Wiser Water Use

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Wise Water Use
Wise Water Use
A leak dripping at one drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons per year.
A leak dripping at one drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons per year.
A low-flow toilet
A low-flow toilet can greatly reduce your water use.
A dual-flush toilet
A dual-flush toilet lets you choose how much water to use.
A weighted adjustable flapper valve.
A weighted adjustable flapper valve.
A toilet tank bank displaces space in the tank, saving water with each flush.
A toilet tank bank displaces space in the tank, saving water with each flush.
This toilet-lid sink cleverly routes used hand-washing water to the toilet tank
Double duty: This toilet-lid sink cleverly routes used hand-washing water to the toilet tank for future flushes.
Low-flow faucet aerator
Low-flow faucet aerators for the bathroom are an inexpensive water saver.
Low-flow faucet aerator
Low-flow faucet aerators for the kitchen are an inexpensive water saver.
Energy Star washing machines can save water and energy.
Energy Star washing machines can save water and energy.
Wise Water Use
A leak dripping at one drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons per year.
A low-flow toilet
A dual-flush toilet
A weighted adjustable flapper valve.
A toilet tank bank displaces space in the tank, saving water with each flush.
This toilet-lid sink cleverly routes used hand-washing water to the toilet tank
Low-flow faucet aerator
Low-flow faucet aerator
Energy Star washing machines can save water and energy.

We all use water: it’s a staple of life. Drinking, waste removal, bathing, and food preparation are the primary domestic uses of water. But supplies of fresh, clean water are not inexhaustible, and we can save energy, money, and this precious resource by being efficient with its use, and being careful not to waste it.

In some places, water is so scarce that it is obtained from hundreds of miles away. Even where water has been plentiful in the past, groundwater levels are dropping, and some creeks and rivers are disappearing from the mounting pressures of drought, irrigation, and population growth. For example, in both 2005 and 2006, the Little Plover River, just outside of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, dried up due to extensive agricultural and municipal water use. Because of overappropriation for irrigation and other water uses, the Rio Grande, along the U.S.-Mexican border, is reduced to a mere trickle by the time it reaches the Gulf of Mexico.

According to the American Water Works Association, the average household uses 69.3 gallons per day (more than 25,000 gallons each year) for indoor purposes. By installing water-efficient fixtures and eliminating leaks, households can reduce this by 35 percent or more. Here is how you can reach that goal and do more, with less.

Repair the Leaks

One easy way to stop wasting water is to repair leaky faucets, showerheads, pipes, and toilets. A leak dripping at one drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons per year. Dripping faucets can be fixed by replacing washers in the valve seat. (For details on how to fix leaky faucets, toilets, valves, etc., see Access.)

To check for toilet tank leaks, place food coloring in the toilet tank and wait about 30 minutes. If the color shows in the bowl without flushing, the tank is leaking. You may find a leaky flapper valve to replace, or that you need to make an adjustment in the float valve to decrease the water level to below the overflow tube—both are easy to fix. When finished testing, flush the toilet to clear the food coloring, as it may stain the bowl.

Some plumbing leaks may be hidden under the home, underground, or even inside a fixture, and can be detected by reading a water meter before and after a two-hour period when no other water is being used. If the meter does not read the same as the first time, there is a leak that must be searched out and repaired.

Toilet Training

Older toilets use 3.5 to 7 gallons per flush (gpf) and account for about 40 percent of all indoor household water use. They can be replaced with low-flow versions that use 1.6 or fewer gpf, saving about 15,000 gallons of water a year. Although some early low-flow toilets had problems flushing completely, toilets have been re-engineered to perform properly with a 1.6-gallon flush.

Another option is a dual-flush toilet, which allows you to choose the amount of water to use, either 0.8 gallons or 1.5 gallons for heavier needs. Duals are mandated in some countries, and are increasingly available in the United States, costing $270 to $620.

