Why are my water bills so high?

Unexpected high water bills can be a nasty shock and leave you wondering where all the water went. Sometimes an increase in the water bill can be uncovered with a bit of thought – maybe there was a cold snap and everyone was having longer showers or you had visitors using extra water – but often the cause is, initially at least, a mystery.

Often, but not always, the issue stems from a water leak in the mains water line from the meter at the front of your property throughout your home. More on how to work out if you’ve got a water leak below.

There are several points to rule out before calling your plumber if you’ve had a sudden unexplained increase in your home water charges. Consider if any of the following have occurred during the last 3 months (or last billing period):

  • Laid new turf or established new gardens.
  • Topped up the swimming pool.
  • Increased the garden watering due to lack of rain.
  • Had more visitors.
  • Spent more time at home – eg during the COVID-19 lockdown, working from home, or homeschooling.
  • Carried out extensive high-pressure water cleaning around your home.
  • Increased use of your washing machine.

Note – even short bursts of increased water usage throughout the billing period can result in a spike in your water charges.

According to an RACQ Cost of Living report (2016) we use most of our water outside or in the bathroom. An average home water use breakdown could look something like this:

  • Outdoors – 35-55%
  • Bathroom – 30-37%
  • Laundry – 10-13%
  • Kitchen – 9-13%
  • Leakage – 1-10%
RACQ QLD Home Water Usage Chart
RACQ QLD home water usage – image RACQ
RACQ QLD Home Water Activity
RACQ QLD home water activity – image RACQ

Average water bill

The average water bill for your home will often vary depending on the season. Going back over the same quarter for the last few years will help identify if this bill is really high or just the standard use for this time of year.

Each household’s water habits will affect how much they pay for water as well as factors such as how many people live in your home, how large your gardens are, lawn size, etc.

Your water bill will be made up of a per kilolitre charge for the actual water used on your property, which will include the retailer charge and the state bulk water charge. On top of that, a set per-quarter sewage and mains water service charge is added which covers the costs involved in maintaining the infrastructure and services involved in getting clean, fresh water to your home and efficiently removing the wastewater.

The current pricing and bill breakdown for the various suppliers can be found via the links below.

If you live in the Brisbane, Lockyer Valley, Scenic Rim, Somerset, and Ipswich areas of South East Queensland you’ll get a bill from Urban Utilities. If you are in Redland, Logan, or the Gold Coast areas your water is managed and billed by your local council. If you live north of Brisbane in the Moreton Bay, Noosa, or Sunshine Coast regions your water is managed by Unity Water.

Water bill price guides for the various suppliers:

Bulk Water Charges SEQ
An example of a water bill cost breakdown – image QLD Government

How do you know if your water is leaking?

The more obvious signs that you have a water leak include dripping taps, hearing the toilet running, or water pooling on the floor or in cabinets in the kitchen or bathroom. However, due to the hidden away nature of your home plumbing systems many water leaks can go unnoticed, sometimes for weeks or months at a time.

You can check if water is escaping somewhere it shouldn’t by:

  • Turn off all taps.
  • Take note of the number on the water meter.
  • Abstain from using water or just leave the house for a few hours (the longer the better).
  • Reread the water meter.

If you haven’t turned on any taps, used the dishwasher or washing machine, flushed a toilet, etc and the numbers have changed, you most likely have a water leak.

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Other signs to look out for that could indicate water is leaking include:

  • Damp patches on the carpet.
  • Mould or mildew growth in the walls or ceiling.
  • Expanding cabinetry.
  • Areas of unusual growth in the garden – one section growing much faster than the surrounding areas.
  • Boggy patches or puddles on the lawn even though it hasn’t rained.
  • A damp or musty smell through the house.

If you have had an unusually high water bill or you’ve noticed any of the above signs of a water leak call your plumber to carry out a professional leak detection service. Leaking water can not only cause an increase in water charges it can also cause permanent damage to your home.