Conserving water: 5 tips to help you cut consumption and costs

For many years, potable water was taken for granted. Utility rates did little to discourage wasteful water practices until about 15 years ago. That’s when prices began to rise, and they haven’t stopped.

Rising costs are the number one reason why more people are paying attention to household water consumption. If you are among those looking to cut your costs, while simultaneously protecting the environment, here are five easy-to-implement steps that you can take. 

1) Replace kitchen and bath fixtures with low-flow fixtures.

One of the most important and easiest things that you can do is replace your kitchen and bath fixtures with low flow faucets and showerheads. Where the conventional flow rate for faucets and showerheads is about 2.5 gallons per minute; new, super-efficient faucets use as little as .5 gallons per minute, while equivalent showerheads use about 1.5 gallons per minute.

Installation can be as easy as unscrewing the old fixture and screwing in the new one. There are plenty of reputable product manufacturers that you can find online. Try a simple Google search of “low flow kitchen and bath fixtures”. See other ways to save water in the kitchen.

2) Improve toilet efficiency with a low-flow or dual-flush toilet.

Changing out a flush fixture can save you hefty amounts of water and cash. Most retrofits tend to be direct bolt-on replacements, much like low-flow sink fixtures but maybe requiring just a bit more effort.

How much will you save? Until recently, standard flush volume for toilets was from three to five gallons. Today, with EPA-compliant fixtures, that per-flush volume can be as low as 1.6 gallons. You can also find highly efficient toilets that use about 1.1 gallons per flush. Better still, dual flush models generally require less than a gallon per flush for liquid waste, and between 1.1 and 1.6 gallons for solids. This significant reduction in water consumption quickly adds up to meaningful savings. Learn how to choose a low-flow toilet.

One side note: Actual performance and flow of new fixtures will vary if your water pressure differs from the pressure used to rate them.

3) Install an on-demand recirculation pump or put yours on a timer.

Start getting your hot water faster, without running the sink while “waiting for the water to get hot”.

Rather than relying on the typically low water pressure common in most traditional plumbing systems, recirculating  pumps up the pressure and rapidly move hot water from the water heater to your kitchen or bathroom fixtures.

As an added benefit, when hot water flows out from the heater, cooled-off water is returned to the water heater, where it is efficiently brought back to temperature.

Hot water recirculation systems can be activated by the push of a button, or by a thermostat, timer or motion sensor. They generally include a pump, an integrated electronic controller, and a zone valve. Systems that use a thermostat automatically activate the pump when water temperature falls below a pre-set level.  Timer-based systems work on the clock. Whichever system you choose, once it’s installed your hot water is accessible on demand.

Find out how much a recirculation pump will cost you.

4) Purchase a high-efficiency dishwasher or washing machine.

If you were in the market for these appliances, you’d be wise to shop for products that run efficiently.

When choosing a new dishwasher, compare the average water consumed per load. Look for features that allow you to skip the pre-rinse cycle, that provide economy mode settings, or enable you to adjust temperature settings or water amounts, depending on how dirty the dishes are, or how full the washer is.

Clothes washers have also evolved. New models are much more efficient in terms of water (and energy) use. One rule of thumb says that front-loading washers are the most efficient. They do a notably better job conserving water, energy and (for good measure) detergent. Make sure the machine offers a cold-water-only option. This is especially important for conserving energy. Also look for water usage controls such as a ‘suds-saver’, and spin cycle adjustments.

5) Install rain barrels at your downspouts.

During summer months, lawn and garden watering makes up about 40% of total household water use. A rain barrel is the easiest way to collect and store gallons of rainwater that you can later use to irrigate.

A standard, commercial rain barrel kit includes a 55-gallon drum, a vinyl hose, PVC couplings, and a screen grate to keep out debris and insects. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a rain barrel can save the average homeowner about 1,300 gallons of water during those peak months.

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Why conserve?

The Environmental Protection Agency calculates that, in the U.S., homes consume about 100 gallons of water per day per person, with approximately 70 percent being used indoors. 

A high-quality water supply is essential to a high standard of living. Yet most of us take our ready access to water for granted, despite the fact that delivering and treating water is expensive.

For example, according to Water Sense, letting your hot water faucet run for five minutes uses about as much energy as running a 60-watt light bulb for 14 hours. What’s more, operating an electric water heater accounts for about one-quarter of an average electric bill.

Additionally, when people use less water, there’s more of it available for lakes, rivers and streams. Using water more efficiently helps maintain supplies at safe levels, protecting human health and the natural habitats.

So how much benefit would we derive by taking steps to conserve? The American Water Works Association asserts that if every U.S. households installed water-saving features, water use would decrease by 30 percent, saving an estimated 5.4 billion gallons and $11.3 million per day, or more than $4 billion per year.

With climate change concerns, pervasive droughts, and high energy prices, the greater the numbers of people who take the necessary steps to conserve water, the better. And the sooner we all support this effort, the greater will be the benefits that we all enjoy.