Here’s a test: Try to guess how much water you used yesterday.
There was your morning shower, you flushed the toilet and washed your hands about five times, and you did some dishes. You also had the sprinkler going on the back lawn for an hour. Not so bad, right? Well, don’t forget that leaky faucet in the downstairs tub and those two loads of laundry you did after work.
“The one thing people don’t realize is how much water they use per day,” says Thomas Pape, technical adviser with the California Urban Water Conservation Council in Sacramento, California. “They’ll usually say they use 5, 8, or 10 gallons per day—they have no idea that their [individual] water use is probably about 100 gallons per day.” It’s clear that all that water we take for granted adds up fast.
But is water conservation really an issue for all Americans, even those who don’t live in dry, drought-ridden climates? “Water conservation is important everywhere, and in the United States that means from coast to coast,” says Amy Vickers, an engineer and water conservation specialist based in Amherst, Massachusetts. “I think we’re in a new day in this country and in many parts of the world when it comes to using water more efficiently, because the way we’ve used water in the past is not sustainable.”
Luckily, there is some good news. “There are lots of ways to use water more productively without sacrifice—but it does involve change,” says Vickers, author of Handbook of Water Use and Conservation (WaterPlow Press, 2001). “Consumers can do some very practical things to have healthier and cleaner drinking water in their communities and make sure that there’s enough water to withstand drought and shortages.”
Following are 20 doable, take-action steps to implement in and around your home. Sure, they’ll take some getting used to, but before long you won’t even notice the extra effort.
Conservation tips for the bathroom
1. Replace those old power flushers.
We know, some of you love your old toilets for their, well, forcefulness. But here’s the downside to all that oomph: Toilets made before 1993 use anywhere from 3.5 gallons per flush (gpf) up to 8 gpf, while new, high-efficiency toilets use 1.6 gpf or less, according to the California Urban Water Conservation Council. So replacing the old with the new cuts water consumption in half, saving some 480 gallons of water a month for a family of four.
If you can’t do without the super-flush, another option is one that’s been popular for years in Australia and Europe: the dual-flush toilet. With the push of a button, you have the option of a half-flush, using less water, or a full flush, for more serious jobs.
With this system, you’ll use only 15 to 18 gallons of water per toilet per day, a considerable savings. For details on dual-flush toilets, visit a plumbing supply house or hardware store, or go online and look for a manufacturer that distributes in your area.
2. Choose short showers over baths.
You’ve heard it before, but here’s a reminder: Showers do generally use less water than baths (standard-size tubs take approximately 24 gallons to fill; two-person luxury tubs can take 60 gallons or more). Of course, the key is keeping it short—showers under five minutes save 1,000 gallons a month.
3. Update shower-heads and bathroom faucet aerators.
Sure, you hop in and out of the shower in no time, but did you know water use in showers can range anywhere from 2 to 5 gallons per minute? “I suggest 2.5 to 2.7 gallons-per-minute showerheads,” says Pape. Even with a 2.7-gallon showerhead, Pape says, you’re dumping 27 gallons in a 10-minute shower. And forget about those high-end showers with multilevel showerheads on all sides of the walls. “You can have five showerheads in one shower,” says Pape. “That’s 25 gallons for every showerhead, so you definitely want to avoid that.” While you’re in the bathroom, Pape also suggests replacing bathroom sink faucet aerators with ones that emit only 1.5 gallons of water per minute.
4. Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth.
The payoff? You’ll save 4 gallons of water a minute, or 800 gallons of water a month for a family of four.
5. Fix the drips.
It may seem like just a drop here and there, but leaky faucets and fixtures are a huge source of wasted water. “Fixing leaks is really important in a faucet or a toilet or a garden hose,” says Vickers. “A leaking toilet can lose hundreds of gallons of water a day in a home. In a business situation it can lose thousands of gallons a day. It can add up very quickly.”
Your local hardware store or home improvement center should be able to help. Fixing just one leak can save 500 gallons of water per month. (For tips on testing for leaks and fixing a leaky toilet, go to www.toiletology.com/index.shtml.)
6. Conserve when you shave.
Attention men: When shaving, fill the washbasin with water rather than letting the tap run, and save 400 gallons of water a month. Ladies, you can also turn off the shower when shaving your legs.
Conservation tips for the kitchen
7. Use the dishwasher.
Running the dishwasher—a very full dishwasher—is actually more water-efficient than washing dishes by hand, when the tap is often running for long periods of time. So don’t feel lazy when you let the machine clean.
8. When the dish-washer kicks the bucket, buy a new water-efficient model.
That’s right, the new, more efficient models not only look snazzier in your kitchen, they save on H20. “The older, conventional dishwashers, before 1995, tend to use anywhere from 10 to 14 gallons per load, whereas some of the newer ones use as little as 4 or 5 gallons per load,” says Vickers. “You can cut your water use in half with the newer dishwashers.”
9. Don’t prerinse your dishes.
Think your plates and glasses will never get clean without a little scrubbing? According to a 2002 Consumer Reports study, prerinsing doesn’t make dishes any cleaner after they’ve been run through the dishwasher. Skipping this step (and simply scraping any residual particles into the trash) will save about 20 gallons of water a load—that’s 6,500 gallons per year, enough to fill several swimming pools!
