Thursday 20 June 2019

How I beat the meter to reduce my water bill

Paul Melia explains that a mixture of gadgets and thrift saw him pay below flat-rate charge

Irish Independent journalist Paul Melia makes the most of his water allowance at his home in Co Kildare. Below, Paul’s metered bill from Irish Water, which was less than the €64.12 maximum.
Irish Independent journalist Paul Melia makes the most of his water allowance at his home in Co Kildare. Below, Paul’s metered bill from Irish Water, which was less than the €64.12 maximum.
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

It's purely by design that my water bill is below the capped charge and I beat the meter.

Instead of paying the maximum €65 for my family of five for the first three months of this year, I will instead pay €48.86, a substantial saving.

My water bill equates to 54 cent a day. By way of comparison, a Mars bar costs about €1.

It has all come about through a combination of gentle persuasion, some cajoling and outright foot-stamping and petulance, all on my part. But it's yielded a result - my wife and three-children have helped reduce our 'average' daily usage to just 319 litres a day.

That's pretty good, considering that in June last year we were using 55 litres a day more.

That's 4,950 litres over three months, which would incur a charge of €18.31.

The sterling work achieved through turning off the tap when brushing teeth, and only using the dishwasher when it's full, among other measures, is the difference between being hit with the capped charge and the lower bill which landed through the letterbox.

The reason I know our consumption is because I tracked it for a month last summer using sophisticated monitoring equipment supplied by a Carlow-based company named Cheetah Telemetry. A logger fitted to the meter allowed the amount of water being used every 15 minutes to be measured. On one day, when the washing machine was used six times and the dishwasher once, plus two showers were had, some 380 litres were used.

But it was when the data was broken down into smaller time periods that the real picture of consumption emerged.

From early morning to mid-afternoon, there was more or less continuous use as everyone awoke and toilets were flushed, teeth brushed, water drank, showers taken, flasks filled for school lunches and appliances switched on. It's astonishing how much water you use without even realising.

And although there was little that could be cut out, somehow we did make savings. The first step was fitting an aerator to the kitchen tap. Supplied by Galway-based company Renergise.ie, but available in most hardware shops, these little devices restrict the flow and introduce air, meaning you get the same pressure using less water.

They cost about €10 and instead of 15 litres of water a minute coming from the tap, it's reduced to about four or five litres.

While it does take a little longer for the sink to fill, there's little difference when filling a glass of water or washing your hands. A top tip is not to run the tap, but instead to fill a bottle for drinking water and leave it in the fridge.

The second measure was fitting an aerator to the shower. The average power shower pumps out some 125 litres of water over five minutes, so at around €40 it's an investment worth making.

I don't have a power shower. In fact, low water pressure means our shower is hopeless, using just 10 litres over five minutes, but despite this there's no BO problems of which I am aware, and no-one complains about a lack of hygiene among the Melias.

But it's the small stuff that really brings down the bill. Website taptips.ie says 12 litres of water is used when brushing teeth, if the tap is left running. That's 8,760 litres a year per person, or 43,800 for a family of five.

Turning off the tap reduces that to just 7,300 for the family over the year - a difference of 36,500 litres, or €135 a year.

A water butt will hold 200 litres of free rainwater for the garden. A hose uses around nine litres a minute. A toilet uses around the same per flush, but fitting a toilet tank bag costing €5 will reduce this to five or six litres. Aerators on bathroom taps will also reduce the bill.

But for some people, no amount of effort will yield lower bills. The reason is because they have a leak.

A sample of bills from Irish Water shows just how much one adds to bills. Fortunately, a cap is in place, meaning these households won't be hit in the pocket.

One unfortunate received a bill for more than €19,000 - it's unlikely they were taking more than 700 baths a day, so a leak is the most likely culprit.

Another household used €18,000 worth of water, and another almost €12,000. These people will be among 25,000 to benefit from Irish Water's 'first-fix free' policy, where serious leaks external to the house will be repaired free of charge.

Any leak of more than six litres an hour comes under the scheme, and in many cases, the homeowner will be unaware that thousands of litres of water is escaping from pipes into their gardens. But if it's an internal leak, it's the responsibility of the homeowner to repair.

Irish Water believes that one in three metered customers will come in under the cap, noting that one single adult household incurred a charge of just €13.30, using just under 4,000 litres over 90 days.

But being honest, the main reason why my bill is so low is because of the free child's allowance of 21,000 litres per year. With three children, that amounts to more than 15,000 litres over the first 90 days of the year. If that was removed, and there was no cap, my quarterly bill would amount to €106.34.

But just when I was applauding my family's enormous achievement, a contact emailed his bill.

His family of four adults, meaning no free allowances, incurred a charge of just €48.12 - 74 cent less than mine. They're obviously less fragrant.

Irish Independent

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