As warmer months arrive, our water usage usually goes up. There’s outdoor play, garden watering, and car washing. Now is a great time to find ways to conserve water. Conserving water saves you dollars and saves the environment for future generations.
Water comes into your house through your water supply, flows through your fixtures and appliances, and flows out of your house through your drainage system. To conserve water, try to make every drop that comes into your home count. Here are five fabulous ideas to help you make your home water system an efficient water conservation system.
Find and Fix the Leaks
The first step is to make sure there aren’t any leaks in your system. Leaks in the average American home can total up to 10,000 gallons a year. Nationwide, private leaks lose 1 trillion gallons a year—that’s enough water to serve 11 million homes for an entire year. Luckily, catching most leaks is easy to do and if you can find it, water leak repair is usually easy. You can easily change drippy faucets and showerheads. You can easily repair or replace leaky toilets. The challenge is finding a leak if you don’t know you have one.
Fortunately, a couple of handy tools can help you find out whether you have leaks. Just grab your water bill, your water meter, your ears, and some bright food coloring.
Look back over your water bill history. If you see a sudden or steady increase in water usage, it might be a sign of a leak somewhere in your home. A high water bill won’t tell you where the leak is, but it can tell you there’s a leak somewhere. Then you can go on a scavenger hunt and keep looking until you find it.
To use your water meter to find if you have a leak, first turn off all the water in your house. Then go outside and check your water meter. Write down the number on the meter. Leave the water off for a while (2-3 hours is good), then check the meter again. If the number has changed, you probably have a leak somewhere.
You can also use your ears to find leaks. Turn off all the faucets in the house and everything else that makes noise, like radios, televisions, or computers. Then, listen. Move through the house. Visit the kitchen and every bathroom. Stop by the utility room and your water pump if you have a well. Find the place where water drains out of your home. Listen carefully. If you hear the water moving through the supply pipes or the drains, you may have a leak. If you do hear water, you can usually locate the source. Don’t forget to check your outside faucets because they are often a leak source.
Unfortunately, some leaks are slow and silent. Toilet leaking is often like this. To check your toilet for leaks, put a few drops of bright food coloring into the tank itself (not the bowl). Wait a while. If the food coloring enters the bowl, or the water in the tank goes from colored to clear, you know you have a leak somewhere in the toilet.
Finally, if you have a high water bill, or your meter shows you’re losing water even when the water isn’t running, you may have a leak in the plumbing or pipes, perhaps even the underground pipes servicing your home. Plumbing companies can help you find this type of leak.
Replace Legacy Fixtures
Another excellent way to conserve water, and save dollars, is too make sure all your water fixtures and appliances are water efficient. If you live in a home with older toilets, faucets, showerheads, and dishwashers, changing to low flow fixtures will make an enormous difference in your bill. This is because these older legacy fixtures and appliances were not designed with water efficiency in mind.
Today’s more water-efficient fixtures and appliances look great and cut your water usage dramatically. The new green showerheads provide a refreshing invigorating spray while limiting flow to 1.5 gallons per minute. This means you get clean without sending water recklessly down the drain.
The new efficient toilets use less water per flush. In fact, some manufacturers offer dual-flush toilets, which let you choose how much water to use per flush so you can use just a little water for “number one,” but a little more water for “number two.” Even if you’re not quite ready to replace your toilet, you can still save water by filling an empty milk jug with water and pouring the water into the toilet tank. Every gallon jug you put in your tank reduces the water you use per flush by a gallon.
When you are ready to replace your fixtures and appliances, you’ll find plenty of water-efficient affordable plumbing fixtures on the market. But if you aren’t sure how to choose the best plumbing fixtures and appliances, look for the WaterSense® label as you shop. WaterSense® is a partnership with the EPA, and products that have the WaterSense® label must be at least 20% more efficient than the average product in the same category. The WaterSense® label makes it easy to select a water-efficient product that will help you conserve water.
So far, we’ve been focusing on the inside of your home, but you can take steps to conserve water outside, too.
Be thoughtful about how and when you water your lawn and garden. Watering works best when you do it in the early morning. When you water at high noon, the sun evaporates a lot of your water before it gets to the roots. Watering less frequently, but making sure plants get a full drink is best. This means letting water penetrate the soil deeply, ideally by watering in repeated intervals of short bursts. The deeper, less frequent, watering encourages plants to send roots deeper into the soil, where there’s more moisture. Plants with deeper roots are healthier and can go longer between watering.
Set up a barrel (or two!) to collect rainwater. Store the rainwater in the barrel and use it later, when it’s hot and dry, to water your garden and lawn. Watering this way prevents you from having to draw water from your city water or well.
Another way you can conserve water outside is to xeriscape your yard. Xeriscaping principles were originally developed for drought conditions, so the bedrock principle of xeriscaping is water conservation. Xeriscaping involves planting native plants and ground covers, avoiding open expanses of grass, mulching extensively, and thoughtfully irrigating your landscape with soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems. Native plants and ground covers are naturally adapted to the local climate and mulch keeps the soil moist, reducing the amount of water you need to provide. This makes it easier for your yard to thrive on natural rainfall. The xeriscaping approach works in any yard, not just dry ones.
Make Waste Water Work
Once you’ve fixed your leaks, make sure your fixtures and appliances are water-efficient and reduced your water needs outdoors, you can conserve even more water by finding ways to make sure you capture and use water that would otherwise go to waste. If you wash dishes at your sink, don’t let the water run as you wash. Put a plastic basin in the sink, fill it with water, and use that water to wash your dishes. Even better, add a second basin of clean water for rinsing.
Have you ever turned the hot water on, and waited for it to turn from cold to hot before you started using it? Instead of letting that water go down the drain, capture it in a pitcher or jar and use it to water your houseplants. You can do the same thing with water used to boil pasta—let it cool to room temperature and use it to water your plants. Once you start looking for them, opportunities to reuse water will present themselves everywhere.
Consider rerouting your greywater to irrigate your lawn. Greywater is water from sinks, dishwashers, and washing machines—it doesn’t include water from toilets. With some reworking of your plumbing system, you can recapture greywater before it leaves your house and reroute it to irrigate your lawn. There are many ways to design a greywater system, but you may want to ask a drain service professional to help you set up the system. Once your greywater system is in place, you can put greywater to use watering your yard instead of sending it into the sewer. Texas law specifically allows residential use of greywater, without authorization, as long as you don’t use more than 400 gallons of greywater per day.
Change Your Hygiene Habits
We take actions every day to take care of ourselves. We brush our teeth, take a shower, go to the bathroom, wash our dishes, and clean our clothes. We can take care of the earth and reduce our water usage by making sure we perform those daily habits as water-efficiently as possible.
It’s easy to acquire the habit of letting the water run as we brush our teeth, but if we turn the water off while we’re brushing, and turn it back on only to rinse, we can each save tons of water—literally—over the course of the year.
Here’s how it works. Assume you’ve got a low flow faucet that restricts flow to 1.5 gallons per minute, and you let the water run for one minute each time you brush your teeth. If you brush your teeth twice a day every day, over the year, you’ll let 1,095 gallons of water run down the drain. Each gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds, so 1,095 gallons of water weighs 9,132 pounds—that’s four and a half tons! Your tooth-brushing habits can lead to some heavy water savings.
Another way to conserve water is to shorten your showers. Set a timer for five minutes, and step out when the timer goes off. The same rules apply here as with tooth brushing. Every daily minute you eliminate from your showering habit can save more than two tons of water over the course of a year.