Simple Guide to Indoor & Outdoor Water Conservation

 

Waterconservationguide

It can often feel as if water is unlimited. After all, you turn on a faucet and water comes pouring out. However, more people are beginning to appreciate the fact that water is, in fact, finite and that overusing it has devastating effects on the environment.

Another reason people are trying to reduce water usage is cost savings. When you cut your water usage by many gallons a day, it has a significant impact on your water bill. In addition, reducing your water usage increases the lifespan of your pipes and sewer or septic system — for even more savings.

What is the Average Household Water Usage in the US?

 

The average household in the U.S. uses between 80 and 100 gallons of water per day.

Such high water usage hurts the planet for a number of reasons.

First, all the water you use needs to be treated and delivered to your home — processes that lead to the emission of greenhouse gases. In addition, using water in the home means depleting natural water sources, which impacts the entire ecosystem. Finally, runoff from used water often enters lakes and rivers, causing contamination.

How to Reduce Water Usage at Home

 

You use water at home in a large number of ways:

  • Toilet — 4 gallons per flush for old models; 1.6 gallons per flush for new models.
  • Laundry — 25 to 40 gallons per load.
  • Bath — 36 gallons to fill an average-size tub.
  • Shower — 5 gallons per minute for a regular shower; 2.5 gallons per minute for a low-flow shower.
  • Leaks — 10 percent of homes have leaks that waste at least 90 gallons of water per day.
  • Dishwasher — 6 to 16 gallons per cycle.
  • Sinks — less than 1 gallon to brush your teeth, 1 gallon to wash your hands or face, 1 gallon for shaving, and 8 to 27 gallons to wash dishes by hand.

Luckily, there are multiple ways to reduce water use for all of these — and most require little extra effort or expense.

 

Toilet

For starters, only use your toilet for its intended purpose. Using it to flush tissues, cotton pads, and cigarette butts is a huge waste of water — not to mention you risk clogging the toilet.

You can also reduce how much water your toilet uses for each flush in a few ways.

  1. A float booster or tank bank will reduce the amount of water in the tank. You can buy one or make one yourself using a plastic bottle filled with a couple of inches of sand or pebbles and topped with water. Place the tank bank away from the operating mechanism.

Be sure to test that the toilet is still able to flush properly with the tank bank. Otherwise, users will need to flush twice — and end up using even more water than they would have. When it’s working well, a float boaster can reduce water usage by at least 10 gallons a day.

  1. Another option is an adjustable toilet flapper. This allows you to change the flush rate for every use. It both avoids needing to flush a second time and keeps water usage to a minimum.
  2. If you want to make an even bigger difference, you could replace your toilet entirely. It will mean a high initial investment, but you’ll see long-term savings in addition to reducing your impact on the environment. For instance, low-flush and dual-flush toilets use a third or even a quarter of the water of traditional toilets.
  3. You may be able to turn your current toilet into a dual-flush toilet by installing a dual-flush conversion kit. Bear in mind that these don’t work for toilets that require a certain amount of water to flush.
  4. The most effective option of all is to switch to a composting toilet. These use no water at all and keep contaminants out of waterways. You will need to check if a composting toilet is legal where you live before deciding to install one.

Laundry

The most obvious way to save water for doing laundry is to switch to a more efficient washing machine. Front-loading machines use less water than top-loading ones. However, if this is out of your budget, you can at least make sure that you always wash full loads of clothes. Plus, try to reduce how often you do laundry by wearing your clothes more than once.

Baths

The best way to reduce water from baths is to — take showers instead! This will use around one third the amount of water. If you do want to continue taking the occasional bath, fill the tub to only about halfway. The level will rise when you get in.

Showers

water flowing from shower head 

The most obvious way to reduce water usage in the shower is to bathe for less time. Simply being conscious about how long you are in the shower should make this possible. To reduce your water consumption further, turn off the water while you soap up, shampoo your hair, and shave. Installing a valve behind the shower head makes this particularly easy.

Another tactic is to switch to a water-saving shower head. This will reduce water flow by as much as half without impacting pressure. Shower heads are inexpensive, which means they are cost effective after just a few uses.

Finally, if you find it inconvenient to turn off the faucet at the moment the water heats up to the right temperature, consider installing a device to the shower head that pauses the water for you.

Leaks

Pipes, faucets, and toilets can all suffer from leaks. Some leaks may look small, but if they are constantly dripping, they may be wasting many gallons of water. For this reason, if you notice even the slightest leak, you need to call a plumber as soon as possible to make the repair — or even do it yourself, if you are able. As well as reducing water waste, this will prevent water damage.

