The Schooley Mitchell Blog

Understanding your utility bills, No. 3: How your business is charged for water, and how you can reduce the cost.

From a small retail store with a bathroom, to a restaurant or laundromat, almost every business pays for access to running water in some capacity. Water bills can be complicated and constantly-changing depending on the size of your business, industry, and location. Understanding your invoices is the first step to saving money.  

Part Three of Schooley Mitchell’s four-part blog series.  

In our last issue, we discussed budgeting for your utility expenses. This week, in part three of four, we are narrowing down our utility discussion just to look at water.  

How is water usage measured?  

According the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the “most common units are centum cubic feet (CCF) and the gallon. A CCF also called an HCF (hundred cubic feet), represents one hundred cubic feet of water.” 

One CCF is equal to about 748 gallons. As the EPA states, the average American four-person household uses around 10,500 gallons of water in a 30 day pay period. You can only imagine how much a business like a hair salon, dog groomer, or gardening center might use.  

How is water usage billed?  

According to the EPA, there are several possible rate structures that a provider will use for business water services: 

  • Flat fee – where all customers are charged the same fee, regardless of water used. This structure generally doesn’t provide revenue sufficient to operate the utility.  
  • Uniform rate – in which there is a constant per unit price for all metered units of water consumed on a year-round basis. You’re still paying per usage, but the rates don’t fluctuate.  
  • Increasing block rate – in which the price of each succeeding block of usage is charged at a higher unit rate than the previous block(s). This structure is designed to promote conservation and is most often found in areas with limited water supplies. 
  • Declining block rate – the opposite of increasing block rates where the unit price of each succeeding block of usage is charged at a lower unit rate than the previous block(s). This structure is popular in rural areas that service large farming populations or areas with large users such as heavy industry and where water is plentiful. 
  • Seasonal rates – these rates cover a specific period of time; for example, charging higher rates in the summer season and lower in the winter.  
  • Drought rates – like seasonal rates, but instead of based on entire periods or seasons, the rates are adjusted based on the local area’s drought level.  

In order to best understand and budget for your water bill, it’s important to know how you’re being billed.  

Save money on your business water bill.  

There are several strategies you can employ to help you save money and reduce water waste. Of course, these strategies and their effectiveness will be dependent on your industry and location. However, it remains true that being proactive about preventing water waste will be good for your business’ bottom line.  

Be vigilant with maintenance.  

As the old wisdom goes, a single leaky faucet can cost you.  

It’s not just sinks that can be perpetrators of water waste, either. Any infrastructure connected to your facility’s water can err over time and need repair. Your toilet tank, dishwashers, and washing machine,  are all examples of areas you want to stay on top of when it comes to regular maintenance and repairs. Likewise, encouraging your employees to regularly look for and identify leaky taps can save time and money in having them repaired.  

If you live in a region where temperatures reach below freezing, take the proper steps to ensure your pipes don’t freeze and cause damage to not only your water infrastructure but your building as a whole.  

The other area to keep an eye on when it comes to regular maintenance and repairs is your water meter. A damaged or faulty water meter could be causing billing errors, resulting in  paying more than you should be. Make sure to ask your provider about regular checks.  

Upgrade your infrastructure.  

Installing water-saving equipment – such as specialty faucets and toilet tanks – can also save money in the long run. For hospitality businesses, or a facility that has showers, you can install water saving showerheads.  

Although this sounds like another expense, the truth is that water-saving equipment has the potential to reduce your water usage significantly. Here are the facts: 

  • Spray taps, push-tops, or infrared controls reduce water use by 50%  
  • Sensor-controlled or waterless urinals decrease toilet water consumption by 70%  
  • Low-volume showers limit water use by up to 50% 

Depending on the kind of usage your business creates, this could result in a very different water bill.  

Change your habits.  

It’s easy to save water just by changing your staff’s habits and promoting a workplace culture that includes water conservation. This can include: 

  • For facilities with dishwashers, optimize load sizes. The same applies for washing machines and loads of laundry.  
  • Use cold water instead of hot water whenever possible. 
  • Don’t overfill containers like kettles, washing sinks, etc.  
  • Leave taps turned on for as short a time as necessary.  

Thinking back to different rates structures, knowing the structure of your bill will also allow you to make the best decisions for your water usage habits.  

In conclusion… 

You have more control over your business water bill than you might think. Understanding your bill and taking steps to plan for it are surefire ways to help your business’ bottom line.  

Next week… 

In the final installment of our series on understanding your utility bills, we take a look at natural gas. How is your bill determined and how can businesses cut back on costs?   

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