Figuring water usage

littledogOctober 10, 2004

After 15 years of using only well water, we now have a place that has rural water. Not having ever paid a seperate water bill and never having had a way to measure our water usage before, I think, but am not sure that we're doing a good job keeping down consumption. (cost averages 22.00, with a high of 25.00) There is a good well on the property, all we have to do is rewire the pumphouse and close the public water supply off to use it, but should we?

I am trying to determine our gallons per day per person water usage which I think is figured as total consumption in gallons divided by number of days divided by number of people. Yes? Last month, we used 2970 gallons in 30 days, which is 99 gallons a day. There are four people here, (myself, DH and two teenagers), which would make our per person usage 24 and 3/4 of a gallon a day. I guess that's okay, but we also have 9 dogs, about 30 head of sheep and goats, 3 horses and assorted poultry that also mainly get their water through the meter and are counted on that bill too. I'm wondering if I should combine all of the animals as another "person", and divide our water usage by five, which would mean we're using 19.8 gallons of water per day "each". Counting the animals as a "person" isn't that far fetched: for example, we have one 150 gallon water trough just for the horses that's filled every other day. Add in the other animal's water needs and I think we have enough to cover the toilet flushing, handwashing and general cooking, cleaning and bathing needs of another human.

We don't water the grass, (that's God's job), but I did water my plants this past summer. Even if we don't activate the well I'd like to determine whether the savings we would get from something like a basic rainwater collection set up for watering vegetation and perhaps some of the livestock would be worth the cost. If I count the animals and design a water collection with the idea of fullfilling the majority of their needs along with some landscaping/irrigation, am I really looking at maybe a 10 to 20% savings during the spring and summer? We use grey water to irrigate the pecan orchard, which is why the bill doesn't fluctuate much in the summer. We do have a pond that the sheep get some of their water from, but it's on the lowest elevation of the farm, and installing a seperate pump to move that water uphill for the other animals would not be cost effective. If I'm going to pay to run a pump, it's going to be the well at the house. There's a good well on the property, all we have to do is rewire the pumphouse and close the public water supply off. Right now, there is no seperate plumbing from the well house that doesn't go through the main house first, so it's all or nothing. I'm not sure that the increased cost of electricity to run the pump is going to amount to any savings.

What do y'all think? Count the animals seperately or not? Anyone with experience on the costs of rural water versus private well? Sorry to be so long winded, but I wanted to give plenty of information so I could get some good suggestions and advice.

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Information costs money. Put a separate meter on the line to the house if you want a truly accurate number to work with. You also need to make sure there is no local rule prohibiting the use of the well for the house if municipal water is available. There are rarely prohibitions on water sources for agriculture and farm use and using the well for that would pass nearly anywhere.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2004 at 4:15PM
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I'm not sure I understand; there is only one water line to the house and the outside faucet is what we use to draw water for the animals. There is already an accurate meter on that water line and we used 2970 gallons of water last month which included our household use as well as taking care of the livestock and landscape.

There are no prohibitions here for anything other than jointly using the well and the rural water in the same lines at the same time. I am free to connect to the well anytime I like, but I have to disconnect (shut off at the meter) access to the rural water supply first. Actually, all my neighbors have only well water, but this house has access to the rural water lines because a previous owner was Indian and the tribe paid for it. The cost of laying the lines was too prohibitive for the neighbors to connect to, so the lines run almost 6 miles to get here to service this one house. I am just not sure that we would be saving money paying for the incresed electricity to pump water from our own well.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2004 at 6:46PM
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Sorry, I posted without finishing. What I want to figure out is how much money (based on a percentage of total usage) we could save by setting up some kind of rudimentary rain water collection system as opposed to shutting off the public water and opening the well. Right now, our electric bill averages about $70.00 for 11315 KW; it's a little more in the winter, and considerably less in the spring and fall. If someone on the board has converted from well water to rural water, or reverted from rural water back to their well, I would really appreciate hearing their opinion on their experience.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2004 at 7:00PM
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You can calculate the cost of using the pump by determining how much power it requires (check the name plate for the wattage@voltage rating), pumping from the well for a given amount of time (say like an hour), and determining the flow rate of the well (by timing how long it takes to fill up a bucket of a given size).

