The smart way to cut your water bill

Updated on 02 June 2009 | 12 Comments

With summer hot on our heels, we look at the benefits...and pitfalls of installing a water meter.

Ever wondered how much it costs to spend a penny? Well, it seems even the nation's toilet habits haven't escaped inflation, and if you have a water meter, a trip to the loo will now set you back a whole two pence.

Of course, if you're part of the two-thirds of Brits who receive unmetered bills, this piece of trivia won't mean much to you.

But, as the Environment Agency is calling for all homes in England and Wales to be fitted with a water meter, these devices are increasingly coming under the spotlight.

Unlike gas and electricity suppliers, you can't switch between water companies. However, if you are on an unmetered system at the moment, you can choose to install a water meter.

If you live in a house built after 1990, you'll already have a water meter installed in your home. The main advantage of having one is that as well as encouraging you to be more considerate of the environment, it could also save you money.

Water regulator Ofwat estimates metering can reduce water consumption by 9 - 21%. The average unmetered water bill in England and Wales is £362, compared to £309 for a metered property. So could you be better off by installing one?

Fact finding

As a rule of thumb, if you have more bedrooms in your house than people, a water meter could be the way forward. Equally, many lifestyle choices, such as if you're out at work most days, live on your own, frequently shower at the gym - or worse, don't shower at all - may mean you're better of with a meter.

As a rough guide, Ofwat says it costs around 9p to have a shower, 4p to wash the dishes in a dishwasher costs, and £1.19 for an hour watering the typical garden (according to Thames Water, using a hosepipe for just one hour is equivalent to three days average consumption).

By far the best way to assess if you'll be better off with a water meter is by using a water calculator. The Consumer Council of Water's calculator covers all the providers, or you can check your own water company's website.

Taking the plunge

If you decide a meter is the way forward, water companies in England and Wales are obliged to fit one free of charge (in Scotland you'll have to pay to have it fitted, which can be quite expensive).

You can still have a meter if you live in a block of flats - as long as the water supply can be separated. If it can't, you can always ask for an 'assessed charge' which estimates how much water you're likely to use instead.

Depending on which water company you're with, different factors are used to calculate this estimate, such as the number of bedrooms or people living in the house.

Once a water meter has been fitted, you have a year to change your mind. If you're not happy, simply let your water company know, and they'll switch you back to your original, flat rate tariff.

Unfortunately, after the year has passed, there's no going back. Similarly, if you move into a property that already has a water meter installed, you'll have no choice but to live with it.

No regrets

If you opt for a meter, the important thing to remember is to keep a close eye on your bills. There have been some horror stories where people suddenly discover they've been paying for their neighbour's bill as well as their own.

If your bills seem too high, get in touch with your supplier straight way to ensure you're not paying more than you should.

There are also some discounts available for the sewerage element of your water bill. If you have a soakaway (a large underground gravel pit which collects water from your roof or drive), you can claim a £20 to £40 rebate from your water company simply by filling out a form.

Soakaways are more common in rural than urban areas. Check your property deeds to find out if the discount applies to you.

There is also of the psychological effect of having a water meter. When you know you're paying for every single drop, my guess is you'll be less likely to leave that hose on while you run a quick errand, or leave the tap running while you're brushing your teeth.

The counter-argument to having a meter is it could lessen the appeal of your home if you tried to sell it, and big families may be put off buying a house with a meter installed. But if you're not planning to move in the near future, you should take advantage of the savings on offer.

Similarly, if you are part of a growing family, unlike an unmetered tariff, when your family gets larger, your bill will grow with it. So it's important to bear this in mind before to decide to switch.

Whether you have a water meter or not, these other water saving measures will reduce your consumption and perhaps your bill too. That way, you can help both the environment and your wallet too.

More: Get the cheapest energy tariff / How to save money on your oil bill


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