Water conservation not only saves us money, it saves energy as well and ensures the health and well-being of our bodies and our environment.
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Why is saving water important? Consider this:
- Only a little over 2% of the world’s water is fresh water and only 1% is accessible drinking water.
- Our bodies are approximately 70% water; our brains are 85% and our bones 10-15% water.
- If the water in our bodies drops 2.5%, our efficiency drops 25%. (That explains a lot!)
- We can only live without water for approximately 10 days.
And we are not the exception. Our bodies, as well as every living thing on Earth, including everything that ensures our survival, depend on an abundance of clean water. And nearly all of the water we get from the tap has to undergo a lengthy, energy- and resource-consuming process to make it clean and safe for our consumption.
Water conservation not only decreases energy and resources being consumed by purification or transportation methods, it also decreases pollution to nearby lakes, rivers and reservoirs, as overloaded systems can create backflow into natural habitats. It will also lower your monthly bill and lengthen the life of your septic tank, if you have one. And many of the tips below will decrease (or even eliminate) your reliance on the water grid.
Water Conservation in Your Home
- Find and fix leaks.
One small drip per minute is almost 53 gallons of water wasted per year. Tighten pipes and talk to your water company on how to check for hidden water leaks and leaking pipes.
- Buy water-efficient appliances.
Compare water usage on dishwashers and washing machines and get the most efficient machine possible.
- Turn the water off before a vacation.
This water conservation tip will prevent any bursting pipes or new drips while you’re away.
- Water houseplants with ice cubes.
Ice cubes will absorb slowly, preventing excess water running out. Cubes that were dropped on the floor work well for this tip.
- Reuse old water.
Found a cup full of stagnant water on the nightstand? Water a houseplant or throw it in the garden. We fill a watering can under our sink to water our plants on a schedule.
- Insulate hot water pipes.
You’ll use less water waiting for the tap to warm up. Again, don’t forget to catch and reuse that warm-up water!
- Winterize pipes.
Exposed indoor and outdoor pipes can be winterized to prevent freezing and breaking lines.
Bathroom and Personal Care:
- Switch to a low-flow showerhead.
Newer, more efficient showerheads feel the same but can increase water conservation up to 75%
more than a regular showerhead.
- Take shorter showers.
Baths and long showers use at least 4x the amount of water as a 3-5 minute shower.
- Try a military shower.
Also known as “soap and save”, this method shuts the water off while you lather up. Showerheads with a “pause” button or on/off knob on the emitter can be installed or you can simple shut the shower off. You’ll save about two-thirds the amount of water you normally use on top of that low-flow faucet.
- Shower less often.
Some days don’t require a shower; a quick cleanup in the sink will suffice.
- Wash your hair less often.
Hair often doesn’t need to be washed every day, especially if you don’t use many products. Also, the more you wash the more your scalp is stripped of oil and the more it produces. Break the cycle and increase water conservation as you shower.
- Fill a bowl to shave.
Instead of running the water fill a bowl with an inch or two of water to rinse the razor. This water (and all the tiny hairs) can be put in the compost or used to water an (outdoor, preferably) plant.
- Shower with your partner.
This water conservation technique from my Green Valentine’s Day tips only works if things don’t get out of hand in there!
- Plug the tub.
If you do require a bath, plug the tub immediately to use even the cold water from the faucet and adjust the hot water accordingly to warm the water in the tub.
- Color your toilet tank water.
This clever trick will tell you if you have a leaky toilet. Put the food coloring into your tank and if the color in the bowl changes color (and you haven’t flushed), you have a leak.
- Install a low-flow or dual flush toilet flap.
Older tanks use 3-7 gallons per flush. Installing a new flapper can save up to 5 gallons per flush, or save over $100 a year with something like this dual flush retrofit kit.
- Put a brick in your tank.
Can’t afford a new toilet flapper? A 33 cent brick (or two) in your tank will fill excess space and ensure less water is used to fill. Old water bottles filled with rocks (to weigh it down) and water will work, too.
Only in our modern, “cultured” civilization is it social acceptable to defecate in clean drinking water.
