What can I do if my bill is higher than I expected?

An unexpectedly high water bill is most often caused by a leak in your private plumbing or change in water use. Use this guide to help determine the cause and avoid future high bills.

Toilet Leaks

Toilet leaks are a very common source of high water use. When a toilet leaks, the water flows to the sewer, leaving no visible signs of high water use and a frustrating water bill. A running toilet can use over 3 gallons per minute, costing up to $45 per day in water use.

Flapper and fill valves

There are two points of failure on toilets- the flapper and the fill valve. If either the flapper or the fill valve fails to close, the toilet will keep refilling with water.

Check for toilet leaks by flushing your toilet and waiting to hear if the water stops running. If it does not, you found your cause.  Place toilet dye tablets or food coloring inside the toilet tank and wait 30 minutes. If there is a leak, the dye will flow into the toilet bowl. Watch our video on how to check for toilet leaks and make repairs.

Other Leaks

Even a small, undetected water leak can add up quickly. A dripping faucet or shower can waste thousands of gallons each year. If it is a hot water leak, you may get a high energy bill, too. It is the owners responsibility to locate, repair and prevent leaks in private plumbing. 

This image shows a water meter

Do a leak test
Wait for a time when you and your household are not using any water. Go to your water meter and take a picture of the dial. Without using any water, wait one hour or more. Take a picture of your water meter a second time. You can now see if there was usage. If the second reading is higher than the first, you may have a leak.

Watch our video on how to read your meter

Isolating a leak
Find the main water shut-off valve where the water line enters your home or building. These valves are most commonly located along the perimeter of the house or in the garage. With the valve closed, check the water meter. If the meter stops moving, the leak is either inside the house or after the building shut-off valve. If the meter continues moving after closing the building valve, the leak may be outdoors.

This image shows a water meter

Outdoor leaks
If the water to the building is off, and the meter still shows movement, the leak may be outside or in the irrigation system. Shut off the irrigation system using the manual shut-off valve. You can typically find irrigation shut-off valves a few feet from the water meter, or in front of your irrigation valves.  Close the irrigation shut-off valve. Check the water meter for movement.

If the leak persists, it may be in a hose bib, a buried water line or an irrigation valve. Irrigation valves typically leak from one of two places: out of the valve itself, or out of the lowest emitter in the zone. 

Watch our video to replace irrigation valves.

This image shows a water meter

Lateral or water line leaks
Leaks in water lines buried underground can be challenging to find.  Many soils in our service area drain well, which means you might not see water surfacing. Use your water meter to check for leaks. Walk the property and look for wet areas or runoff leaving the property.

Outdoor Irrigation

 Small issues outdoors can cause big increases to your water bill. Landscape irrigation can use hundreds of gallons of water each time it runs. Additionally, irrigation issues often go unnoticed because most people run sprinklers late at night or early in the morning.

Test your irrigation system by running each zone
Test your irrigation system by running each zone. Walk each zone; look for wet areas, leaks or broken equipment. Look for low pressure in sprinklers, which often means that there could be a leak in that zone. Make repairs as needed.

Irrigation Timers/Controllers
Go through the programing in your irrigation controller(s). Look at the controller for potential issues like:

  • Multiple or duplicate start times
  • Long run times
  • Multiple programs running
  • Watering too frequently

Add up the total run time for each of your zones. Use this watering guide to make sure that you are not overwatering your plants.

Power Outages and Overwatering

Many controllers reset to factory default irrigation schedules when the controller loses electrical connection due to a power outage or a blown circuit and often default to watering daily. Check your irrigation schedule to make sure that your watering schedule has not changed, and make sure your controller has a fresh battery so it doesn’t lose your programed schedule in the future.  


Other Uses

After you have checked for leaks, irrigation issues, and running toilets, look for other potential issues from these common water using features. 

This image shows a water meter

Swimming Pools
Most people expect a higher bill when they refill their pool. A 15,000-gallon swimming requires over 20 units of water, which would double the water use of an average customer. Unexpected events that can increase your bill include overfilling your pool, pool leaks, or a sticking autofill valve.

Check the fill valve
The autofill valve on a pool works just like a toilet’s fill valve. Unfortunately, sticking pool autofill valves are a common source of high use. If the pool has an autofill valve, check to see if it is functioning correctly.

Pool leaks
Pool leaks are a serious issue. Not only do pool leaks waste water, but they can also cause significant damage. Fortunately, there is an easy way to check for pool leaks using the bucket test.

Watch this video to learn how to do the bucket test.

This image shows a water meter

A garden hose can use 6 to 15 gallons per minute. Hosing off patios, sidewalks and walkways can add up to a lot of use. If you hose off your hardscapes multiple times during the 60-day billing cycle, your water use will likely go up.

Sprinklers/manual watering
Hose attached garden sprinklers are an easy and convenient way to water outdoors. However, without a timer you risk running the sprinkler for too long, wasting many gallons of water.

Unsecured hoses
Hoses left in highly trafficked areas may be prone to vandalism and misuse. Check to make sure that your hose is out of sight and that people passing by do not have access to your hose.

Image shows a reverse osmosis home water filter

Water Softeners and Home Water Filters
Whole-house water softeners and filters can be another source of high water use. Water filters use water to clean themselves through a process called backwashing. Backwashing sends water in the opposite direction of your home water filter to rinse the filter material sending its wash water down the drain.

Checking the Backwash Cycle
Sometimes the electrical control valve that starts the backwashing cycle is not programmed correctly, or it fails. When this happens, the backwash cycle sends more water down the drain than it should, causing water waste and increasing your water bill. If you suspect an issue with your home water filtration system, consult the manufacturer of your water filter.


If you recently moved into a home with more irrigated areas or a thirstier landscape, you can expect to use more water. High bills are more common in the warmer months where the property will require more outdoor irrigation.

Overwatering to sell
A common cause of high use in newly purchased homes is an incorrect irrigation schedule. If you have not adjusted your controller since moving in, there is a good chance the system is overwatering your plants. Overwatering creates a lush appearance when the house is on the market, but continuing to overwater can be very expensive.

Helix can help you
Fortunately, we offer free residential water use evaluations for Helix customers. We schedule an appointment to visit your home and we provide site-specific water use recommendations on ways to reduce your water use. This service is especially helpful for new residents looking to get familiar with their new irrigation system.

To set up a FREE home water use evaluation, Call us at 619-667-6226 or email us at [email protected]

Image shows an unidentified home in La Mesa

More Resources

Free Water Use Evaluation
We offer FREE water use evaluations. For homeowners, we evaluate both indoor and outdoor water use. For businesses and multi-family properties, we evaluate the irrigation. We do these free evaluations to identify issues and recommend water-saving improvements.

To schedule an appointment, email [email protected] or call us at 619-667-6226

Smart Leak Detector Rebate
Helix customers are eligible for a $100 rebate on smart leak detector devices. These devices allow you to monitor your water use in real time 24/7. This can help you manage your daily water use and notify you if there is a leak.

Learn more

Indoor and Outdoor Rebates
We offer rebates on water saving devices. You can get a rebate on new sprinkler heads,  controllers that automatically adjust watering times based on the weather, high efficiency toilets, and much more.

Check Our Rebates


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