It can be unclear if a toilet is leaking, but there’s an easy way to check: add food coloring to the tank and leave it for at least 10 minutes without flushing. If the water in the toilet bowl has even the slightest tint of color, you’ll know that your toilet is indeed leaking. This is something a plumber can easily fix.

 

Dishwasher

A selling point of dishwashers is they utilize much less water than washing dishes by hand. However, this is only true if you are using your dishwasher correctly. For instance, it is important to never run a dishwasher unless it is full. In addition, if you have a high-quality dishwasher, rinsing dishes before you put them in is completely unnecessary and a huge waste of water.

Sinks

Changing some basic habits will reduce how much water you use from sinks. For example, stop running the water while you’re brushing your teeth or shaving. In fact, it is better to fill the sink with about an inch of water to rinse your razor than to wash it under a running tap.

You should also install water aerators on all your faucets. This will maintain water pressure but cut your water usage in half. Like water-saving shower heads, water aerators cost little and are easy to install.

If you need your kitchen sink to wash dishes (for instance, you don’t own a dishwasher or you have some dishes that you need to wash by hand), try to minimize your water use. For a start, don’t keep the water running as you wash. If you have double basin, soap dishes in one and keep the other full of water for rinsing. If you have single basin, soap all your dishes and then rinse everything at once with a spray or dual-switch aerator on your faucet.

More Tips

There are a few other ways you can conserve water in your home:

 

  • Check insulation around pipes. If your pipes lack sufficient insulation, the heated water will drop in temperature sooner. This increases the likelihood that you’ll need to run the faucet to flush out the cold water.
  • Find ways to reuse your water. For instance, wash fresh fruits and vegetables in a bowl and use the water for your houseplants or garden. Another option is to collect water in a bucket before your shower heats up.
  • Use your garbage disposal less. It takes a large quantity of water to get rid of these scraps. A better option would be to turn them into compost.
  • Store a pitcher of water in the fridge. This will save you from needing to run the tap for a few seconds every time you want cold water to drink.
  • Purchase a personal water filter for hikes. You’ll be able to drink water straight from rivers and lakes instead of bringing your own from home.
  • Make fewer purchases. Everything you purchase requires water to manufacture. In fact, as much as one third of your water footprint could be attributable to consumer products. Before buying, decide if you really need that piece of clothing, electronic device, or household item.

Ways to Conserve Water Outside the Home

In addition to inside the home, there are several ways you are using water outdoors. It is just as important to find ways to reduce this water usage, as it could be contributing to a significant amount.

  • Lawn and garden — 2 gallons per minute for watering.
  • Swimming pool — Water evaporates by about ¼ inch per day.
  • Car washing 15 to 100 gallons, depending on the method.

Lawn and Garden

Be smarter about how you use water for your lawn and plants by only watering your garden when necessary. Instead of sticking to a schedule, only water after a dry spell. Try to water as early in the morning as possible to avoid evaporation. It may be worthwhile updating your equipment — a watering can or hose with a trigger nozzle are best.

If you use a water sprinkler, put it on a timer to avoid watering for too long. An automatic timer is useful, as you can set it to turn itself on in the mornings. However, you will need to remember to adjust it to stop running during rainy periods.

Lastly, adapting your garden can also reduce its water needs. For instance, you should use mulch around plants and flowerbeds to slow down evaporation and avoid cutting grass too short to encourage it to grow deep roots — therefore needing less watering.

Swimming Pool

The best way to avoid evaporation is to keep your pool covered. At the very least, keep the cover on at nights when temperatures are high.

Car Washing

If you wash your car at home, use a bucket of soapy water. Then, instead of running a hose, refill the bucket with clean water when it’s time to rinse your car.

An even better alternative may be to go to a commercial car wash. Many even have recycling systems to reuse water.

 

Outdoor Water Leaks

Things like sprinklers, irrigation systems, swimming pools, pipes, faucets, and hoses can all suffer from leaks. You’ll probably need a plumber to fix these, except hoses — just add a washer at the spigot.

As well as visually checking your equipment, monitor for leaks by installing a water meter. Make a note of the water level and then, being careful not to run any water, check the level again one or two hours later. If there is any change, you have a leak that you need to locate and fix.

Things like sprinklers, irrigation systems, swimming pools, pipes, faucets, and hoses can all suffer from leaks. You’ll probably need a plumber to fix these, except hoses — just add a washer at the spigot.

As well as visually checking your equipment, monitor for leaks by installing a water meter. Make a note of the water level and then, being careful not to run any water, check the level again one or two hours later. If there is any change, you have a leak that you need to locate and fix.

