Check for potential problems and head off large water bills

By: Sarah Wojcik | C&G Newspapers | Published September 26, 2018

 Broken water pipes are a common cause of unexpectedly high water bills.

Broken water pipes are a common cause of unexpectedly high water bills.

Shutterstock image

 One way to prevent high water bills is to make sure outdoor water spigots haven’t sprung a leak.

One way to prevent high water bills is to make sure outdoor water spigots haven’t sprung a leak.

Shutterstock image

METRO DETROIT — Leak-proofing a home is generally not something gnawing at homeowners’ minds — until something happens, like an unexpectedly large water bill.

Precautionary steps can make all the difference.

The main culprit of higher-than-normal water use is running toilets, and other culprits include pipe breaks, sump pump failures, extra watering or new construction.

A less than 1/8-inch leak recently caused a water usage of almost 200,000 gallons for one Royal Oak resident, Royal Oak interim Treasurer JaynMarie Hubanks said.

She said the easiest way for homeowners to avoid a high water bill is to diligently monitor their water use.

“Read your own meter once a month, write it down on a calendar, and notate what your typical use is so that you can identify when you were using higher than what your quarterly bills are,” Hubanks recommended at the Sept. 11 Royal Oak City Commission meeting. “Turn everything off, look at your meter, wait for a couple of hours and look back at your meter. If there’s any use and you know you haven’t run water, you have a problem.”

The commission had requested that her office look into recent instances of notably high water bills in the city and offer actions to take when high use is identified, and she gave a report at the Sept. 11 meeting.

Out of 100,000 water bills sent out annually in quarterly cycles, 39 Royal Oak residential properties had high water use over the past year, and in six of those cases, neither the city nor the homeowner could identify the reason for the dramatic increase, Hubanks said.

Hubanks clarified that “high use” referred to residential properties that exceeded 25 percent over the American Water Works Association standard of 30 units per quarter for a family of four (120 units per year),  or more than 150 units annually.

She included information in the meeting’s agenda packet about common causes of high water bills and how to prevent them.

The common causes include a leaking toilet or a toilet that continues to run after being flushed; a broken water pipe or a leak in the water heater; a dripping faucet or an open outside spigot; filling or topping off a swimming pool; watering the lawn, new grass or trees; water-cooled air conditioners; a water softener that cycles continuously; and running the water continuously to avoid freezing water pipes in cold weather.

To prevent high water bills, frequently check plumbing, outside taps and irrigation lines for leaks. Wet spots on a lawn can indicate a leaky line.

One way to check if a toilet is leaking is to place a colored dye tablet in the tank, wait several hours and check the toilet bowl. If there is any color in the bowl, there is a leak.

Deirdre Mueller, senior communications manager for the AWWA, said the biggest thing homeowners can do to reduce water bills is to install low-flow fixtures on toilets, shower heads and faucets.

“A lot of utility companies want to encourage customers to do that and have reimbursement programs available or vouchers,” Mueller said. “I definitely encourage (that) they check with their water utility to see if they have a program to recover the costs of those.”

Another basic maintenance procedure to keep costs down, she said, is to make sure water pressure in the home isn’t too high.

“While high water pressure might be good for showers every morning, it’s not good for your pipes,” she said. “The best water pressure window is 50-75 (pounds per square inch). Anything above that, the water pressure will begin ruining the pipes over time.”

Mueller added that water and toilet paper are the only two things that should be going down drains.

“There is no such thing as flushable wipes. Don’t put them down the toilet,” she said. “Grease is also really bad for pipes. If you have a greasy pan, wipe out all of the grease first. You see images of ‘fatbergs’ in the media — they burst pipes.”

As the weather cools down, she said now is also an important time to think about winterizing pipes in the home.

“Seal off any cracks letting cold air into the home and make sure you disconnect outdoor hoses, so no water is sitting in them that will freeze and back up,” Mueller said. “If you have pipes that are exposed, insulate them by wrapping insulation tape around them to keep them warm.”

The AWWA offers an online drip calculator to determine how much water a dripping or fast-running faucet uses by inputting either the number of drops per minute or the amount of time in seconds, which can be found at www.drink tap.org.

The website also includes more information about household leaks and caring for pipes.

For more information, visit www.awwa.org or call (800) 926-7337.