Making Your Home Water-Smart
Whether you’re on- or off-grid, household water-saving strategies are a smart idea, both from a resource- and energy-savings standpoint. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “the average household spends as much as $500 per year” on water and sewer bills. By changing the way water is used, the EPA estimates that the average household could whittle their water expenses by about 30%. The EPA says that if water-saving appliances were used in every household, “more than 3 trillion gallons of water and more than $18 billion per year” would be saved. The benefits are wide-reaching—when individual households use water more efficiently, the need for establishing new water-supply infrastructure and wastewater treatment facilities is reduced. While those not on community water or sewer systems won’t necessarily reap these cash savings directly, they will benefit by decreasing their well-pump run time, saving equipment wear and tear, and helping extend equipment life. According to the American Water Works Association, the average U.S. household uses 127,400 gallons of water per year. But where is all this water going? A significant portion—69.3 gallons per person, per day—is used indoors.
Flushing Toilets. Toilets are the largest water-wasters inside most homes, accounting for about 25% of the daily indoor water use. If your toilet was installed before 1992, it likely uses too much water. Check out your toilet’s vintage by lifting the lid and looking at the manufacturer’s imprint. Sometimes, the stamp will also include a “gpf” (gallons per flush) value, such as “2.2 gpf,” which indicates the amount of water used for each flush. In 1992, federal legislation mandated that all toilets manufactured or imported into the United States be 1.6 gpf or lower. Today, you can do even better—dual-flush units let you select how much water to use, usually 0.8 gpf or 1.6 gpf. For reviews of low-flush and dual-flush models, check out expert plumber Terry Love’s forums at www.terrylove.com. Although this is a commercial site, the forums offer insight on models that people love, and ones people love to hate. Composting toilets are the most water-efficient of all, since they use no water. They typically consist of a standard seat that empties into a chamber. “Deposits” are usually covered with peat moss, coconut husks, or sawdust to stymie odors and aid in composting. Once full, the chamber contents can be emptied into a separate, outdoor composting bin or buried around vegetation.
Washing Clothes. After toilets, washing clothes consumes the most water in a typical household. This is mostly due to older vertical-axis machines (commonly known as “top loaders”), which may use 35% to 50% more water than newer horizontal-axis machines. If your machine is 10 years or older, you may want to consider replacing it for both water and energy savings. Choose a model with a high modified energy factor (MEF) and a low water factor (WF).
Showerheads. For maximum water efficiency, select a showerhead with a flow rate of less than 2.5 gpm. Two basic types of low-flow showerheads are available: aerating, which mixes air with water; and laminar-flow, which forms individual streams of water. Laminar-flow showerheads put less moisture into the air compared to aerating ones. Consider replacing showerheads that are more than 9 years old—before the water-saving standards went into effect.
Faucets. Low-flow faucets designed to federal standards may use sensors, as well as aerators, to reduce water consumption. For households, one of the newest innovations is the touch faucet, which allows users to control flow and operation with a quick touch of the faucet. Fixture retrofits include simple and inexpensive aerators, which screw into the end of the faucet. At $5 to $10, they are an easy, quick retrofit that offers a quick payback.
Find & Fix Leaks. Studies have shown homes can waste more than 10% due to leaks, which costs both you and the environment. Leaky toilets can account for 95% of all water waste. Defective float arms and flapper valves are common causes of toilet leaks. A worn seat washer may be the cause of a dripping faucet.
Outdoor Uses. Most household water use—about 30%—occurs outside the home, and goes toward watering lawns, landscape plantings, and gardens. Avoid sprinklers and overhead watering systems—they are big water wasters, losing a lot of water to evaporation. If you have an irrigation system, check it thoroughly before putting it back in business. It’s estimated that, with regular maintenance, watering waste due to irrigation systems could be reduced by about 15%. Consider replacing grass with drought-tolerant and native plants. Once they are established, they’ll need little watering beyond normal rainfall.
Saving the Rain. Beyond water conservation, consider water harvesting strategies—ways to keep water on-site and reduce stormwater runoff. Rain barrels, which connect to the downspouts of your home, are some of the simplest (and least expensive) rainwater-saving devices. Most barrels are designed to hold 40 to 75 gallons, and prices usually start at $50.
Reuse. Graywater (or greywater) is water discharged from bathroom showers and sinks, washing machines, and kitchen sinks. In some areas, this water is permitted to be conveyed separately from toilet water (blackwater), and can be used in the landscape. If you compost your food scraps, don’t use a garbage disposal, and avoid chlorine and other harsh chemicals, you can safely reuse all of your graywater.