The process of fitting water meters to more than one million homes will begin from next July, it has emerged.

Contractors working for the State company, Bord Gáis, will begin installing equipment needed to fit the meters, which are central to charging householders for their water use.

Bord Gáis, which is responsible for establishing the State’s new water supply company, published notices yesterday seeking suppliers for boundary boxes and other equipment needed to install the meters.

The move is the first significant step towards metering water supplies to about 1.05 million homes in the Republic.

The gas company is scheduled to complete the process of selecting the contractors by next March. They are scheduled to begin fitting the equipment in July and are expected to complete in December 2016.

The boxes will be connected to the stop-cock point, that is, the junction between the mains and pipes supplying individual homes, which means they will be outside the properties.

Boundary boxes are plastic cylinders designed to hold meters and connect them to the supplies that they will monitor.

Industry sources estimate that the total value of the contract to supply the boundary boxes will be in the region of €20 million.

However, the final cost will be decided by the terms of the contract between Bord Gáis and the suppliers it chooses.

Water charges will be introduced in 2014. Not all households will be metered at that stage; those that are not will be charged on an assessment of what their average use should be. There will be free allowances for groups who are likely to face real difficulties in paying the charges and for those whose medical needs mean they have to consume large quantities of water.

Bord Gáis chief executive John Mullins told an Oireachtas committee this month that issues such as the amount of the free allowance would have to be decided out before charges are introduced.

Local elections

While no final date has been set for their introduction, it is thought it will be after the local elections that are due midway through 2014.

The new company, dubbed Irish Water, will take over responsibility for supplies to consumers and businesses from the local authorities currently responsible for the service.

The company will be self-funding, that is, it will have to meet its costs from the charges it imposes on customers.

The Bord Gais notice, published on the Government e-tenders website, is for “multi-party” contracts, indicating that it will hire a number of suppliers.

Companies that express interest will be whittled down to the pre-qualifying stage, from which a shortlist of the best candidates will come. These will then have to submit tenders for the contracts. Bord Gáis will choose the final suppliers from that group.

Bord Gáis last week advertised for a managing director for Irish Water. The organisation will have taken full responsibility for all aspects of water treatment and supply in the Republic by 2015.

This story was taken for the Irish Times, Wednesday 21st November 2012. Author Barry O’Halloran