Water Conservation Can Save You Money

closeup of water drop dropping

photo courtesy of Microsoft

Water Conservation Can Save You Money
| Published April 22, 2014 |

By Earl H. Perkins
Thursday Review associate editor

The world uses water like it's an unlimited resource, but we better start conserving it or the government will step in and heavily restrict usage in the near future. In many cities, water restrictions already exist in spring and summer, and in the past year California’s drought has wrought a long list of controls over how water can be used by residents, businesses and farmers. An equally devastating drought in Brazil has driven coffee and produce prices up worldwide.

In the U.S., there are hundreds of ways to conserve water in your home and yard, according to the website Eartheasy (Solutions for Sustainable Living).

Your first plan should be to check faucets and pipes for leaks. Even a small drip from a worn faucet washer can waste 20 gallons of water each day, while larger leaks can mean losing hundreds of gallons. Also, avoid using the toilet as an ashtray or wastebasket, because every time you flush a cigarette butt, toilet paper or small piece of trash, five to seven gallons of water is wasted.

You also need to periodically check your toilet for leaks because that could mean a massive loss of water and money. Here is the easiest way to test for a leak: without flushing, place a small amount of food coloring in the tank, then, check back in about a half hour. If any of the dye appears in the bowl, then you have a leak that should be fixed immediately.

Another conservation tip: place full water bottles in the refrigerator and let the appliance cool down your drink, because it's not like you're going to quit paying the light bill. (Added benefit: a full refrigerator costs less to run than a half-empty one).

And did you know you can use your water meter to check for leaks in your system? Read your meter when you know there will be no consumption, then return two hours later and read it again. If the reading is different from when you read it the first time, then there's a leak you need to fix. The only issue will be locating it.

Installing water-saving shower heads and low-flow faucet aerators can save you a bundle, but many people refuse to consider these options. Low-flow means the item uses less than 2.5 gallons per minute. A typical hot shower can use five to ten gallons of water per minute. If you're taking a quick shower, just soap up, wash down and rinse.

You can easily install a ShowerStart shower head or add a ShowerStart converter to existing shower heads, which will automatically pause a running shower when it gets warm. However, the single best home water conservation method is also the cheapest: fitting faucets with aerators.

Putting plastic bottles or float boosters in your toilet tank is also a smart move. Just place an inch or two of sand or pebbles in a couple plastic bottles to weigh them down, then, fill them up with water before submerging in the tank.

Also, purchasing a tank bank or float booster can save 10 or more gallons of water per day. At least three gallons of water must remain in the tank for it to flush properly. If there isn't enough water to flush, people tend to hold down the handle, or worse, flush several times. Two flushes at 1.4 gallons are worse than one regular flush at 2.0. An adjustable toilet flapper will allow for a proper per-flush use.

By law, many home improvement stores and bathroom retailers only stock the 1-or 2-gallon models, as opposed to the older 3- to 5-gallon units. Replacing an 18-litre per flush unit with an ultra-low volume (ULV) six-litre flush model can produce a 70-percent savings and an 18-percent savings on indoor water usage.

It's also easy and inexpensive to insulate your pipes with pre-slit foam insulation, which saves money because you receive hot water faster and avoid waste while heating.

Another possibility is taking shorter showers; a four-minute shower can consume 20 to 40 gallons, depending on how you have adjusted water pressure. Some people turn off the shower after soaping up, then turn it back on when it's time to rinse. This can save several gallons. Then there is the option of taking a shower with someone else—just be careful to ask permission first.

Then we move on to brushing your teeth. There's certainly no need to let water steadily run down the drain while brushing, so just wet your toothbrush and fill a glass with water to rinse your mouth.

Another handy tip concerns rinsing your razor. Rather than letting the water run continuously, just fill the bottom of the sink with a couple inches of warm or cold water, and that should be adequate for rinsing.

Washing your dishes and clothing can be two of your biggest water wasters. The lowest consumption and most efficient water usage demands full loads for automatic dishwashers and clothes washers. Dishwasher manufacturers recommend not pre-rinsing. When it comes to washing your clothes, adjust water levels for smaller loads and avoid the permanent press cycle (a full five-gallon loss).

Purchasing a new clothes washer might be one of your smartest decisions, because new Energy Star-rated washers use 30 to 50 percent less water, and half the energy. A water-saving frontload washer would be your best choice. Other newer top-loading washers will automatically adjust the water level to accommodate only the weight and volume of material in the basin, and newer HE type washers use only the water necessary to adequately rinse clothing.

These are just a few of many ways to save water and money at the same time, but sometimes common sense is the best route. Our grandparents didn't have much choice but to conserve water, and you could be in a similar position in the near future.

And it turns out very few people know what they should do to save water, according to a National Academy of Sciences study by Shahzeen Z. Attari (concerning perceptions of water use).

The majority chose curtailing an activity, such as taking a shorter shower, rather than replacing devices. Retrofitting a toilet is the most significant water-saving change you can make, and always be on the lookout for signs of a leak anywhere in your plumbing.

Participants underestimated the amount of water required for various activities such as washing a car. (Some cities and counties already require that when washing your car or truck you use only a spray nozzle which automatically closes after you release the spring-loaded handle). The average guess for usage on a standard washing machine was 14 gallons, whereas it actually consumes 34 gallons. These results indicate that Americans have little grasp on where most of their water goes, which has become critical in California, and will become significant elsewhere in the near future.

Lawn care has become a massive problem throughout the nation, with many municipalities placing restrictions and fining violators. People love their green lawns, and have shown reticence when it comes to replacing grass with drought-tolerant plants and rock gardens.

In case you didn't know, they even have this paint with grass seed mixed in that might work for you. In one area of my town people have poured concrete where their lawn used to be, and just rolled green paint onto the surface. Mind you, I wasn't suggesting that you try that last idea.

Related Thursday Review articles:

In Praise of a Colorless Liquid; Patrick Sigler; Thursday Review; July 23, 2013.