Water-wasting toilets can be retrofitted to save water by installing an adjustable flapper valve, a toilet tank bank, and/or an overflow tube diverter. Adjustable flapper valves have an opening that lets water in to weigh it down. A weighted flapper valve shuts sooner than a non-weighted one, allowing less water to flow from the tank to the bowl and saving up to 3.0 gpf. This inexpensive flapper valve (about $5) is particularly useful in traditional toilets, but also can be used in some low-flush toilets.

A toilet tank bank is a bladder filled with water and hung in the tank. It displaces space that would normally be filled, so each flush uses less water. A bank (about $2) can save up to 0.8 gpf. Beware: Although a toilet tank bank is sometimes called a “glorified brick,” a real brick in the tank can deteriorate and damage a toilet’s flushing mechanism. Other items placed in a tank may dislodge and catch the flapper valve open, causing the toilet to “run” continuously—the opposite of the desired result.

A toilet fill-cycle diverter ($1) mounts on top of the tank overflow tube and is connected to the fill tubing. A hole in the diverter redirects some of the water from the overflow tube into the tank, saving excess water from being sent into the bowl. These gizmos can save 0.5 gpf.

In Japan, where space and potable water are both scarce, some toilets incorporate sinks into tank lids. Clean water normally sent to the toilet tank is diverted to the sink’s spigot for hand-washing, and then routed to the tank—performing two functions before it’s flushed. A replacement lid with a sink is available in the United States for $89 (see Access).

A composting toilet is an option when water is particularly scarce. (Note: Most use no water, but some require electricity to evaporate the liquid waste.) Composting toilets use bacteria to break down waste, converting human “manure” into an odorless, nutrient-rich fertilizer suitable for amending the soil around nonedible plants. Dry material, such as sawdust, is added to reduce odors and control insects. Composting toilets can reduce indoor water use by up to 30 percent, and manufactured models start at about $1,200. (Some people choose to construct their own.) Check your local regulations to ensure that they are allowed, or if regular inspections are required.

Other waterless toilets incinerate the solids and evaporate the liquids, leaving only ash. These toilets are energy-intensive, using 14 to 17 KWH per day for two people—as much as many energy-efficient households use in total—and start at $1,600.

Showers & Faucets

Standard showerheads use up to 10 gallons per minute (gpm), but low-flow showerheads typically use one-tenth to one-fourth that much. A low-flow showerhead works by mixing air into the water flow, which is restricted to increase the water velocity, resulting in the use of less water to rinse. Some come with shut-off valves so you can turn off the water while soaping up, then turn it back on to rinse without having to readjust the temperature settings.

Faucets can be easily fitted with low-flow aerators for less than $3. Traditional faucet aerators typically use 3.5 gpm. Low-flow faucet aerators use 1.5 to 2.2 gpm and are available for the kitchen or bathroom.

Washing Machines & Dishwashers

For washing clothes and dishes efficiently, choose Energy Star models. Full-sized Energy Star clothes washers use 18 to 25 gallons of water per load, compared to the 40 gallons used by a standard machine. They also save up to 50 percent in energy costs, and extract more residual water to shorten drying time.

Energy Star dishwashers are designed with more efficient motors and washing action, saving about 4 gallons of water per cycle while ensuring effective cleaning. And they use at least 41 percent less energy than the federal minimum standard for energy consumption. Both dishwashers and washing machines also save on hot water, furthering energy savings.

Access

Mary Eberle, First Step Renew, 417 Walton Pl., Madison, WI 53704 • 608-441-0044 • www.firststeprenew.com

Additional Resources:

Composting Toilet World • www.compostingtoilet.org • Composting toilet information

Environmental Design Works • www.sinkpositive.com • Toilet-lid sink

Repairing leaks • www.wikihow.com/Category:Plumbing-Drains-Wasteand-Vents

Univ. of Massachusetts Extension • www.umassgreeninfo.org/fact_sheets/plant_culture/gray_water_for_gardens.... • Greywater gardening

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources • www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/water/wm/nps/rg/rgmanual.pdf • Excellent rain garden guide

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