8 long-term tips for reducing water usage at home
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Climate change has resulted in unpredictable weather patterns across the world. While some areas start to see more rain and snowfall than before, others see widespread drought. Notably, there’s the 22-year megadrought that has consumed the United States’ Southwest region, which is the longest dry spell seen in over 1,200 years.
As the world’s population grows, the demand for water resources also grows as does water shortages. That’s why it’s vital for everyone to do their part in water conservation at home, especially when drought is an ever-present threat for many regions, in part thanks to climate change.
The EPA reports that the average American household uses about 300 gallons of water per day; 30% of that usage comes from toilet flushes. That’s divided into about 70% for indoor use and 30% for outdoor use, though it depends on what type of landscaping you have.
Across the United States, even if your home is surrounded by hardscape or drought-tolerant flora, it makes sense both for the environment and your wallet to conserve water.
Here are some ways to take a hard look at your water utilities and conserve water in the long-term for future generations.
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1. Install WaterSense-labeled appliances
Just as the Energy Star designation from the EPA points consumers toward energy-efficient household appliances, the WaterSense label is the EPA’s stamp of approval for water-conserving or low-flow faucets and showerheads, toilets, washing machines, and dishwashers.
In particular, products with the WaterSense label must be at least 20% more water efficient than the average product in their category. Moreover, these EPA-approved appliances should still provide the impressive features and level of performance that consumers expect.
These Energy Star and WaterSense-labeled products might be more expensive than other less-efficient products and appliances on the market, but the expectation is that consumers will recoup that money through savings over time.
And, since much of the energy-efficient technology is non-proprietary and therefore can be used by multiple manufacturers, consumers have the opportunity to shop among different brands for a wider selection.
If a new energy efficient appliance isn’t in the budget, aim for adding a low-flow faucet or aerator to sinks.
The EPA says those with the WaterSense label could save 700 gallons of water each year.
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2. Be mindful of using the faucet
Even with a low-flow faucet or aerator, it’s easy to leave the faucet on full blast while you’re brushing your teeth. Instead, make a conscious effort to turn off the tap until it’s time to rinse.
The same applies to washing dishes or your hands. “Don’t let the water run the entire time,” says Viktor Holas, founder of SimplySwider.com, a DIY home improvement website.
If you have a double kitchen sink, you’ve got another option for saving water. “Fill one sink with soapy water for washing and another with clean water for rinsing,” Holas says.
However, note that it’s much more efficient to use a dishwasher than hand-washing dishes, because a dishwasher uses a lot less water.
3. Take shorter showers
According to data from the EPA, the average shower takes around eight minutes. If you’ve got a standard shower installed, that’s a flow rate of 2.2 gallons per minute for nearly 18 gallons of water per shower.
Skip shaving during your shower, and you’ll shave off some time and water usage instead.
Adrienne Urban, owner of Whole New Mom, a healthy living website, offers an alternative. “Most days, instead of a full-blown shower, doing a quick underarm wash and putting dry shampoo in your hair is enough to keep you looking and smelling fresh,” she says.
4. Fix leaks quickly
More than just a mere annoyance, a leaky faucet can add up to major water loss over time.
The EPA says leaks in the average household can waste nearly 10,000 gallons of water per year. In fact, 10% of homes waste upwards of 90 gallons of this limited resource per day on leaks that are left unfixed.
It’s no surprise, then, that the EPA promotes its Fix a Leak Week every March.
The problem with some household leaks is that they’re not always readily detectable. For peace of mind—not to mention lower water bills—install a smart water monitor on your water meter. It’s easy to DIY, and once it’s in place, you can sync it to an app on your smartphone or tablet.
According to Ric Miles, CEO of Flume, a company that sells a smart water monitor, his experience shows that more than 22% of homeowners find a leak within one week of installing Flume, while 70% of users will detect a leak over time.
Here at Reviewed, we’ve tested many smart water monitors and smart leak detectors, although not Flume. Our best overall winner is Moen’s Flo, and we also like options from Ring, Eve, and Govee.
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Homeowners should act quickly to fix the leak, but not many do, according to the 2022 Hippo Housepower Report. Insurance company Hippo surveyed 1,000 homeowners about their home maintenance habits and learned that 87% of homeowners don’t regularly do plumbing checks.