Sounds like you already have enough info to determine how much per gallon you are paying for the public water supply.

The nice things about the public water supply are: You still have water when you lose power; the presure is generally better than a private well, and the owner of the supply takes care of any testing requirements to make sure the water is "clean" (water provided by a private well can't be considered "clean" until it is tested, generally at the well owner's expense; testing for the full suite of possible chemicals runs into the hundreds of dollars).

    Bookmark   October 12, 2004 at 12:03PM
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Those seem like very low usage numbers, especially with kids and animals involved. If I remember correctly, average is near 100 gallons per person per day, with 40 considered very low. Are you sure you are being billed in gallons and not cubic feet.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2004 at 9:50PM
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The bill says "gallons", and to be sure, I just called to ask. The woman in the office laughed once she knew it was me because I'm the obsessive person who comes in every month wondering if this is a normal bill. (She told me "No. It's more like what one person living alone would use.")

Everyone in the family is trained to take 5 minute showers, we have only one bathroom with a low flush toilet, no dishwasher, and we wash only large loads because I figure if we're going to heat water, it might as well be alot all at once rather than small amounts throughout the afternoon. If we had a better designed washer, I think we could cut usage down even more, but a newer machine designed to save water/energy is not in the budget right now. This one is only 4 years old, so we'll use it until it grinds to a screeching halt.

I am possibly hyper-attuned to water conservation simply because the well in our previous home had run nearly dry a few times over the years. The first time, it was our fault for leaving a hose on all night, but the last few years, the area had a 150% increase in the number of homes built within a mile and everyone was on well water. We were renting, and the owner didn't want to put money into a new well, so we had to make do. Though we all used the same water table, their wells were considerably newer and deeper than ours, and it was not uncommon for us to run red tinted, basically unusable water for a few days during the summer as water usage peaked among our new neighbors. Go a couple if days without being able to drink your water, or use it for cooking, or bathing (Hey, how trendy! Red hair for everyone!) or wash clothes (pink underwear for everyone!), and you really learn to watch that faucet.

If I understand Brewbeer right, the only way I can accurate numbers on the pump is to actually connect it? His list of "nice things" about public water supply is beginning to sound really convincing.

At any rate, I measure success not by how much we can afford, but by how much we don't have to spend; sometime I'll have to tell you about our adventures lowering the electric bill...LOL

    Bookmark   October 14, 2004 at 11:58AM
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If you are doing a complete fill of the horse trough every other day at 150 gallons or 75 gallons a day, that only leaves 24 gallons per day for the rest of the family. You guys must be the kings of water conservation. We have front load washer, don't flush every time, short showers, use a separate watering well for outside, and are generally very careful, and we still use just under 40 gallons per person per day.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2004 at 3:38PM
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I was reading this to my husband and he said he thinks that's a 100 gallon trough, not 150. Since I'm not the one who bought it, I will defer to his guesstimate as being more accurate. That would certainly explain why it has to be filled every other day even if some of the goats and two of the dogs are sharing it with the horses. So we are not the kings of water conservation, but it's a nice thought. (Picturing a sparkling blue crown on my head; Me. I'm the Queen. LOL)

Still, we seem to be doing okay compared to the estimates for water usage I've been reading on some sites. I don't know, maybe the "average" number of gallons used per person figures are based on the assumption that people are using appliaces like a dishwasher and have personal habits that are considered "normal" but aren't exactly necessary. I have a nephew who takes 30 minute showers, and I know a couple who insist on running a full bathtub every night for each of their 3 their kids. Maybe the are counting on people leaving the faucet running while they shave or brush their teeth? How many people do you know who run the washing machine for only a couple of shirts, or just one pair of pants? Plenty of folks water the grass, which I wouldn't do even if *someone else* were paying my bill. Not to mention powerwashing the house, or hosing leaves and dirt off the driveway which gets counted as "outdoor use" (What is that all about anyway? Geeze people, get a broom...)

