Handyman: Change habits to conserve water, cut costs

Glenn Haege

By now many of you have kicked on your sprinkler systems or even washed your car with the hose in the driveway. These types of additional outdoor water usage activities in the summer guarantee that your water bill will be higher. But a big part of water usage that you may not see is caused by leaks.

Here’s a quick way to check for water leaks. Turn off all the faucets, then go to your water meter and write down the numbers. Wait three hours, making sure no one uses the bathroom or starts the dishwasher, and re-check the meter. If it changed, you have a leak to track down.

According to Don Rohraff, director of Public Works for the city of Livonia, (734) 466-2655,, water leaks account for 14 percent of all water usage in American homes, which adds up to 1,000,000,000,000 – or 1 trillion gallons – per year of wasted water.

Rohraff said leaky toilets and faucets are major contributors to using more water around the home, but there are other leaks that are less obvious but can impact your bill. One culprit is the city water pressure backup system for a sump pump. If those turn on and run for a long period of time, it can really add up.

“We have had residents who saw an increase of a thousand dollars on their bill simply because they were unaware that they had been operating the city water pressure backup sump pump for an extended period of time,” Rohraff said.

He said people who have this type of system need to be in the habit of occasionally checking to confirm which sump pump is operating. In two recent cases, he said the sump pump circuit within the home had “tripped out” and the homeowner simply was not aware that the backup pump was being operated every time the sump would run.

Obviously, if you have a leaky faucet or toilet, it pays to get it fixed immediately. But there are plenty of other things you can do that will help you conserve water and keep your bill manageable.

An average family of four uses 370 gallons of water a day. Up to 17 percent of that usage comes from showering. So you can see there is a need for some proactive water conservation around the home.

“Simple things like turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth, making sure you only do laundry or run the dishwasher when you have a full load or installing low-flow shower heads are things people can easily do to lower their water usage,” Rohraff said.

Another way to save money and conserve water in the summer is to water your lawn only when it needs it. Your lawn doesn’t need to be watered every day, especially during times when we get rain frequently. And investing in a rain sensor on your sprinkler system can ensure it won’t run when it is raining, another incredible waste of water.

And while I hear a lot of complaints about water bills, many costs on your bill are fixed, meaning the increases in most cases are due to excess water usage. In fact, fixed costs account for about 80 percent of the bill, including things like the sewer charges. These costs also include maintenance of an aging water system, and even the electricity used to distribute the water. Set annually, once those fixed costs are set, any bill fluctuation is due to water use.

Using water during peak hours, such as 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. in Livonia, also increases costs.

“That’s why I encourage people to run their sprinklers in off-peak hours, like starting at 4:30 a.m.,” said Rohraff.

Also it’s a good idea to check with your local municipality’s water department about ordinances related to lawn sprinklers and other outdoor water usage. Better to go online or make a call than to find a citation in your mailbox.

Obviously, that summer water bill is bound to be higher with all the additional water we use outdoors. But you can still use as little water as possible by fixing leaks and changing some of your indoor and outdoor water usage habits, so that summer bill won’t break the bank.

If you would like to suggest a question for this column, e-mail If you want to talk to Glenn Haege, call his “Handyman Show” on WJR-AM (760) at (866) ASK GLENN, (866) 275-4536, from between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday. “The Handyman Show” can be heard on more than 130 radio stations.