I am sure that everyone who has ever tried to reduce their budget, whether it be to accommodate for a reduced income, or to help with debt reduction, has been told or read about cutting their utility bills. You may or may not have actually been able to shave money from your bills, but hopefully you tried. Switching to CFL bulbs, setting the thermostat lower in the winter and higher in the summer, taking shorter, cooler showers, and many other ideas should be saving you quite a bit each month.
But one of the most useful ways to ensure that your utility bills or as low as possible is to simply look at them each month. You will notice, of course, that your gas bill will be higher in the winter if you have a gas furnace. Your electric bill will be higher in the summer if you have an electric air conditioner. But what if your water bill were suddenly thirty percent higher than it was the month before? Would you know what to look for to explain this?
If this occurred in late spring or early summer, and you had added water to a swimming pool, I would not see this as an issue. If you had a child return from college for the summer, this could be explained by his or her bathing habits as well as an influx of clothes to wash. In my case, I do not have a pool in my yard, and the extra child that joined us at the beginning of the summer was a newborn. Now my wife was the one who noticed that the bill was substantially higher than the last month, and she meant to talk to me about it. She forgot. I found the problem on my own.
I was checking the progress of the construction on the house next door out my bathroom window, and as I turned to exit the bathroom, my field of vision caught something. There was motion in the water residing in the bowl of the toilet. Some of you probably would have only noticed that the lid was not closed, but I will move on. There was a slow trickle of water running down the inside of the bowl.
I immediately jiggled the handle and then took of the top to look in the tank. My first thought was that either the handle was stuck or the chain was twisted and the flapper ball, again some of you may know it as the rubber flap thingy, was not all the way down. Neither of these were the case, and water was still seeping into the bowl. I looked it up online and read that this is the most common toilet problem and thousands of gallons are wasted due to it.
A leak into the bowl is hard to detect as the water ends up going down the sewer and not collecting into easily seen pools on the floor. Also there are no drips to be heard as the water runs down the inside of the bowl. The tank will have to fill itself back up as the water goes out, but it is so slow that most of the time you will not hear it. The do it yourself websites that I found said to put dark food coloring in the tank and wait ten minutes or so to see if the color ends up in the bowl to detect such a leak. I decided that since I could see the ripples in the water, it was safe to skip this step.
The next step that I found after checking the chain and handle was to replace the rubber flapping thingy. They call it a flapper ball, but whatever. A new one can be anywhere from a cheap piece of most likely junk at $2.79, up to a bulkier thicker looking heavy-duty model for almost $8. These were the prices that I found at my local hardware store. I did not replace the flapper ball, because I am a money saving rebel.
I turned off the valve on the water line going into the tank. It is usually found on a small pipe sticking out of the wall right next to the toilet. Then I held the handle open until all of the water drained out of the tank. Using a couple of paper towels or shop clothes, wipe the flapper ball as well as the opening into the bowl that the ball fits in. The leak into the bowl is caused by the ball not being properly seated into the hole, thus allowing water to escape the tank and cost you money. Around the opening where the flapper ball sits was a layer of black slimy gunk, which is why I used a towel and not my hand to clean it. Once the gunk was removed, I opened the valve, let the tank refill and inspected for leaks. Now would not be a bad time to try the food coloring trick.
If the flapper ball is torn or very thin and worn out, it will need to be replaced. If it continues to leak after cleaning the valve and the seal (the flapper ball is the seal), you may need to replace it as well. The bottom line is that you may still have to spend a few dollars if you are not as lucky as I was, but identifying the leak and stopping it saved us $10 on the water bill. If I had not noticed the leak when I did, and if my wife never remembered to tell me that the bill suddenly got higher, we could literally have been putting $10 down the toilet every month for quite a while. As soon as I put the top on the tank, I immediately went to check the other toilet for a similar leak. My wife did remember to tell me about the rising bill when I bragged to her that I found and fixed the leak while her and the kids were at the pool.