How to Read Your Water Bill

By Gillian Burdett

Your water bill may not be the most exciting piece of mail delivered to your home, but you should give it more than a quick glance. Information included on your billing statement can alert you to changes in your household’s water usage and give you a heads-up to any problems with your plumbing that need investigation.

The data provided on your water bill will help you take control of water usage in your home, saving you money and conserving this vital resource. While there are variations in water bill formats from district to district, they all contain the same basic information with the amount you owe topping the list. How does your water district calculate these charges?

Measuring the flow of water

A water meter is installed in the water line at the point where municipal water enters your property. Most often, you will find your meter at the front of your house beneath a utility access plate. Every time you open a faucet, flush the toilet or run the dishwasher, the meter is measuring the volume of water that flows through the water supply line.

Interpreting your meter readings

Water usage is measured in cubic feet. A standard billing unit is a Hundred Cubic Feet (HCF), approximately 748 gallons. Your water bill will show your meter’s previous reading and its current reading. The difference between these is the number of units, HCF, your household used over the billing period. This is then multiplied by the rate per unit to determine the dollar amount you owe.

Understanding usage rates: Target Allocation and conservation surcharges

You may find several different rates applied on your bill. The normal quantity charge is for all water consumed. Normal usage amounts, determined by averaging water usage in a community over time, are called Target Allocations and may be noted on your water bill as total HCF per billing period.

Municipalities, in response to drought conditions, may add a surcharge for water usage that exceeds the amount determined to be normal usage. For example, if the target allocation for your class of water consumer is 30 HCF for 60 days, and your usage is 32 HCF, you will pay a conservation surcharge on the 2 HCF over your target allocation.

Comparing water usage over time

A higher than usual water bill may be a rate increase or it may be you are using more water. If your bill is higher than normal, check the comparison chart or bar graph provided on the bill by your water company.

If you have been watering the lawn or garden more often or filling a swimming pool, this would explain a spike in usage. If you haven’t done anything differently, you may have a leak somewhere in your home. A steady drip from the kitchen faucet can waste as much as seven gallons of water a day; a continuously running toilet can waste 200 gallons a day.  Over a billing period, this will make a significant difference in your water charges. Be alert to increases in your water usage and track down leaks before they drain your wallet and cause damage to your home.

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