How To Read Your Water Bill

Water is one of the scarce resources in the world. As responsible citizens, we need to conserve water and reduce unnecessary usage. The best starting point for most of us? Our water bill. The bill you get from your water utility tells you all about your water consumption, your monthly bill amount, and much more.

You should read the water bill closely and carefully… but that’s not always easy to do. An analysis of your water bill will help you understand if you could reduce water consumption in order to save month, how much you are spending, when you are spending, and so much more. You use the learning to do things like plan how to reduce water usage. In the process, you will not only save water and also reduce the bill you need to pay.

This guide explains all you want to know on how to read a water bill.

Water Meter Basics

The water bill is sent by the water utility — usually municipal “water authority” — every month to charge homes for the water consumed. Water used is measured through a water meter. The water meter keeps a track of the water you receive to your home from the local water supply. Every month the readings are taken and the difference between the current and previous month’s reading indicates your consumption.

In the past water readings were done by a person who would drive to your home and look at the meter on the side of your home. Now many meters have been replaced with electronic meters, like the Sensus SR II Displacement Type Magnetic Drive Cold Water Meter, which has a built in radio. This will transmit your water usage to the water company so no one needs to actually visit your home each month. An electronic meter will work with an ERT (Encoder Receiver Transmitter) in order to wirelessly send the data to your provider.

You will be billed based on the reading. The tariff or amount billed varies depending on your city and state. For example, in New York City water measurement is done through HCF or 100 cubic feet (the measurement unit). 1 HCF of water is equal to 748 gallons. In 2022, New York City residents have to pay $4.10 for 100 cubic feet (1 HCF) of water. These rates are almost always public and easy to find, having been posted on your municipality’s website or your water company’s website. The rate should also be printed on the bill itself.

Along with the water, you also have to pay for sewer charge (sometimes called “sewerage”). The waste let out from your home goes into the city sewer system. The city authorities charge sewerage fee for each home to ensure proper maintenance of the sewerage system. The sewerage charge in NYC is $6.51 for 100 cubic feet of sewer usage.

Because most of water used ultimately goes down the sewer, most water bills are summarized as a combined total or water flowing in and out of the time. In the case of NYC the total water usage charge is $10.61 per 1 HCF, which is simply the addition of the water and sewer usage.

Understanding Water Usage

Your water bill shows how much water you have used for the month. On average, Americans use 88 gallons per day. This translated to around 10,000 gallons a month for a family. This is average usage and the actual usage varies depending on local weather conditions.

The bill shows you the water consumption in HCF. You are billed based on how much water you use. The water bill can also show you the trend in water consumption. This again varies from one city to the other.

The bill can show your water usage history over the past year. The bill may show a graph indicating the change in water usage along with the bill amount for each month. The bill can even have a line graph so you can get a bird’s eye view of changes in water consumption.

This will help you understand if your water usage is increasing or decreasing. It will also help you know in which months of the year your water usage is more and in which it is less. This information will help you plan on water conservation.

Some utilities even show a comparison of your water usage as against your neighbors. Of course, it will not tell you the names of the neighbors. But it will show whether you use lesser or more water as compared to other households in your neighborhood. This information can be useful in encouraging people to stop over consuming water

Understanding Water Charges

The bill would show the water consumed and the total amount you need to pay. This would include the water consumption charges along with the sewerage charges and other relevant fees. Any pending payment from the previous month or interest for late payment is also shown in your bill.

The billing is done based on the rate system prevalent in your city. The different types of rate systems include:

  • Flat fee: In this system, there is a flat fee charged for everyone. This is uniform and does not depend on the water consumption. Such a fee structure does not promote water conservation.
  • Uniform rate: This structure is commonly followed and has a fixed amount for every unit of water consumed. In this system, the water meter reading is taken. The number of units consumed is multiplied by the uniform rate. If you use more water, you pay more and vice versa.
  • Block rates: In this system, usage is classified in blocks of consumption. If you use less water you are charged a lesser prince. If you use more, the charges go up. This system motivates people to consume lesser water to save money.
  • Special rates: In some places, there are seasonal rates where different rates are charged for each season. During drought times, the charged would be higher. Water budget rates may be used where houses are charged based on whether they stick to their budget or exceed it.