Save Water, and Protect Yourself from this Rising Utility Cost

Most of us pay attention to the increases in the cost of gas, oil and electricity, but we often overlook the price of water, which is becoming more expensive. For evidence, see this September 2012 report by USA Today, “Water Costs Gush Higher,” which explains why residential water bills in at least one in four places have doubled in the past 12 years. According to the report, The trend toward higher bills is being driven by:

  • The cost of paying off the debt on bonds municipalities issue to fund expensive repairs or upgrades on aging water systems.
  • Increases in the cost of electricity, chemicals and fuel used to supply and treat water.
  • Compliance with federal government clean-water mandates.
  • Rising pension and health care costs for water agency workers.
  • Increased security safeguards for water systems since the 9/11 terror attacks.

On a discouraging note, the report mentions that despite an increase in water conservation, sometimes water rates actually go up: “Why? Because water suppliers collect less income as consumption drops, but ongoing costs — such as bonding debt, salaries and chemicals — either increase or, at best, remain stable.” Nonetheless, nearly everyone agrees that that‘s no reason to stop conserving water; there are plenty of good economic and environmental reasons to conserve water (see another Green Energy Money blog, “A Fluid Asset in Your Backyard: Water.”)

The good news is, homeowners can reduce their water usage and hence, their water utility bills, by going beyond taking shorter showers, fixing leaks and turning on their faucets less frequently. You can incorporate water efficiency measures, whether you build a high-performance home or retrofit an existing home. Below are standard categories of high-performance homes, highlighting their typical water efficiency measures:

  • Light Retrofit and Weatherization can be combined to achieve a more cost-effective and higher efficiency savings plan. This could range from simply replacing older, less efficient kitchen appliances and HVAC equipment, low-flow faucets, upgrading to a higher R-value insulation, hot water demand systems, and incorporating xeriscape landscaping.
  • E3-Light Retrofit can include installing new Energy Star appliances, upgraded insulation, water conservation measures (shower-heads, low flow facets, water recycling systems), energy-efficient lighting, ceiling fans, and smart meter monitoring device. (Energy efficiency up to 50 %.)
  • E2-Deep Retrofit includes new energy system equipment, HVAC, Air Exchange Recovery Systems (air quality, climate control- Heat Recovery Ventilation System {HRV}-Energy Recovery Ventilation System {ERV} humidity control), smart appliances, energy efficient windows, building envelope upgrades (whole house super insulation or standard insulation panels (SIPs), sustainable building materials, water conservation measures, hot water on demand, and hot water solar systems. Energy efficiency 50%-75%.
  • E1-Near Zero-Net or Zero-Net includes renewable energy systems; solar and wind, rainwater harvesting systems, geothermal and ventilation systems. These properties produce energy to sustain energy usage and may require low utility payments over time. In some cases, these properties can still require some inclement weather months of conventional utility use to offset times with less renewable power generation, but the costs are very low comparatively. Also, many utilities who offer net-metering programs charge a monthly fee to calculate and generate a billing and payment statement.

The ultimate way to reduce your utility bills is to collect your own water through rainwater harvesting, which is a safe, affordable and effective way to conserve water and save money on your water utility bills. Here are two GEM case studies of homes that use only rainwater:

The next time you get your water utility bill, look out the window and think about capturing some of the free water that falls from the sky.