- If it’s yellow, let it mellow.
If it’s brown, flush it down! Since almost all toilets flush clean drinking water, flushing less often makes sense. We do this on all toilets but our guest bathroom. It’s helpful when you don’t use traditional toilet paper.
- Flush with greywater.
Fill a bucket with warm-up or runoff water from the sink or shower and use it to fill your toilet’s tank when it needs to be flushed. Learn more about greywater recycling here.
- Try a composting toilet.
A composting toilet uses little to no water and instead composts human wastes back into safe, organic matter.
- Throw, don’t flush.
Put the squished bug, tissue or small garbage in the trash, instead of flushing it down the toilet.
- Turn off water in unused bathrooms.
This will ensure a leak doesn’t develop without your noticing.
- Use a small cup for brushing teeth.
No need to run the faucet. Just fill a small cup of water, drip a bit on the brush to get started, take a swig to rinse and swish the brush in the cup to clean it. Reuse what’s left on a plant or in your toilet tank.
- DO NOT brush your teeth in the shower.
You are wasting gallons of water as you stand in the shower for several minutes brushing your teeth. Use the water conservation trick above instead.
- Consider how you wash your face.
Would it use less water to wash your face in the sink, instead watching several gallons a minute go down the shower drain? If you use more than a quick rinse to wash your face, your best choice would be to use the sink.
- Turn the faucet off.
Do not, I repeat, do not ever let your faucet run while brushing your teeth, shaving or washing your face or hands at the sink.
- Turn the tap on low.
You don’t need a special faucet to decrease your flow rate. Just don’t turn the tap all the way on. Slightly more than a trickle is all that is usually necessary.
- Capture warm-up water.
While you’re waiting for the hot water to reach the tap, place a bowl or bucket under the faucet to capture “warm-up water”. In this kitchen this can be used to rinse dishes, wash veggies or water the garden.
- Fill the dishwasher.
Never run the dishwasher when it’s less than full. Doing so wastes more than water; it wastes power and your own energy as well.
- Don’t rinse with running water.
Whether pre-rinsing for the dishwasher or after handwashing, fill the sink or a bowl with an inch of water to rinse the dishes. If you’re using a bowl, that water can go into your compost or garden.
- Do you even need to rinse?
If you have a newer dishwasher or enzyme-based detergent, it may be capable of cleaning dishes without rinsing first. Check with your manual or the manufacturer, scrape excess food into the trash or compost pail and let the machine do the dirty work.
- Use one cup a day.
Designate one glass a day for your beverages and do fewer dishes every night.
- Reuse your dishes.
Many times dishes don’t need a full wash to be reused. Examples would be a measuring cup used for water, a plate with only a few sandwich crumbs. Use things as many times as is sanitary before washing for more water conservation.
- Soak, don’t scrub.
Scrubbing hard-to-clean dishes under running water is a waste. Soak them right after use for easy and waste-free cleanup.
- Wash dishes once a day.
If you’re hand-washing, save up your dishes for one wash and use a third the water. You can rinse them throughout the day with warm-up water to make your evening job easier. All rinse water can go in the garden or compost.
- Try an instant hot-water tap.
It uses less energy to heat small amounts of water near the tap in an instant hot water dispenser than in a conventional hot water heater. And no water waste while waiting for it to warm up!
- Cover your pans.
Hot water will evaporate faster, so all pans should be covered. It also helps the water to boil faster, thus using less energy to make your pasta.
- Scrub your hands with the water off.
Similar to the military shower described above, this “soap and save” technique turns the water off while you suds up. You could save a quart or more per handwashing by only turning the water on to rinse. Compare it yourself with a plugged drain to see the amount of greywater washed away.
- Tighten the faucet.
Not turning the water off completely is an easy mistake and can waste several gallons before you realize it’s still dripping.
- Keep a bowl in the sink.
Just in case the faucet doesn’t get turned off, no dripping water will be wasted.
- Wash fruits and veggies in a bowl.
Running water uses up to four times as much and is lost down the drain. Use a bowl to wash your produce (yes, even your organic food needs it)instead and the water can be used in your garden when you’re done.
