Opening a water bill and finding a shockingly high amount is alarming. Most households use the same amount of water each month, so a sudden spike in usage can indicate a costly plumbing problem. No wonder it’s so easy to be unnerved.

    Before panicking about potential issues and costs, consider all possibilities. I recommend an examination of several potential causes before assuming the worst.

    Many factors cause unusual changes in household water usage, so there’s little reason to first assume a serious situation like a burst pipe. For example, filling a kiddie pool or taking longer showers increases water usage, leading to a higher bill. So does a toilet that runs too long after flushing.

    Ask all household members if their water consumption has been more than normal lately.  A change in just one person’s habits can increase the water bill.

    Use this guide to troubleshoot a high bill, identify likely causes, and address problems.

    Does Your Bill Reflect Actual Usage?

    Compare your latest bill to the past 12 months of billing statements, and pay particular attention to the same month from a year ago. Confirm the higher bill is based on household usage if you find a discrepancy. Municipal water suppliers occasionally base bills on past average usage. Rule this out. Ask your water company to clarify billing procedures and meter reads. A water bill based on months when you use irrigation systems and pools will show higher water consumption.

    Do You Have Water Leaks? 

    Inspect all sinks, showers, tubs, toilets, and appliances for plumbing leaks. I find it surprising how dripping faucets and other small leaks add up to high water bills. Check walls, floors, and ceilings for wet spots indicating internal water leaks. If you have an outside sprinkler system, check areas where you have junction boxes or exposed pipes. Pipe bursts cause substantial damage to a home and are far more concerning than minor leaks, but you must plug any leak you find. Shut off the main water valve immediately if you find evidence of a leak. Call a plumber to inspect for pipe failures and make repairs.

    Source: Trenchless Solutions

    Did the Billing Rates Change?

    Before troubleshooting, contact your water company and ask if a rate increase impacted your bill. Verify that the company measured your water use accurately and that it didn’t enact a rate hike. 

    Is Your Toilet Running?

    Toilet leaks are wasteful but easy to identify by looking for water movement in the bowl after flushing. Detect a leak by flushing the toilet and ensuring it shuts off after water refills the bowl and tank. If it runs, remove the tank lid and check if your valve seal is ajar, warped, or damaged. After the tank refills add dye tablets to discolor the tank water. Wait 20 minutes. If color appears in the toilet bowl, there’s a leak. Fixing the flush valve seal solves the issue.

    Are Your Showers Too Long?

    Water usage in an eight-minute shower is 15–20 gallons. Spend five extra minutes in the shower and usage goes up to 12.5 more gallons of water.  Limit showers to five to seven minutes, and remind household members to do the same. Lower-flow showerheads also reduce water volume and lower water bills. 

    Do You Have a Leaking Pool or Sprinkler System?

    Run the pool pump and inspect for liner and filter leaks. Wet spots on your lawn can indicate a broken sprinkler system. Run the irrigation system, check sprinkler heads and valves for breaks. Broken sprinkler systems drain into the ground and use a lot of water. Contact a professional if you find signs of leaks. 

    Have You Had A New Appliance Installed?

    Incorrectly installed appliances like dishwashers and washing machines can result in leaks. I experienced this in my home with an improperly installed dishwasher. Examine all recently installed appliances for evidence of water leaks. If you notice a usage spike after upgrading appliances, contact the installing plumber to check for potential water leaks.

    Have You Investigated Every Possibility?

    You can find most causes of inflated bills. Start by ruling out any changes in your consumption, wasted water, or adjustments made by the utility provider. Then, inspect your water fixtures and appliances to spot any leaks. If possible, make your home inspections without a TV or radio on at home. Listen for any dripping sounds.

    Avoid jumping to conclusions with this approach and shelling out for unnecessary repairs. Still facing unexplained high usage? Reach out to professionals to detect hidden or underground pipe failures.

    Get Free Estimates From Professional Plumbers
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    FAQs About High Water Bills

    What is the most common cause of high water bills?

    The most common cause of unexplained water bill spikes is overlooked leaky faucets and continuously running toilets.

    How much is the average monthly water bill?

    The average American’s monthly water bill varies significantly by location, household size, and usage habits.

    Can I negotiate a lower water bill?

    If a clear billing error or faulty meter caused the high bill, you can request an adjustment from your municipal water department.

    How often should I check for leaks?

    Inspecting water fixtures and appliances monthly for leaks and drips that could be wasting water and cost you money over time is wise.

    When should I contact a professional?

    Having thoroughly checked for leaks and water usage is still inexplicably high, contact a plumber for advanced leak detection services.

    Editorial Contributors
    avatar for Laurie Engle

    Laurie Engle

    Expert Writer & Reviewer

    Laurie Engle is a freelance writer who provides insights to homeowners on topics such as the home warranty industry, relocation issues, and real estate trends. As a licensed Realtor since 2001 Laurie has acquired extensive expertise in dealing with home warranty companies and navigating the intricacies of the real estate market. In addition to her commitment to helping clients with their home buying and selling needs, she maintains a sharp awareness of market dynamics, including property values, interest rates, and local regulations.

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    Sabrina Lopez


    Sabrina Lopez is a senior editor for Today’s Homeowner with over 7 years of writing and editing experience in digital media. She has reviewed content across categories that matter to homeowners, including HVAC services, home renovations, lawn and garden care, products for the home, and insurance services. When she’s not reviewing articles to make sure they are helpful, accessible, and engaging for homeowners like herself, Sabrina enjoys spending time with her family and their two parrots.

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