Even worse, 13% of homeowners admit to never doing them at all. Considering that the average home insurance claim for water damage can add up to $12,000, this is quite a risk.
5. Collect household greywater
Jeremy Yamaguchi, CEO of Lawn Love, a company that offers high-tech solutions for residential and commercial lawn care, says, “During a drought, you can conserve water at home by collecting and reusing greywater.”
Greywater is the wastewater that comes from your washing machine, shower, and bathtub. It’s not potable and should never be used for drinking water, but Yamaguchi says it can be used instead of fresh water to flush the toilet or water plants.
You can put a bucket in your slop sink in your laundry room, or just dip a bucket into your bathwater and use it for your toilet. If you shower, try getting a larger bucket that you can stand in while you shower to catch the runoff.
Indeed, this method might not be practical or possible for everyone—but it is another reason to speed up your showers instead.
6. Clean outdoor surfaces with a broom, not a hose
It’s easy to reach for the hose when cleaning off the hard surfaces around your home, but that’s quite the drain on your water supply.
Holas suggests, “Use a broom instead of a hose to clean your driveway or sidewalk. This will save a lot of water and also save you money on your water bill.”
7. Use rain barrels for outdoor irrigation
Rain barrels do indeed capture rainwater, but more importantly, they capture the runoff from your roof and gutters. According to the EPA, this presents a double benefit: A rain barrel lowers the amount of water flowing away from your property, plus it keeps a supply of water for you to use for lawn and garden irrigation.
You might be able to purchase a rain barrel directly from your city or town, but there’s plenty to be found online or at your local home and garden store.
Rain barrels range from purely utilitarian to ones that are more aesthetically pleasing for curb appeal. You can even find ones that masquerade as a self-watering flower planter on top with a large-capacity water reservoir on the bottom.
Some rain barrels also come with their own hose and nozzle to make watering your lawn and garden even easier.
Like greywater, rainwater is also not potable. Rain barrel accumulation is meant only for outdoor irrigation, and even then you’ll have to make sure you’re careful about how it’s collected.
Tim Dunphy, a water expert at Leaf Home, a leading provider of home solutions across North America, says, “Your gutters need to be clean and free of debris to ensure the water you collect is up to par. Leaf buildup and other organic debris in your gutters can settle at the bottom of your barrel, which can lead to rainwater being discolored and producing a rotten-like smell. This can also create a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.”
Dunphy suggests routine cleaning of gutters or the addition of a gutter protection barrier, like gutter guards.
Dunphy says your barrel should have a lid to protect the collected water as well as to keep animals and curious children from falling in. To keep the barrel stable, he suggests digging a four-inch base area for the barrel. Fill in with pea-sized gravel, then lay concrete blocks over the gravel for a sturdy foundation.
As an alternative to a rain barrel, you can have a rainwater collection system or rainwater harvesting system with a filter and pump installed beneath the ground, though Dunphy says this is a space saver, not a money saver.
8. Irrigate with care
Whether you use water from your rain barrel or install a WaterSense controller on your sprinkler system, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got an irrigation strategy in place.
To save water, especially in the summer when gardens and lawns are at their thirstiest, you should water in the morning, says Craig Wilson, Director of Gardeners Dream, a leading online gardening retailer in the UK.
“Watering in the middle of the day, which is usually the hottest time of the day, keeps the water from getting to the roots, which is wasteful,” Wilson explains. He also suggests regular checks of hoses for leaks and other damage leading to water waste.
Wilson also says a soaker hose is a worthy investment for gardens.
“Soaker hoses give consistent levels of water and water right at the roots, which keeps bacteria from getting on the leaves of the plant,” he says, noting that you should arrange the hose a few inches around the stems of plants for the best results.
Saving water also saves energy and money
While drought conditions caused by climate change are reason enough to conserve water, doing so saves energy, too. By using less water, it takes less energy to pump, heat, and deliver the water to your home.
On the flip side, saving energy can also save water, which is used to cool power plants. The EPA says a 60-watt incandescent bulb that’s switched on for 12 hours per day over the course of a year needs anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 gallons of water to cool the power plants that illuminate that bulb.
Conserving energy and water sustains not only the environment but your household budget, too. By putting any or all of these practices in place in your home, you can lower your water and energy bills.
A shorter shower might be hard—especially if you need to wake up in the morning—but you might say it’ll be worth it in the long run.
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