What does water conservation have to do with homeowners? After all, most of the earth’s surface is water. We turn on a faucet and water comes out. Every time. Running water is a great convenience. Do we need to save water?
If we stop to think about it, though, what goes down the drain goes through the wastewater treatment plant. Eventually it goes back into a river or lake.
So what’s the problem?For one thing, if you live in a drought-stricken area, all the water that comes out of your wastewater treatment plant flows downstream to the next town. You’ve wasted water someone in your community could have used.
Water conservation on a national or regional level can be a complicated issue. Some western states have been using more water from the Colorado River than the river can supply. It hasn’t made it to the sea in decades. More recently, lakes behind dams that generate electricity have reached dangerously low levels. Politicians have been wrangling over the issue for a long time now.
On the other hand, water conservation at home comes down to one simple fact and a few simple practices.
Running water from your tap is treated water.
It has gone through an elaborate and expensive purification process. And you have to pay for it. That is, when you save water, you save your hard-earned money as well as a precious resource.
All the water that goes down the drain without working for you wastes the time, effort, and chemicals that purified the water. Plus the energy it takes to get the water to your home.
When you drink water, cook with it, bathe, or wash dishes and clothes, you’re putting your water to work. When running water flows directly from the tap to the drain, you’re wasting it.
Here are some simple water conservation tips to help you stop wasting running water.
Table of Contents
Conserving water in the kitchen
1. Keep a pitcher of water in the refrigerator
Most people prefer drinking cold water to tepid water. If you let water run for a while, it will likely get colder than when you first turn it on, but that’s not practicing water conservation at home, is it?
So get a water-filtering pitcher, fill it with water, and keep it in the fridge. It will get colder than the coldest tap water. You won’t have to wait while it gets cold enough, and you won’t be running water directly from the tap to the drain.
2. Defrost food in the refrigerator
If you buy a package of, say, frozen shrimp, the instructions probably say to thaw it under running water for two minutes. With a modern kitchen faucet with an aerator, about 4.4 gallons of water go down the drain during that time. Older faucets waste even more.
When you want to eat shrimp or other foods with those instructions for your evening meal, get it out in the morning and put it in a bowl (covered with a silicone lid). Not only do you save water, you save those two minutes of standing around before you can prepare your meal.
3. Rinse fruits and vegetables in a bowl
Unless you’re only rinsing one, don’t rinse fruits or vegetables under running water. Just think of all the water that goes down the drain as you put down one potato to pick up another!
Put some water in a bowl and rinse everything in that water. And you can even reuse the water on your garden or houseplants. Reduce, reuse, recycle applies to water conservation at home as much as anything else.
4. If you must use your garbage disposal, use it sparingly
You already have to put bones and animal fat in the garbage. (Never put any fat down the drain.) Put the rest of your meat scraps there, too. You can also put your fruit and vegetable scraps in the garbage, but it’s better to compost them if you can.
5. Rinse dishes in a sink or tub
The dishwasher is better for water conservation at home compared to washing dishes by hand. You can get away with scraping the dishes without rinsing them, but you still have to wash some things by hand. Most kitchens have double sinks, so you can wash dishes in one and put rinse water in the other.
Actually, if you use some kind of portable bowl or tub for both washing and rinsing, you can save even more water—and reuse it in the garden.
Conserving water in the bathroom
6. If you only need a trickle, use only a trickle
It’s easy to treat your faucets as if they’re either on or off, but you don’t need the water on full blast to wet your toothbrush or comb. Unless you’re filling the sink, save water by turning it on just a little.
7. Turn off the water while you brush your teeth
Dentists recommend that we brush twice a day for at least two minutes. Two minutes of running water uses more than four gallons. Most people like to wet their toothbrush first, although it’s not necessary. So turn the water on for enough of a trickle to get it wet, then turn off the water while you brush. Another little trickle to rinse the brush, and you’ve saved four gallons of treated water twice a day.
8. Turn off the water while you wash your hands
Granted, turning the water off to wash our hands doesn’t save as much as turning it off to brush our teeth, but it all adds up.
Cold water gets your hands just as clean as warm water, even if it’s less pleasant. It’s the soap lather that removes the germs from your hands. You can’t get water that’s hot enough to kill them without injuring yourself.