Other Ways to Reduce Outdoor Water Usage

A few more ways to reduce your outdoor water usage include:

  • Xeriscaping – This tactic uses drought-resistant plants along with special gardening techniques to minimize the need for irrigation and watering. Technically, a xeriscape does not have a lawn, but if you want to incorporate one, you can always use a type of grass that requires far less water than regular turf.
  • Utilizing gray water – Black water is sewage water from your toilet. Gray water is used water from any other appliance in your home. If regulations in your area allow it, you can reroute gray water from your dishwasher, shower, washing machine, and sinks into a gray water system. (It’s also possible to hook up just one appliance, such as just the washing machine.) You can then use this water for your lawn and plants. Just don’t use the water on your vegetable garden, as it could contain some contaminants.
  • Collecting water in rain barrels – Collect rainfall and runoff from your roof in a single barrel or develop a complex irrigation system. Again, you will need to confirm that this is legal where you live.
  • Cleaning walkways with a broom – Often, there is no need to spray your driveway or sidewalk with a hose. You may find that even stains come away easily through sweeping alone. At the very least, you’ll remove the surface dirt and reduce the amount of water you need to use.

Changing Your Diet

Making conscious food choices can also have an impact on how much water you, as an individual, use — albeit indirectly. For instance, it takes 674 gallons of water to produce just 6 ounces of beef.

Reducing how much meat and dairy you eat will have a big impact, but there are also other things you do:

  • Limit your consumption of nuts, as these crops require substantial water. If you’re looking for dairy-free milk, oat, coconut, soy, hemp, and pea protein milk are great alternatives to almond milk.
  • Drink less soda, coffee, and wine. Soda uses 46 gallons of water to produce just a 17-ounce beverage, whereas coffee and wine both need 34 gallons of water to produce one cup or glass. Your best option is to drink regular water, but if you need caffeine, tea is a good alternative.
  • Eat fewer processed foods like pre-made meals, chips, and candy. It is especially important to cut down on sugary foods, as sugarcane is one of the most water-intensive crops. Better options for snacks include fresh fruit and homemade hummus from mashed beans.
  • When you do eat meat and dairy products, choose those from pasture-raised animals. Grass is less likely to require irrigation than corn or soy.

Food Waste

In addition to making smarter food choices, aim to reduce your food waste. The average person throws out 40 percent of all purchased food, resulting in a waste of 26,500 gallons of water a year.

If you are currently throwing out a large percentage of all the food you buy, it may seem difficult to get close to zero. Actually, you can try several effective tactics:

  • Purchase ingredients with meals in mind. This will ensure you only buy what you are going to use and not items that seem attractive when you’re in the store.
  • Choose what you’re going to eat according to what you have at home. When deciding what to eat, look beyond your cravings. Consider what items of food you need to eat soon and figure out how to combine as many as possible to prepare a dish.
  • Turn leftovers into a meal. Save all leftovers at the end of meals and turn them into a new meal the next day.
  • Compost food you can’t use. Take everything from vegetable peel to food scraps and turn them into compost for your garden or houseplants.

Pet Products

Your pets can also contribute to less wasted water, most significantly when you change their diets. By preparing your own pet food, you not only cut down on water usage, meals are also healthier and more enjoyable for your pets. Talk to your vet about what to include to ensure you create a balanced diet.

As well as food, every pet product you purchase requires water to produce. Buy fewer leashes, collars, and bowls (usually, pets don’t need more than one of each) and find toys made from sustainable materials like hemp.

Reducing Energy Usage

By saving energy, you conserve water. This is because the process of producing energy uses a large amount of water. If you receive electricity from coal, natural gas, or a nuclear source, your water footprint for energy alone is around 39 gallons of water a day. Therefore, by using less energy, you’ll be saving water.

A few easy ways you can reduce the amount of energy you consume include:

  • Better insulate your home to minimize the use of your air conditioning and heating system.
  • Whenever you need a new appliance, choose one that is Energy Star certified.
  • Switch to LED and CFL light bulbs.
  • Wash clothes and dishes with cold water.
  • Purchase power strips and turn them off whenever appliances are not in use.

You can reduce your water footprint even more by switching to a renewable energy source, such as from solar panels or wind turbines, and by heating your water with a solar heater.

    Gasoline

    In addition to reducing electricity usage, it is helpful to cut down the amount of gasoline you consume. This is because for every mile you drive, it takes three-quarters of a gallon of water to extract, refine, and transport the gasoline. There are several things you can do:

    • Use your car less. Take public transport, ride a bike, or car pool.
    • Keep your car in good condition with the tires inflated to the right pressure.
    • Turn off the engine instead of idling.
    • Choose a hybrid or electric vehicle the next time you buy a car.
    • Buy locally-produced food that hasn’t had to travel far to reach you.

    Conserving water is crucial for helping the planet. As an added bonus, reducing your water usage will also save you money. The best news of all is that conserving water does not need to be difficult. You can apply all the above tips almost instantly to start making a big difference.

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