which is two months.

For 12/8/2011 to 2/7/2012:

Current reading 1077
Previous reading 1073
Usage (1,000 gals) 4
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Old 03-23-2012, 03:05 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by soupcxan View Post
Here is what my water meter looks like, except mine says 1" instead of 5/8" and it's much dirtier:

http://www.mupb.com/images/watermeter.jpg

So on the lower dial, in one hour with no water usage, it moved from 6.6 to 6.8, which I read as 0.2 gallons (I mistakenly said 0.1 gal in my original post). But even a leak of 0.2 gal/hr is only 150 gal in a month. I guess the red triangle rotates if you have a leak, I didn't notice that before.

I called the utility but they couldn't give me any kind of comparison to my neighborhood except to say that "normal" monthly usage is 5k gal per person plus whatever you use on the lawn. Is running the sprinklers for 1 minute per zone per week using 10,000 gallons a month?

I will turn the sprinklers off and start watching the meter every day.
If the utility can't tell you how to read the meter, run a garden hose out near the meter, fill a 5 gallon bucket twice. If that indicator is really in gallons, you will see it move by 10 units.

-ERD50
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