By the way, don’t buy antibacterial soap. It takes the active ingredient about two minutes to finish killing the germs, and you won’t scrub your hands that long. The only thing antibacterial soap accomplishes is helping germs develop immunity to it.
Health professionals recommend that we wash our hands for 20 seconds. Most of us don’t like to wash them in cold water, so we let the water run until it gets warm.
9. Rinse your razor in the sink
You need to rinse the shaving cream and little hairs off your razor every few strokes, but you don’t need to do it under running water. For water conservation, just run enough water in the sink to immerse the blade. Then, every few strokes, shake it under the water.
10. Don’t use the toilet as a trash can
It’s easy to toss stuff in the toilet and flush it. If you have a modern low-flow toilet, it takes about 1.6 gallons of water. Older toilets can use as much as 5 gallons.
Water conservation is not the only reason to be careful about what you flush. Actually don’t flush anything except body wastes and toilet paper. Anything else, including hair other kinds of paper, can damage your toilet or the sewer system, as well as use water unnecessarily.
11. Stay near the tub while you wait for hot water
Unless you like cold showers or baths, the water has to run for a while before it gets warm enough. It can be tempting to turn the water on and then go do something else. The danger is that you’ll take too long.
Think of that waiting, then, as a task that needs your full attention. If you let hot water run down the drain, you’re wasting not only the water but the energy it takes to heat it.
12. Take a shower instead of a bath and use a low-flow showerhead
A bathtub holds between 30 and 45 gallons of water. You’ll probably use between 10 and 15 gallons for a bath. A standard shower head uses about 2.5 gallons every minute, or about 15 gallons for a 6-minute shower. A low-flow shower head uses only about 1.5 gallons.
A short shower, then uses less water than a tub bath. A long shower can use a lot more. And using a low-flow showerhead instead of a standard one saves a gallon every minute. It adds up.
Conserving water outside
13. Don’t let the hose run if you wash your car
A commercial car wash is the better choice for water conservation compared to washing it yourself. The carwash recycles water. But some people like to wash their cars.
Unfortunately, letting the hose run for five minutes can use about 32 gallons of water, and if you leave it on while scrubbing the car, it goes straight to the sewer.
You can save water by filling a bucket with water and using that. Then you only need the hose for rinsing.
14. Use a broom to clean the driveway or deck
How long does it take to clean those surfaces with a hose? Probably about as long as it takes to sweep them with a broom. The broom uses no water at all and gives you better exercise.
15. Use a soaker hose where possible
Using a sprinkler in your garden or yard wastes water. Some of it lands on the house, the driveway, or other impervious surface. The wind carries some away. Some evaporates before it gets to the ground.
You can, of course, install an in-ground sprinkler system and put it on a timer. That at least uses water more efficiently. But you can use soaker hoses or other drip irrigation system to minimize evaporation and runoff.
One time when you need to leave water on
16. Let water drip in frigid weather
A frozen pipe is at best an inconvenience, as you have to find it and thaw it out to get any water flow. At worst, it can burst and cause serious damage.
If you live where frigid temperatures occur regularly, chances are your house has adequate insulation for the plumbing. In warmer areas, where prolonged freezing is less frequent, you might have more of a problem.
Your first defense is to leave cabinets open for sinks along outside walls. In extreme cold, you can let those faucets drip slightly—just enough to keep water circulating in the pipes. Use cold water for that purpose and remember which faucets you’ve let drip. Turn them off as soon as it’s safe.
By the way, notice all the times I suggested using a bowl or tub of water. Maybe you can think of even more. You can use that water to water houseplants or plants in your garden. That’s part of what I mean by reusing greywater.
Shop related products:
American Standard 288DA114.020 Low Flow Toilet, Normal Height
High Sierra’s Solid Metal Handheld Low Flow Shower Head Kit
Oxygenics 27223 SkinCare Fixed Low-Flow Shower Head
Waterpik Hand Held Shower Head Eco Flow Low Flow Water Saving Shower
Watts Premier Instant Hot Water Recirculating Pump System with Built-In Timer
Brita Water Pitcher with 1 Filter, w 1 std, White