Have you ever looked at your home water bill and noticed a section labeled sewer charge?
Or maybe you’ve received a sewer-specific bill and wondered: what does this mean?
In this article, you’ll learn what a sewer bill is, why you’re receiving it, and how it’s calculated. I also explain why it’s so high and how to save yourself money each month.
Use the links below to navigate the article:
- What Is a Sewer Bill?
- How Sewer Bills Are Calculated
- Why Sewer Bills Are Higher Than Water Bills
- Average Sewer Bill Cost
- How to Lower Your Sewer Bill
- Does Every Household Pay Sewer Fees?
- Bottom Line
Sewer bills cover your town or city’s cost to remove and treat the wastewater from your home. Treating wastewater requires complex filters, systems, and facilities, which are expensive to implement and operate.
The sewer bill, or sewer fee, is usually included as a line item on your water bill because the cost is based on water usage.
Most cities issue sewer bills monthly, but some are quarterly.
Here’s an example of a water and sewer bill. As you can see, the water and sewer usage fees are listed separately but added together to calculate the total amount due.
How Sewer Bills Are Calculated
When calculating the amount of water a household uses, utility companies use various units of measurement. One of the most common units is the CCF (centum cubic feet), also called HCF (hundred cubic feet). CCF and HCF equal 100 cubic feet of water or 748 gallons.
There’s another, usually separately-listed, sewer fee for each CCF of water used. In most cities, the sewer fee is calculated as a percentage of total water usage, although the exact calculation varies by location.
Simply put, the more water you use, the higher your sewer bill.
Municipalities use a specific fee structure to calculate water and sewer bills. Today, most cities use either a uniform rate or an increasing block rate to determine water costs — and that water cost is then used to calculate the sewer cost.
Uniform rates are calculated based on a set fee for units of water processed. Each household’s usage is measured by a meter installed on the property. There may also be different uniform rates depending on property type – i.e., a house will pay one rate while a business pays another.
Increasing block rates charge more per unit as a property uses more water. It’s calculated based on thresholds of usage. Once you exceed a certain level, you will pay more per unit from that point. The rate continues to increase at each higher level of consumption. This approach encourages water conservation and is common in dry areas with limited water resources.
To give you an overview of the different ways sewer bills are calculated across the United States, here are some regional examples:
- Northeast – In Norwood, Massachusetts, the sewer bill is based on a rate of 60% of your water usage. The sewer fees per CCF of water used are significantly higher than the water charges.
- West Coast – In San Diego, California, customers pay a base fee determined by classification (usage categories defined by the utility company). In addition, they pay a sewer fee per HCF (748 gallons) based on 95% of their total home water usage.
- Midwest – In Chicago, Illinois, customers’ sewer rate comprises 100% of their water usage, and the charges are adjusted for inflation each year.
- South – In Texas City, Texas, the water bill is calculated using two different rates. Customers pay one rate until they hit 3,000 gallons and another when they exceed that threshold. The sewer bill is a separate rate per every 1,000 gallons of water, and it remains the same regardless of how much wastewater is produced.
If you want to know how your city calculates the sewer bill, Google “[your city’s name] sewer bill calculation,” and you should find a page that explains it. Some even include examples.
Why Sewer Bills Are Higher Than Water Bills
Sewer bills tend to be higher than regular water bills because treating and processing wastewater costs the municipality more than providing clean, drinkable water to your taps.
There are several reasons for this, but simply put, wastewater treatment infrastructure costs more to build and maintain than regular water delivery systems.
Another factor is demand. More homes are hooked up to the municipal (city) water system than the sewer system.
Since some households are hooked up to septic systems rather than city sewage lines, there are fewer households to share the cost of the wastewater system. Therefore each household has to pay a more significant percentage of the total cost.
Lastly, is the installation and maintenance of the sewer pipes. Drinking water flows through pressurized pipes and doesn’t rely on gravity. Therefore, the lines can be installed about five or six feet below ground.
In contrast, sewer lines must be sloped downward so gravity can pull the water into the sewer.
Because of that, sewer pipes are often buried much deeper in the ground and require significant excavation to install, repair, and replace. Higher sewer fees are necessary to cover the construction costs.
Average Sewer Bill Cost
The average sewer bill varies widely by state, city, and region, and there isn’t a single universal rate to compare yours.
To know whether your bill is above or below the local average, you’ll need to look at your utility company’s official website or printed resources. Some sewer bills include the city averages, so you can quickly compare.
The average sewer bill ranges from $14.04 to $135.57 per month. Here are a few examples by state:
|State||Average Monthly Water Bill||Average Monthly Sewer Bill|
I cover how to lower your water and sewer bill at length in this guide, but let’s quickly review the most impactful opportunities.
The most costly mistake: not having a separate water meter for your pool, lawn, and garden.
Filling a pool or regularly watering the lawn and garden uses a ton of water. If you’re only hooked up to one water meter, all that water gets counted as waste or sewage, even though it goes into the ground and not to a treatment facility.
Fortunately, most municipalities allow homeowners to install a second water meter for irrigation systems and outdoor spouts. These meters charge you for water usage but not for sewer fees.
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Although you’ll need to pay for permits, the meter, and a plumber, a second meter can save you thousands long term, especially if you use sprinklers or other automatic irrigation systems.
Regarding indoor sewer costs, things are much simpler: using less water will lower sewer fees. General water-saving measures like low-flow toilets and shorter showers will almost always result in a lower sewer bill.
Here are a few simple suggestions for lowering your overall water consumption:
- Invest in a more efficient washing machine
- Only run your dishwasher and washing machine when the load is full
- Use your dishwasher instead of handwashing (for dishwasher-safe items)
- Get a tankless water heater
- Take showers instead of baths, and take shorter/more efficient showers
- Check all of your faucets and external pipes for leaks at least once per year
If your bill seems higher than it should be, it’s worth double-checking with the utility company. You can always request an explanation or detailed breakdown of your bill.
Does Every Household Pay Sewer Fees?
There are two main types of water delivery and treatment systems for homes; only one requires you to pay a sewer bill.
Well and Septic System: Well and septic systems are standard for homes without direct access to the town’s water and sewer lines. In this scenario, homeowners pay for the well and septic to be inspected, maintained, and, in the case of septic, emptied regularly. Homeowners with septic systems do not have to pay a monthly sewer bill. However, they need to pay for the system to be pumped every two to five years.
Municipal Water and Sewer: More commonly, houses “on the grid” get water from the town piped into their home, and the wastewater is drained into public sewer lines. In this scenario, homeowners pay a monthly sewer bill that covers the cost of draining and treating the wastewater via the public sewer system.
To sum up, a sewer bill is a fee charged by your utility company for the amount of wastewater you send back into the system each month.
The sewer fee is almost always based on water usage, but the exact calculation varies by city. Some municipalities charge a flat sewer fee plus a percentage of water usage.
Sewer bills tend to be higher than water bills because wastewater must be pumped to a treatment facility and processed, which costs the town or city money – more than they spend on providing that water to you in the first place. Plus, sewer lines rely on gravity, so they often need to be installed deep underground, which drives up costs.
The average sewer bill in the United States ranges between $14.04 and $135.57 per month, but the cost is highly variable based on water usage and region.
The best way to lower your water bill is to install a second meter so you’re not paying a sewer fee for water that isn’t flowing into the sewer system. Besides that, taking practical measures to reduce your everyday water consumption will result in a lower sewer bill. Check out this list of the easiest ways to reduce your water and sewer bill for some great ideas.
Sewer bills are a way to keep our water systems efficient and well-maintained, and it’s important to understand how that money gets charged. Now you know.
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