- Thaw frozen food without water.
Use the fridge to thaw your food to conserve water and decrease contamination.
- Store drinking water in the fridge.
You’ll use less water waiting for the tap to cool down and less ice is needed to keep it cool.
- Reuse boiling water.
Water used to make veggies, potatoes or paste can be used in soups and stews for added nutrients and water conservation. Or…
- Dump boiling water on ant hills.
It’s better than dumping it down the drain and can often take care of problem ants without chemical pesticides.
- Skip the garbage disposal.
Scrape food into the trash and use a metal drain strain to catch food waste before it goes down the drain.
- Use a front-loading washer.
When you’re in the market for a new machine, a front-loading washer will use about 40% the amount of water a top-loading washer uses. This is because the front-loading washer moves clothes through the water, rather than sloshing in it, creating more agitation.
- Set your washer’s settings.
Match the level of the laundry to the water level. Try to only wash full loads to save energy as well.
- Don’t wash too often.
Decrease the loads you need to do by wearing clothes several times before washing. This will also help your clothing last longer. Decrease the frequency of washing towels and sheets, as well.
- Consider handwashing some clothing.
Lightweight fabrics are easy to handwash and will save not only water but energy as well.
- Avoid permanent press.
Most washing machines include an extra rinse cycle for permanent press.
- Reroute your washing machine.
Greywater from your washing machine’s wash and rinse cycle can be re-routed into a holding tank, pond or garden outside.
- Learn more about greywater.
Greywater recycling is the use of virtually clean water a second time.
Outdoor Water Conservation
- Know your emergency water shutoff valve location.
Knowing where this is and how to shut the water off in an emergency can save water and damage.
- Capture rainwater.
Install gutters on your roof and drain the rainfall into upcycled 55 gallon barrels for use in the garden. One inch of rain falling on one square foot will catch over half a gallon (.623 to be precise) of rain. One inch of rain falling on 1000 sq ft roof will be 623 gallons!
- Divert rainfall.
Even if you can’t catch it all, you can still divert it. Longer gutter downspouts can divert water into a pond, down an irrigation channel and straight into your garden or to the base of a tree. Creating swales (mentioned above), channels, and slopes can also help divert rainwater into the areas that need it most.
- Sweeping is for brooms.
Don’t use the hose to sweep your paths or driveways. You’ll save water while getting exercise and fresh air.
- Cover your pool.
Using a cover on your pool or spa will decrease evaporation and the need to check levels as often.
- Avoid the use of misters.
Most of the water evaporates almost immediately and a cool drink or wet cloth around your neck would be more efficient while increasing water conservation.
- Use a rain sensor.
Install an irrigation timer with a rain sensor to avoid watering during a downpour. If you don’t have asensor, keep an eye on the forecast and shut off your water accordingly.
- Check your irrigation timer regularly.
Be sure it is working properly and watering according to local recommendations.
- Use drip irrigation.
Trees, plants, flowers and shrubs can be watered with drip irrigation, which delivers the accurate amount of water right to the ground without waste from blowing winds or runoff.
- Sprinkle wisely.
Be sure to regularly check sprinklers and irrigation lines frequently to ensure they haven’t broken and are not spraying a walkway or paved area.
- Sprinkle sparingly.
Water smaller areas or dry patches by hand with a hose instead of using the whole system.
- Avoid watering on rainy days.
Watering with sprinklers, or by hand is less efficient on very windy days.
- Water deeply and slowly.
This will allow water to seep further into the ground, encourage deep roots and prevent excessive evaporation.
- Water only as needed.
Just as many plants can die from over-watering, as not watering enough. Even if you don’t kill the poor thing, you’re still wasting water. Experiment to see how much you can cut back.
- Don’t water in the heat.
Watering at the peak of the day increasing evaporation in the summertime. Water early in the morning or late in the evening instead.
- Install a hose nozzle.
A nozzle will let a small drip of water out to prevent bursting the hose with pressure but will eliminate waste while not in immediate use.
- Remember to turn off the hose.