I don't think we represent the best in water conservation as much as we do perhaps the minimum of normal water usage. I'm counting normal as keeping ourselves and our clothing clean, cooking, kitchen clean up, and one bathroom with regular modern plumbing. Okay, and we do have way more animals than most people, but that's a lifestyle choice.

Anyway Booster, tell me about your experience using the well; do you think the savings on the water bill are balanced by the extra electricity to pump the water? Or do you use some other way to get the water out of the ground? I don't know, maybe a hand pump or something?

    Bookmark   October 15, 2004 at 12:14AM
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The "outdoor" water we use is from a shallow (18') well that we put in just for watering and washing cars etc. We are right next to a wetland so there is lots of water available from the well, but it is not potable. Our soil is all sand and does not hold water at all, so in a dry year we have to water all our young pines (150 of them) and shrubs or they will die very quickly. A very dry month might add $10 to our electric bill, but it is a bit hard to tell as that is usually when the AC is running too. We use a 1/2hp pump.

Our potable water is out of a well also, but it is a 343' deep well, and is full of iron that stains everything and is not as good for the plants. It also requires a bigger pump, so the water "costs" more. The biggest reason for the shallow well was that we considered it such a waste to use the potable deep aquifer water for dumping on the ground, and the same reasoning would apply for city water.

If I had to guess, I would think that the shallow well water costs would be less than 10% of the cost of city water.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2004 at 1:54PM
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Anything under 30 bucks a month sounds pretty reasonable to me for a city water bill. How much do you estimate that the well repairs or whatever is needed to make it operational will cost. If you are sure this is a good well and the cost of making it operational are low (payback in a couple of years or something) I would have it operational before the next city water bill came to my mailbox. Electric costs should be under five bucks per month, most likely less but figure that into your payoff also. I would be sure that the city water could be restored at any time if it was ever needed in case of a well water problem. Get your calculator out and crunch some numbers I would try to utilize the well if it were me, and the water was good. Heck if the cost of getting the well going was low but there was a minor problem with water quality it might just be worth doing some repiping and use the well water for livestock and other outside the home activities. You are very lucky to have access to a good well that is a rarity now days. The problem I see is that if someone dumps 5 quarts of oil onto the ground from a vehicle oil change or whatever all the wells in a 3 mile radius are subject to contamination, so that is a major concern of using untreated well water for household drinking cooking etc. I guess you should figure in the cost of having the water lab tested occasionally. It is also a rarity that you have teenagers that only stay in the shower 5 minutes I have never been able to get them out nearly that quick LOL

    Bookmark   December 9, 2004 at 4:05PM
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If you really want to save on your water get a water saving washer. The last house we owned was in a rural area and I put a water saving washer in the electric bill for the went down quite a bit. wasn't pumping and dumping all that water. We ended up moving and now have municipal water and the last quarterly water bill came it was 66 dollars. The paper had a article in it about a week ago about raising water rates. It said the normal household quarterly water bill is over $100. I also use a low flow showerhead. The last bill had plant watering on it also.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2004 at 11:14AM
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Have you had the water in the well tested?

If it is 2 feet or so across, with a cover that is even slightly insecure, the water in there at present might have been contaminated from the top. You might need to pump it for some time in order to get newly arrived water in order to get a valid test.

That might be true for a drilled well, with a 5" or so case, if the top of the case has not been sealed.

You need to ensure that the water from the well is safe for drinking before you shut off city water.

