Slash your water bill

23 July 2009

Water bills may seem like a fixed cost, but there are steps you can take to reduce the price you pay.

While households can shop around to find the cheapest energy supplier, this is not possible when it comes to water because the market, while privatised, is not open to competition.

However, depending on your circumstances, it might pay to install a water meter. This can help you monitor your water usage and lower your bill by up to 21%, according to the regulator Ofwat.

The amount you save will depend on what you currently pay, the number of people in your house, and how much water you use. If you have more bedrooms than people living in your home, you could benefit from a water meter.

There are several calculators online that you can use to see if a water meter would benefit your home – the best are on the Consumer Council for Water’s website and uSwitch. However, these will just give you an estimate of the potential savings. For the best result, contact your water company and request a water meter calculation.

For most customers, fitting a meter is free, but it’s worth contacting your water company to check as you may have to pay if installation is not practical or would be unreasonably expensive.

Some people may be able to get help with the costs of their water supply. For example, if you or someone in your household uses a high volume of water because of a medical condition or you have three or more children under the age of 16 and are receiving a qualifying benefit.

Contact your supplier and find out about what provisions it has in place to help people who have difficulty paying their bills.

While installing a water meter gives you more control and can help reduce your bills, remember that you will have to put up with the inconvenience of having it read. In addition, one advantage of fixed bills is that you can easily budget for your water bills, whereas using a meter means there is a degree of uncertainty over how much your annual bill will be.

If you do install a water meter and change your mind then most suppliers should allow you to switch back within 12 months (or a month after your second measured bills), especially if your circumstances change or you find a meter isn’t helping you cut costs.

Some people with high water usage will automatically be put onto a meter – for example, if you have a swimming pool, or a large water feature in your garden. If you move into a property that is fitted with a meter, then you probably won’t be able to switch back.

Once you've installed a meter, you can follow the tips below to help reduce the amount of water you use. These steps are also good for the environment – meaning they are worth following even if you haven’t got a water meter.

The bathroom

Your toilet uses about 30% of the total water used in your household, and old toilet cisterns can use as much as nine litres of clean water every flush.

You can reduce this by installing a water-efficient dual-flush toilet. If you don’t want to replace your loo, consider installing a cistern displacement device such as a ‘Save a flush’ bag or a ‘Hippo’. These are free from most water companies and are easy to install.

Opt for a shower rather than a soak in the tub; a typical bath uses twice as much water. Power showers, however, can use just as much water as a bath, so fit a low-flow one instead.

You should also aim to reduce the amount of time you spend in your shower. For every minute you cut off your daily shower you could save between £5 and £10 off your energy bills over the year, according to the Consumer Council of Water. Installing a water-saving shower head, meanwhile, can cut the amount of water used by about 30%.

Also make sure you turn off the tap when brushing your teeth - leaving it running can waste over six litres of water a minute – and use a plug when shaving and washing your face. lists different bathroom products that can help you save water - for example, the Bristan Prism Ecoclick Basin Mixer tap can potentially save 32% of water compared to an average tap.

The kitchen

According to Waterwise, kitchen taps and dishwashers account for about 8-14 % of water used in the home.

Wait until you have a full load before running your dishwasher or washing machine to save water, energy and money. Avoid using a half-load setting as this will use more than half the energy of a full-load setting. Because washing machines also use huge a lot of energy to heat water, consider opting for a 30 degrees wash rather than 40 degrees.

If your washing machine’s old, it might be worth investing in a new water and energy-efficient version. Again, the Waterwise website lists some of the different models on offer.

Fitting water-efficient taps or a tap aerator will help reduce the amount of water you use. You should also change your water usage behaviour:

Only fill kettles with the amount of water you need rather than to the brim
Wash fruit and vegetables in a bowl rather than under a running tap
Use leftover water (from washing or boiling vegetables for example) to water household plants - just make sure it’s at room temperature first
Keep drinking water in the fridge rather than running the tap for ages each time you want a cold drink

Outdoor areas

Many of us see our water bills rise in summer, as we tend our gardens. A hosepipe can emit as much as 18 litres of water a minute, so fit a trigger gun to control the flow – or use a watering can instead.

If you have a sprinkler, make sure you use it in the early morning or in the evening to avoid water evaporating from your garden.

Your roof collects tens of thousands of litres of water each year, but most people let this got to waste. Make the most of the bad weather by investing in a water butt – this will collect rainwater, which can then be used to keep your garden refreshed. Rainwater is often said to be better for plants than tap water as it is softer.

You can also use this rainwater to wash your car – the bucket and sponge method is more water-efficient than the hose.

Fix any leaks

One disadvantage with water meters is that you are liable to pay for any water lost through leakage after the meter is installed.

You will, of course, also have to meet the cost of repairing the leak – this is because property owners are responsible for the supply pipe that serves their property, in the same way as they are for plumbing in the house. If a leak occurs on this pipe, it is usually up to the owner to have it repaired.

However, the Consumer Council for Water says domestic customers with a water meter will receive an allowance for the water lost through leakage but only for the first leak. Plus, water companies will also offer some help to property owners dealing with leaks.

This might include meeting the cost of the detection of leaks or repairs, but will depend on each water company's policy and is not statutory. 

Remember, your water company is responsible for the water main, which is normally in the road outside your property, and, in many cases, for the section of supply pipe that runs from the main to the boundary of the property. 

Even smaller leaks should be fixed as soon as possible. A dripping tap, for example, can waste 15 litres of water a day and add over £18 to your annual water bill.

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