I can’t remember how often I’ve forgotten I left the hose running while watering a tree or testing drainage for a hole! Set a timer (one that requires shutoff so you’ll be sure to hear it) and never make the same wasteful mistake!
- Test your soil’s moisture.
A simple way to test the moisture of your soil is with a long bamboo skewer. Drive it into the soil, leaving the top inch or two exposed. Pull it out and you’ll be able to see whether you need to water by the moisture in the skewer.
- Try clay-pot irrigation.
Bury a clay pot in the soil (seal the drainage hole if it has one) so only it’s top exposed. Fill it with water and cover it. The water seeps out of the clay and into the soil as needed.
- Outdoor sink?
Open the drain under an outdoor sink and replace it with a bucket for catching runoff and waste water for use in the garden.
- Use captured waste water outside.
Any runoff water while washing your hands or captured warm-up water from inside can be dumped in the compost or under a tree or plant. Learn more about greywater recycling here.
Grass and Plants:
- Grass and water conservation don’t mix.
Grass is a water-hog and most of it doesn’t get used. If your annual rainfall doesn’t support grass naturally, eliminate as much as you can or grow water-efficient ground covers, instead. (Read more about natural lawn care here.)
- Let your grass go dormant.
Most grasses in nature go dormant in the summer time and need only be watered every 1-3 weeks depending on rainfall.
- Mow less often and cut it longer.
Less water will evaporate with taller grasses and you will save energy by mowing less.
- Plant a water conservation landscape.
- Use local plants that are acclimated to local rainfall and reduce the need for outdoor watering.
Americans use an average of 150 gallons of water a day, compared to 30 gallons per average European and just 3 gallons per average Ethiopian.
- Plant in groups.
Keeping plants close together means watering a smaller area. None of the water will go to waste and closely grouped they will shade the soil from evaporation.
- Group according to watering needs.
Very thirsty plants should be planted together, while drought tolerant plants kept to their own.
- Plant under gutter spouts.
Be sure to use the most drought-intolerant plants here so nothing is over-watered.
- Use compost liberally.
Like mulch, home composting will help retain moisture and decrease evaporation.
- Plant a ground cover.
Ground covers can be used as a living mulch to keep the moisture in the soil. (Some, like clover, can do double duty by adding nutrients to the soil or attracting beneficial insects.)
- Plant during the rainy season.
Seeds and plants need more water as they establish themselves. Planting during a dry spell means more irrigation and less water conservation.
- Create plant-less areas.
Stone, brick or concrete walkways use no water and can be a beautiful addition to any yard or garden. They can increase the temps of your micro-climate and possibly cause more evaporation, so build them wisely, in shade or thinner.
- Mulch plants and trees.
Organic mulch, among its many qualities, will keep excess water from evaporating as fast and assist you in water conservation.
- Aerate any compacted soil.
If you’re not walking on it, it doesn’t likely need regular aeration. But lawns or watered paths (such as those with a ground cover) may occasionally need aeration to ensure absorption.
Yard and Garden Design
- Design around slopes.
If you’re yard is sloped inward, considered making the concave area into a natural pond to collect water runoff or rain water and create habitat for wild animals and birds.
- Create swales.
A swale is a raised, mound-like hill of soil that captures water runoff on sloping areas. If your slopes take the water out of your yard, a swale would help remedy that problem. They work great on the lower side of trees, shrubs or other plants to ensure proper water conservation for the plant.
- Shade ponds.
If installing a pond, do so in ample shade to prevent evaporation. If you have a pond already, consider water plants, trees or shrubs around the perimeter to help create shade.
- Avoid using fountains.
Spraying water into the air increases evaporation rates. Waterfalls that are well shaded create the ambiance while assisting water conservation efforts.
Water Conservation with Kids and Pets
- Support water conservation education.
Talk to school districts, principals or teachers about what they’re doing to instill water conservation in students.
- Model water conservation to your children.
Kids learn best by example. Describing what you’re doing and why can help instill in them a sense of conservation. Be careful not to nag or you may find they waste water to spite you!
- Play in the sprinklers.