Nearly three years ago when my old farmer (step-)uncle's wife died, I spent most of a couple of months with him from early Feb. till mid-April when his beef cattle went on grass.

He'd had three hip replacements and suffered severe pain in back, hip and leg. When he had someone in the house to check if he were gone to the barn for over an hour, that was one thing - but no one in the house meant no checking and we who cared about him didn't like the thought of him falling in a snowbank and freezing.

He had a well feeding the house that was 50' or so from the bottom of a small watercourse, under which runs a municipal drain. A hundred feet or so on the other side of the watercourse is his barnyard.

He had another well that feeds the barn, on the same side of the watercourse but about two hundred feet below the barnyard.

He drank the water from the well that fed the house when I was there, and I did, as well.

Late last winter Stuart died, the executors wanted the place to look lived-in, so I've travelled 25 mi. round trip for over 8 mos. now to spend time and sleep there, daily.

His brother-in-law from his first marriage and the Bro-in-law's son work the farm and have cattle there.

The son told me last winter that he doesn't let his children drink water at that house. The water smells, especially when one runs hot water. I have carried bottled water from the city for drinking and cooking. I wash hands and face in it and wash clothes in it - they come out smelling O.K. (but my smelling system leaves a bit to be desired).

I use water from the barn well to water the dog and cats.

The executors of the estate checked the water in both wells recently - the one feeding the house failed the e-coli and coliforms badly and the barn well was O.K. for e-coli but failed coliforms.

Just an idea on how to get teen-agers out of a shower in a hurry - threaten to shower with them.

Good luck with your plans. I think that you may operate more frugally with well water, but it isn't only the cost of rewiring that you need to consider - pumps and pressure tanks, especially the kind with bladders inside, fail from time to time.

Replacements are costly, as is hooking them up.

By the way - if you have an independent pressurized system, there may be a setting on the pump that allows you to pump some air into the tank from time to time for a while, but if one doesn't do that, the air in the tank slowly dissolves into the water, resulting in the tank becoming waterlogged (indicated by the pump coming on every time that one draws even a small amount of water, as the little bit of air in the top of the tank loses pressure really quickly).

Good wishes as you pursue your plan.

joyful guy

    Bookmark   December 21, 2004 at 4:10PM
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Wow, Little Dog! 3000 gal./mo. with 4 people and all those animals! That's very impressive. DH and I go through about 500 gal./mo. but we have only us, two cats and water the small garden with gray water. After years of hauling all our water here in 6 gal. jugs we became serious water conservers. The real trick, however, is that we have a compost tiolet. Most water used in houses goes down the toilet. One day we'll look back on this period in history and be shocked and appalled that we ever did THAT in potable water! Meanwhile, most existing houses have flush toilets already installed and often have long water lines from the hot water heater ,etc. They were not designed to watch water use.
Anyway, I'm wieghing in here in favor of the catchment system. You'll never have to worry about what the neighbors are dumping into the water table or about the junk they allow in city water systems. It's really not expensive to set a system up and (if you are lucky enough to have gravity do most of the work) you will have minimal problems with maintenance.
Now,I want to hear about your electricity saving experiments! rainwater1

    Bookmark   December 26, 2004 at 4:04PM
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Those figures sound way too low.

The code requires the water supply to a shower to provide 3 gal/min, but most shower heads are now 2.5 gal/min. An average shower is 10 minutes, therefore a a shower is 25gal per person.
A water saver toilet is 1.6 gal/flush and estimating 4 flushes per day per person = 1.6 x 4 = 6.4 gal/person.
Cooking and personal consumption averages 2 gal/person daily.

Thats 35.4 gal/person plus:
Dishwashing (Manual or dishwasher) averages 8 gal/meal = 24 gal daily.
Laundry 15 gal/load. (typical average for family of four 1/2 load daily= 7.5 gal/daily.

family of four = (35.5 x 4)= 31.5 = 173.5 gal/day.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2005 at 2:08AM
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