How To Save Water While You’re Away

Your family members aren’t the only ones in the house using water. There are at least three automatic home systems using water on their own. And one has the ability to double — possibly triple — your water bill.

By August we’ve all earned a vacation from summer in San Antonio. But it can be quite a shock to take a week or two off and return to a huge water bill a month later. Where could all the water possibly have gone while we were out of town?

It happens every year and August is the month to be careful, especially if you’re traveling. Your family members aren’t the only ones in the house using water.

There are at least three automatic home systems using water on their own. And one has the ability to double — possibly triple — your water bill.

Irrigation: In-ground sprinkler systems, by far, are the biggest water users in the home, especially in August when triple digit temps rule. They can use as much water in a single cycle as your entire family uses in one month. So before you take off on vacation, check it!

  1. How many cycles per day are the sprinklers running?
  2. How many cycles per week?
  3. Are sprinklers running morning and evening?
  4. How many programs are running?
  5. Is there a seasonal adjust? Does it having a monthly schedule? Many seasonal adjustments are scheduled to increase from 50 percent to 100 percent during summer, effectively doubling your water bill. Don’t make a guess — check it!

Ideally, you’d like to be able to use a single cycle per week (of course, no two yards are alike, and some are very large.) A few basics to remember:

  • Don’t turn the irrigation up “just to be safe.” Remember, most of a home’s water use comes from sprinklers. Adding one extra cycle effectively doubles your water bill.
  • Don’t assign the sprinkler controls to a zealous neighbor, gardener or relative — if they’re not paying the bill, they shouldn’t be allowed to touch the controls. When in doubt, ask them to water by hand.
  • Don’t set drip to water every day.
  • Don’t assume the sprinklers are smarter than you. “Smart” controllers may turn up the water on their own during hot Texas weather, based on built-in formulas and assumptions. If you’re worried about knocking your bill out of the park, disable any smart watering features and use a fixed schedule. Remember, the plants in your yard have seen many more summers than that newfangled WiFi controller that no one knows how to program.

If you still don’t know how much water sprinklers use in gallons, prepare to have your mind blown. Just take a meter read before and after your next sprinkler cycle; multiply by four to see how much it’ll use in a month. It’s not uncommon for sprinklers to use 15 or 30 gallons per minute; and anywhere from 2,000 gallons to 10,000 gallons per week.

Here’s a few other water-wasting culprits to look out for before you leave town.

Water softeners: The backwash on a water softener runs either on a nightly schedule, or (much better!) on an interval schedule whenever the tank gets low. If you find the water softener never stops running, it’s leaking; just bypass it until you can have it repaired.

Automatic pool refill: How does your pool refill? If you’re not putting a hose and a timer out there regularly, yours may have an automatic refill feature. Your pool service can confirm this. If so, have them confirm there are no leaks, because a running pool can use a lot of water.

Leaks: Some homeowners shut their water off at the street when they leave town. While this may sound extreme, it does protect against leaks. If you’re worried you may have leaks, your meter will easily confirm it. The water meter is in the ground, normally out by the street or the alley. Make sure the water is off and then look for the little spinner on the meter’s face, the “flow indicator.” It shouldn’t budge at all unless there’s water passing through the meter. Even the slightest flow will add up if it’s left uncontrolled over the course of a week or two.

Picture of Brad Wier
Brad Wier
Brad Wier is a SAWS conservation planner. Years in South Texas landscaping and public horticulture gave him a lasting enthusiasm for native plants that don’t die when sprinklers -- and gardeners -- break down. He’d rather save time and water for kayaking and tubing. He is a former kilt model, and hears hummingbirds.
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