Water Audit

When we first moved into our house about 14 years ago, we were horrified at the size of the water rates. The house, notionally, has three bedrooms ( although in fact it now has one bedroom and two offices because we both work from home) and so the water rates reflected a family residence. Since there are only two of us, we decided that it would be prudent to have a water meter fitted… and one was installed within about four months of us moving in.

Having a water meter provides a great incentive to think about your water consumption. When ours was first fitted we thought very carefully about how we used water. We already had water butts to provide water for the garden and we were careful with our use for showers, but we did have an old, very water-hungry washing machine. Its age was showing as it also used to migrate across the kitchen during spin cycles. We decided to replace it and, after much research into water and energy consumption, bought a new one. The old one was given away to friends who used if for several more years and the ‘new’ one is still going strong 13 years later. Our careful water consumption reduced the bills to half the amount we would have paid unmetered and we were very pleased.

The IBC stores water collected off the shed roof

The IBC stores water collected off the shed roof

Some years later we instigated the use of rainwater in the toilet cistern. Using the water that is piped into your house to flush the toilet is wasteful of both water and energy… after all, that treatment that it goes through before it reaches you requires energy and resources. According to the Environment Agency, almost 1% of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK originate from the water industry, so reducing consumption of water helps reduce carbon dioxide emissions. We have a very low-tech approach to filling the cistern: we collect rainwater off the roof of the house, the greenhouse and shed in water butts and an IBC, then we fill 5l bottles with it and when we’ve flushed the toilet, we take the lid off the cistern and pour 5l of water in.

Until recently, the toilet remained with the mains water switched on, so that any shortfall was topped up by the mains. However, a few weeks ago we received a water bill. It was slightly higher than usual, although within the margin of error due to rounding. It did prompt us, though, to look at our weekly water consumption, and the figure did seem to be higher than we could easily account for. We wondered whether we had underestimated the number of washes we did every week, the exact amount of water used in the shower, the inclusion of occasional baths? Eventually we decided to investigate how much mains water was going into the cistern each time we flushed. We turned off the tap that isolates the toilet from the mains, flushed, tipped 5l of rainwater in and discovered a shortfall of 1.5l before the ‘usual’ level in the cistern was reached. Our water pressure is quite high, and we had only ever noticed water entering from the mains for a short time during filling, but each time, this has amounted to 1.5l!

The issue has been resolved – the toilet remains isolated from the mains unless we run out of rainwater or have guests (we don’t ask visitors to participate in water transfer) and we await our next water bill with interest… I suspect that the difference is going to be noticeable. Now, we’re wondering how else we can cut down!

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5 Comments

  1. low flow aerators?

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  2. We all have water meters here (unless you aren’t serviced by mains at all), It didn’t even occur to me that people might be on the mains and not billed for actual use!

    Water use is such an issue here in Australia and the Victorian govt are in the middle of building a desal plant in preparation for the next drought. I wondered if the many millions spent on it would have been better spent on them installing a toilet tank in every house. All that rainwater down the drain and all the drinking water down the loo, surely there must be a better way of using the resources that we have been given instead of trying to make something out of nothing.

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    • Flushing away drinking water is a big concern to me… but few other people seem to care.
      As for water meters…they are fitted to all new houses here in the UK, but there are still many houses that don’t have one (they weren’t standard when our house was built 20 years ago). Of course, people with large families object to them, but it only seems fair to pay for what you use.
      By-the-way, I love your set-up to divert water from your washing machine onto your lawn… we have some piping ready to do it onto our veggies if we ever get another dry summer!

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  1. Small steps | The Snail of Happiness

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