Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Reduce Your Sewer and Water Bills

How much water you use in the first three months of the year will determine how much your annual sewer bill will be. In other words, now is a good time to learn to avoid doing what's being done in the photo, where drinking water is turning instantly into sewage without even being used.

Below is an edited version of a post from last year on how to save money, in one fell swoop, on both your water bill and sewer bill in Princeton:

This is the most timely time of year to trim your water consumption. According to municipal staff, a residential sewer bill is calculated by 1) totaling up your January through March water consumption and multiplying by four, or 2) your total water consumption for the year, whichever is less. Since water use typically rises in the summer, e.g. for watering the yard, consumption in the first three months of the year tends to determine how much you pay.

Here are some ideas for reducing water use, and developing habits that can be sustained throughout the year:

Low-flow toilets are inexpensive and outperform older models: Despite the antiquated rantings of humorist Dave Barry, toilets on the market today outperform the old water-guzzling varieties while using even less water than the 1.6 gallon low-flow standard. Some, like the American Standard Cadet 3, function as dual-flush even though not advertised as such, increasing efficiency even more. It's easy to research brands by reading reviews on the internet. If you have a house full of wasteful toilets but don't want to replace them all, start with the one that's most used. (Click here for a writeup on how low-flow toilets have been wrongly criticized by politicians and editorial boards.)

Below are some ideas listed on my energy-saving website,

  • Since hot water takes awhile to reach the faucet, avoid the wait and the waste of drinking water and use the cold water tap instead. Any hot water not hot enough to kill bacteria probably just makes them stronger.
  • Value drinking water more. Try to counter the illusion created by plumbing that clean water exists in infinite supply. Think of how you'd use it if you had to bring it into the house by hand rather than have machines deliver it to your fingertips from 20 miles away. To better understand how using less water can also save considerable energy and municipal expense, try to picture the twenty mile trip Princeton's tapwater takes from the water plant to your faucet, then the less flattering journey down the drain to the wastewater treatment plant on River Road, where some $1.5 million in fossil fuel energy is consumed each year to treat the wastewater and incinerate the sludge. 
  • Navy showers--The idea here is to turn off the water while lathering up. It's particularly worth considering in the summer, when the last thing one wants is more heat and humidity in the house. A similar approach can be used for washing dishes. It takes conscious effort at first to change habits, but once muscle memory is developed, it all becomes automatic and you can go back to singing Italian arias, or whatever. 
  • Aerators on faucets greatly reduce water use while maintaining the sensation of lots of water flowing. Very cheap, at the local hardware store.
  • Low-flow shower heads (2.5 gallon/minute) help compensate for long teenage showers.
Using these approaches, it turns out that our family of four averages 3000 gallons per month, which works out to $25 per month for sewer service. This EPA site offers more ideas on reducing water use. It's figures suggest we're using a third of what would be considered typical. 

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