10. Skip the rinse-and-hold feature on the dishwasher.
Passing on the rinse-and-hold feature on your machine will save 3 to 7 gallons of water with every load. That’s enough to water all the plants in your home several times over.
11. Eat foods that require less water to grow.
Sound like a stretch? According to Vickers, pound per pound the cost of water to produce a block of tofu is half that of what is required to produce, say, a sirloin steak because of the amount of water used to grow the grain that is fed to the cows. In fact, according to the State of the World 2004 Report published by the World Watch Institute in Washington, D.C., cutting the intake of animal products in half and replacing them with vegetable products would reduce the water intensity of the U.S. diet by 37 percent.
12. Don’t overtax your tap.
If you’re one of those people who lets the tap run so you can get a glass of cold water, here’s a smarter move: Cut down on water waste by keeping a jug of chilled agua in the fridge.
Conservation tips for the laundry room
13. Full loads only, please.
As with your dishwasher, make sure you’re fully loading your washing machine before you run it. Running the clothes washer only when it’s full can save up to 2,400 gallons each month.
14. Get a high-efficiency washing machine.
Switching from a regular to a water-efficient machine will cut your washing machine water use in half. The typical washer uses 47 gallons of water per day (based on the average machine using 45 gallons per load and the average homeowner doing about 1.1 loads per day).
Watch a video on simple water-saving tips we can all implement around the home.
Take a fun interactive tour of a house with tips on saving water from the California Urban Water Conservation Council.
This public-service ad campaign offers ways to save water in your state; a kid-friendly game of conservation concentration; and a printable brochure of water-conservation tips.
Got a leaky faucet and want to know how much water you’re really wasting? Log on to the American Water Works Association’s website, enter the number of drips per minute, and the WaterWiser Drip Calculator will tell you how many gallons of water are going down the drain daily, monthly, and annually.
Take an audit of your indoor water use by downloading a handy checklist (the site helps calculate how much money you’ll save by incorporating water-saving improvements at home). To know how much water a machine uses, you need to know its water factor, a specification that determines how many gallons of water are used per cubic foot of clothing. The lower the water factor, the less water used. Pape recommends buying a machine with a water factor of 8.5 or less. Note that the water factor is different than the Department of Energy’s yellow Energy Star labels, which indicate the machine is energy-efficient, not necessarily water-efficient. Manufacturers aren’t required to list the water factor on their labeling, but you can find out by visiting the Consortium for Energy Efficiency’s website at www.cee1.org.
Although the high-efficiency machines are expensive, they will save you money in the long run. “The savings you’ll get on energy and water costs will pay back that difference in anywhere from two to four years, depending on what your rates are,” notes Vickers.
Conservation tips for outside
15. Water your lawn less.
“The number-one thing that consumers can do in America to reduce their water use and preserve water quality is to stop or limit how much water they put on their lawn,” says Vickers. “Ironically, at a time when the population is growing, many people are putting more water on their lawns than ever before.” Vickers points to areas in Southern California, parts of the Southwest, Florida, and even some New England communities, where more than half of residential water use is for lawn watering.
16. Forego weed killers and fertilizers.
Part of the lawn problem is the fertilizers and weed killers Americans use on their lawns, products that require loads of water. “One of the benefits of not watering and allowing your yard or landscape to have a more natural environment is you’re going to save water, and you’re going to save on energy use and related pollution combustion products because energy is required to deliver water,” says Vickers.
17. Turn off or adjust your lawn irrigation timer.
“If you have an automatic timer that turns your sprinkler system on and off, you are probably using twice as much water as is necessary to water your lawn,” says Pape. “People without timers are more efficient [at watering] because they don’t water until the grass has started to wilt a little bit.” Just how often should you water your lawn? Although water needs vary across the country, Pape says under no circumstances does your lawn need to be watered more than once every three days. “If your grass doesn’t look good when you’re watering [on that schedule], then you’ve probably got the wrong type of grass.”
Can’t live without your sprinkler timers? Then try to rethink how you use them. “Fall is the most common time to overwater lawns, because although it may still be hot in September, the solar radiation has reduced to the amount that the lawn only needs about half as much water as it needs in June and July.” As a reminder, Pape has a saying: When football season starts, it’s halftime. “Go to your timer, and whatever you had it set on in June and July, cut it in half,” says Pape.
18. Be picky about the time of day you water.
Water your lawn in the cool parts of the day to minimize evaporation, either early morning or late in the evening. Also, if you’re using automatic sprinklers, don’t forget to turn them off so you aren’t watering during a thunderstorm.
19. Go native.
By now, most of us have heard of xeriscape—creating a sustainable landscape that conserves water. “Xeriscape in principle is good,” says Vickers, “but I think in certain parts of the country, people cannot relate to a dry landscape environment.” Instead, Vickers recommends using solely native plants in your yard and garden because they will thrive naturally on rainwater alone after they’ve been established.
20. Head to the car wash rather than sudsing up at home.
Finally an end to the great debate: “You’re better off going to a car wash that recycles its water,” says Pape. “Most of the newer car washes are built to recycle.” To be sure, check with your local water agency. If you do decide to wash at home, use a bucket filled with water and a hose with an on-off nozzle.