Random Brain Dumping

Musings and observations about life

Stop the trickle before it becomes a stream

When I got a water bill for $1,000 for my vacant house, I asked that my meter be checked and my bill adjusted.  When I got a bill for more than $3,000, I decided to take on the city.

The $1,000 bill was December 2010, before I moved back to the Atlanta house. The meter was checked, the bill not adjusted.

Water meter and torn-up sidewalk after service line repair

This water meter supposedly makes it easier to check water usage. That stuff in the background is the remains of my sidewalk and torn-up grass after installing the new service line.

A month later, I moved back into the house and began paying only the $45 or so average monthly bill (rather than the ridiculous extra fee).

Ten months later, when the bill began averaging more than $200 and ultimately topped $3,000 cumulatively, I stopped paying and ultimately decided to take on the city, a city where people were getting water bills for thousands and thousands of dollars – a month.

I won … and lost.

Atlanta residents have been complaining about high water bills since the city installed electronic meters that allow drive-by readings.

The system is flawed, and the city now has to issue refunds to residents affected by the faulty meters.

But, that may or may not affect me.

As I said, I won and lost.

In March, I contacted a plumber to have him check my system for leaks so I could be sure I had no significant issues that would cause my bill to quadruple. He checked everything and found only a minor leak that seemed like it could have been a drip on an outside spigot.

Armed with his information, I met with the appeals board, who told me either I had a leak or I was using a bunch of water.

Now, I do take extra long showers, but I use rain barrel collections to water my plants and wash my car. (Well, I’ve used it once to wash my car; I usually just let rain wash my car.) I use the barrel water to fill my fish aquarium and replenish my dogs’ water bowls.

Anyone who knows me knows I hate laundry and doing dishes, so I don’t run either water-guzzling appliance until I absolutely to.

The bottom line is that I don’t use that much water in my house.

The board members suspended my case to allow me to hire yet another plumber to check for leaks.

Hidden behind the furnace in an extreme corner of the basement, bubbling up in the dirt was a leak. A leak that likely had been bubbling since October 2011, when my bill skyrocketed. The previous plumber had not checked that area.

Fixing the leak would cost about $700. I had already paid about $300 to fix a leak last year. Replacing the service line would cost about $1,300 and would mean no more leaks.

I replaced the line and rescheduled my appointment with the appeals board, where I was given credit for the $1,000 bill from 2010 and other adjustments for the two highest bills in 2011 and 2012.

Total credit was about $1,900.

That was the win. The loss was that because I waited so long to appeal, I still owed some of the high bills.

Ultimately, I had to pay the remaining $1,100 bill.

Here’s what learned from the experience.

If you have a high bill, have your meter checked. If the meter is deemed OK, have master plumber check your house for leaks – and fix them. (A neighbor who also had taken on the city recommended the plumber I used.)

Appeal your bill. (If you’re in Atlanta, you’ll appear before the Water and Sewer Appeals Board.)

If the leak is from a faucet or toilet, you won’t win your appeal because that’s something you can see should do something about. If the leak is hidden in the corner of your basement or in the ground, you can win the appeal.

The hardest lesson I learned is that procrastination is costly.

Atlanta allows residents to get credit for only two bills a calendar year. Had I appealed the month I got the first high bill, I wouldn’t have encountered other high bills and would have gotten credit for the high ones.

Footnote: Got my latest water bill today, Oct. 1. It’s for $740.67. The fight continues.

October 1, 2012 - Posted by | Random Brain Dumping | , , ,


  1. Install your own meter inside your house, that way you can really have evidence to refute their claims.

    Comment by Joe | October 2, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks, Joe. Where would the inside meter go? Any recommendations on an installer and cost?

      Comment by Gwendolyn | October 2, 2012 | Reply

      • You would put the inside meter anywhere inside the house before any of the supply lines branch off, but after your main shut off valve. You will be shutting off that valve during the work. Also try and drain the lines first, so that when you cut the main line, not much water flows out. If you have copper, buy a $20 soldering kit, and if you have CPVC or FLEX pipe it’s even easier. If you don’t like the idea of a soldering kit, just buy two pieces of threaded pipe for copper, screw those into either side of the meter, and then use 2 shark bites of the right size (almost definitely 3/4″ pipe). To use a shark bite you just push them onto the end of the pipe until you hear them click. I typically don’t use shark bites because they’re expensive (5-10 bucks a pop). I would charge $20-40 for this depending on the pipe material type, but I don’t know how much a plumber would charge. I’m just a handyman. The expensive part will be the meter itself, not sure how much those run, but all the materials can be priced at a big box store.

        If you need any further assistance and live close by, I could always stop on over. Youtube has hundreds of good first time soldering, glueing CPVC, and FLEX tutorials as well.

        Comment by Joe | October 3, 2012

      • Oh, and if you tackle this yourself, and end up screwing anything together with threaded pipe, remember to use some threaded pipe compound or teflon tape before screwing those together. Again, the youtube videos will show it all.

        Comment by Joe | October 3, 2012

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