If your sprinklers run at night, use that time to cool the kids off. But DO NOT run the sprinklers just for fun! Use a city park with a splash pad that reclaims and reuses water or friend’s pool instead.
- Bathe young children together.
They’ll have fun splashing and you’ll save buckets of water.
- Reuse the pet water.
When we change the pet water, the old water goes into a houseplant or into the garden.
- Wash your pets in a basin.
Use a basin or large plastic tote to wash your pets and dump the water under a tree when you’re done. Pet hair will decompose into nutrients for the soil.
- Reuse fish tank water.
It’s nutrient rich and your trees, plants or compost will love it!
Approx. 70% of all freshwater use goes to irrigation, primarily in farming.
Wash your vehicle wisely.
Using a hose with a shut-off valve is good. Using a bucket of soapy water and one for rinse water is better. But taking your vehicle to a car wash that captures, cleans and reusing its water is best.
Promote neighborhood water conservation.
Let your neighbors know if an irrigation line is broken or a sprinkler needs adjusting. And talk to them about other water conservation techniques.
Report city or business water waste.
Inform city officials or owners as to open or leaking hydrants, busted irrigation lines or inefficient watering.
Talk to your boss.
Water conservation at work saves the company money, and what company wouldn’t like to lower their overhead?
Order water at a restaurant.
Not only will you save money, but when possible you can dump your leftover water or ice into a plant, instead of allowing it to be put down the drain.
Reuse hotel towels.
Most hotels will not wash towels hanging, only ones placed on the floor. Use your towel for the entirety of your stay and save tons of water.
Ask questions when traveling.
Ask the hotel, restaurant, meeting hall, convention center or airport what they do to conserve water and what they are planning to do to increase their water conservation efforts.
Support local conservation efforts.
Contact your water district and ask how you can help and write to local officials to ask them to step up their efforts.
Research rainwater harvesting.
With the right whole-house system you can diminish or eliminate your dependence on the water grid by harvesting rainwater and using it multiple times in multiple ways in your home and garden.
- Energy Star Kids: Pick an energy-saving activity on the Energy Star website for kids. On this page, kids can learn fun facts or the definition of global warming with a click of the mouse. Kids can also choose to learn how they can make changes to help the environment.
- Saving Energy: The California Energy Commission has great tips on how to save energy when at home. On this page, there is also information on how to save energy when not at home and how to recycle.
- Energy Kids – Saving Energy: The difference between energy conservation and energy efficiency is explained.
- Use Less Energy: Click this link for great advice on saving energy. On the page, there are more links to further information about the subject.
- Climate Kids – What Can We Do to Help?: The Climate Kids website is a NASA website. On this page, read about ways that kids can help protect the environment, reduce their carbon footprint by saving energy, and reduce their trash pile and water use.
- Conserve Water in and Around the Home : Find out how to conserve water in and around the home. An easy to use to visual guide offering 57 useful tips.
- Water Use Calculator: A water use calculator very useful for getting general information and comparisons based on local averages and national benchmarks.
- Outdoor Water Conservation Tips: By making a few easy changes to the way we use water outside our homes you can save a significant amount of water every day.
- Home Water Conservation Checklist :By becoming more aware of your water use habits—both old and new—you can reduce water use (consumption), eliminate waste, and save energy and money.
- Water Conservation in Homes : Useful tips for saving water and money from the South Dakota Department of Environmental & Natural Resources.
- Household Water Use : An interactive presentation that teaches how to use water in your home.
- 55 Facts, Figures, and Follies of Water Conservation :Useful facts and simple suggestions that will help you understand more about water.
- Nine Tricks That Save Tons of Water: As climate change brings more intense droughts, all of us should take a good look at our water habits as we might still be wasting more than you think.
- Avoid Water Waste in Your Garden: A few tips to make sure that your lush greens don’t cost too much green in the form of an increased water bill.
- Water-Saving Tips: Useful tips and advice from the University of Nevada for wise water user indoors and outdoors.
- Avoid Overwatering Lawns and Landscapes: Yellowing turfgrass and plant decline is often the result of, or exaggerated by, too frequent or too heavy irrigation.