Sunday 21 January 2018

Water charges mean new loo rules – if it's yellow, let it mellow

Goodbye garden: If we have a summer like the one we had in 2013, then only the wealthy can afford to water the plants
Goodbye garden: If we have a summer like the one we had in 2013, then only the wealthy can afford to water the plants
Louise McBride

Louise McBride

THE water charges will cost the average household €240 a year – following a decision by the Government last week. Each household will have a free allowance of 30,000 litres a year before water charges kick in – with an additional allowance to cover water used by under-18s.

Although Environment Minister Phil Hogan described that free allowance as "generous" last week, you will fly through it easier than you think. If you have an old-style flush toilet and you flush your toilet seven times a day, your toilet flushing alone could eat up your free allowance.

The average household uses about 140,000 litres of water a year, according to the Department of the Environment.

Trying to reduce that consumption to 30,000 litres in a bid to avoid water charges will be a major shock to the system. Here are seven things you will have to kiss goodbye to when water charges come on board this October – otherwise, you risk paying through the nose for water.

Bubble baths

A full bath can use up to 80 litres of water – so you've no chance of staying within your free allowance if you have a bath a day. Most of us don't have a daily bath – but even cutting back on your weekly bath could save you a small fortune.

Long showers

Knocking a minute off your shower will save you seven litres of water a go, according to Jacob Tompkins, managing director of Waterwise, a British organisation that encourages people to conserve water. So you'll save 2,555 litres a year by showering for a minute less every day – if you plan on having a shower a day.

As well as cutting your water usage – and keeping your water charges down – the shorter shower could save you about €150 a year in energy bills, said Tompkins. "It takes a lot of energy to heat water," added Tompkins.

Switching your showerhead to an aerated or low-flow showerhead should also help to keep your water bills in check. These showerheads reduce the amount of water used – but should still give the feel of a normal shower.


One of the most important things you can do before water charges are introduced is to check for leaks, advised Graham Smith, the interim head of water with consumer lobby group the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland. Water leaks have cost businesses in the North thousands, according to Smith.

"The water in a leak will be counted as consumption," said Smith. "If you have a leak, you could be hit with a major bill, depending on how big the leak is – and for how long it has been running.

"To check for a leak, take a meter reading when your water meter is put in, then make sure all your water taps and radiators are turned off – and check the meter. If the meter is still turning, you might have a leak."

If you have a leak, contact Irish Water. Under Irish Water's 'first fix free' scheme, the company should repair the leak for free – as long as the leak is outside your home and identified within a certain time of your water meter being installed or water charges beginning. Leaks outside your home can often be traced to the water pipe leading to your property – or the main stopcock on the road into your home.

If the leak is in your home, such as from a burst or badly fitted water pipe, you will need to hire a plumber and cover the cost of repairs yourself.

If it's yellow, let it mellow

Flushed toilets account for about one-third of the water used by a typical family, said Tompkins. "Look at how you're flushing the toilet," added Tompkins. "For example, do you really need to flush it every time you put a tissue into it?"

A dual flush toilet – where you can choose the amount of water that will be used with each flush – could be worth investing in. Dual flush toilets typically use between four and six litres of water a flush – compared to the 13 litres used in an old-style flush system, according to Waterwise.

A cistern displacement device, which takes up space that would otherwise be occupied by water, could also be worth installing in your toilet cistern. The device, which reduces the amount of water that is available for flushing, can save up to 5,000 litres of water a year, according to some experts.

Dripping taps

A running tap can easily use six litres of water a minute, according to Smith. So before water charges kick in, get out of the habit of running the tap when brushing your teeth.

Use a bowl to wash up the dishes rather than leaving a tap running.

Adding a tap aerator can help reduce the flow of water from your tap and, therefore, the amount of water used.

That dripping tap that keeps you awake at night should also be fixed. "A tap that drips once a minute throughout the day will use up 30 litres of water a day – and that adds up over the year," said Smith.

Tarmac the lawn

Using a hosepipe to water the lawn will cost you a fortune. Although attaching a trigger nozzle to the hosepipe can reduce the amount of water used, using a water butt is a better idea.

Water butts allow you to catch large amounts of rainwater and to use that rainwater then to water your lawn or flowers. "Rainwater is better for your plants than treated water," said Smith.

If you live in a terraced house and have no down spout on your house, you should maybe consider tarmacing over the flowers.

Don't wash recyclables

Running the washing machine or dishwasher when it is half empty will be an expensive waste. Make sure you fully load your dishwasher or washing machine before turning it on.

Avid recyclers should think twice about cleaning recyclables before binning them.

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