Did you know that 75% of your in-home water use occurs in the bathroom? The following practices can save you up to 20,000 gallons of clean, drinkable water per year.
All toilets manufactured after 1993 are called ULFT (Ultra Low Flush Toilets). They use 1.6 gallons each flush. Toilets that were manufactured in 1979 or earlier use 5 gallons per flush, and from 1980 to 1993 use 3.5 gallons per flush. A new generation of toilets using 1.28 or less gallons to flush are now on the market. They are called "High Efficiency Toilets" or HETs. The U.S. EPA program labels toilets that meet this criteria are called "WaterSense" toilets.
If you are ready to buy a new toilet, ask your plumber for the type they recommend and look at toilet ratings. There are many new toilets that are excellent performers. You will want to get one that only takes one flush to do the job!
If you are not ready to replace an old toilet, use the ol' "brick in the tank" trick - but don't use a brick! (They disintegrate and can clog plumbing). Place a plastic or glass container in the tank weighted down with water, rocks or sand instead.
"On-demand" Recirculation Pumps
If it takes "forever" for your hot water to reach the faucet, consider installing an "on-demand" hot water recirculation pump. When you press a remote switch conveniently located in the house, the small recirculation pump turns on and the cold hot water recirculates back to the hot water tank where it is reheated. The pump will automatically shut off when the hot water reaches the desired temperature. Within less than a minute, hot water will be ready for your use - with no wasted water!
Per plumbing codes, "on-demand" pumps are the only pumps that can be installed in homes without a dedicated hot water return pipe. For homes with a dedicated hot water return pipe, recirculation pumps on timers are also permissible. Energy costs can actually go down for homes that install "on-demand" recirculation pumps (because less water needs heating), yet homes with recirculation pumps on timers can use more energy (because energy is needed to keep the circulating hot water in the tank hot over the duration of the pump cycle, and the electrical cost of longer pump run times).
The "on-demand" pump is easily installed under a sink and can be installed by a homeowner. Inquire about them at your local plumbing or hardware store and search the internet for manufacturers and models.
Most showerheads that were manufactured before 1994 use 5 gallons per minute. After 1994, federal plumbing standards required showerheads to flow no more than 2.5 gallons per minute. In homes, some showerheads may have been converted from 5 gallons per minute to 2.5 gallons per minute by inserting a small plastic disk with a hole in it into the showerhead. This method has been received by the public with mixed satisfaction. If you have one in your showerhead and don't like it, replace the showerhead with a new one.
1.5 gallon per minute showerheads with great flows are now available on the market. Check Gadgets for even more water savings.
If you like to take a bath, fill the tub 1/2 full or less. A full tub can hold more than 50 gallons of drinkable water.
Check to make sure you have an aerator screwed into your faucet. There will be a screen on it and it has various reducing parts in it. If you take it apart to clean it, remember the order of the parts! Aerators reduce the water flow to 2.5 gallons per minute. If your sink drips, most likely washers are the culprits. Check Gadgets for more water savings.
The kitchen sink gets a lot of use - from washing dishes to rinsing out paintbrushes. Water quality is something to keep in mind as dirty water is going down the drain. Whether you have a septic or are on a sewage line- know what your system can handle. Dispose of inappropriate waste in the right place! Use your garbage disposal sparingly or start composting vegetable wastes- it makes great garden soil (especially if you use worms)!
If you use a dishwasher, make sure to wash a full load, or use the appropriate cycle.
If you hand wash dishes, use a bowl for sudsy water and one for rinse water. Turn off the water when it is not in use. See Gadgets for an easy way to do that!
Washing machines can use as much as 41 gallons a load (top loaders) and as little as 12-15 gallons per load (horizontal or front loading washers). If you are in the market for a new washer, consider a front loader. They are very water efficient and many people report front loaders are easier on fabrics. An average American family can wash about 380 loads a year and can save more than 5,700 gallons of clean, drinkable water each year with a front loading washing machine. Check each model's water consumption when shopping for a new washer. If you don't wash a full load, be sure to set the water level for the size of your load, and cycle length.
Even the remarkably efficient evaporative or "swamp" coolers most of us desert dwellers depend on have a down side. They use a great deal of water. Your cooler may use from 50 to 200 gallons per day. Be diligent in maintaining your cooler to be efficient. Turn on the pump before turning on the fan (to saturate the pads), be brave and wait to turn on the fan until the outside temperature reaches 85 degrees rather than 75 degrees. You will use 50% less water! If you have a water recycling swamp cooler (which are much more efficient than the older, single pass systems), do not put the drain-off water on plants as it is very high in minerals and can harm plants.
There are various water filtering devices available from carbon filters to reverse osmosis systems. Reverse osmosis systems are an excellent way to remove unwanted contaminants from drinking water, but they waste 2-20 gallons of water for each gallon of processed water. When shopping for a filtering system, have your drinking water tested and decide which filtering system will satisfy your needs.
Water softening systems, "conditioners", or "treatment devices" eliminate undesirable minerals that make the water hard. During the softening process, "hardness" ions – mostly calcium and magnesium – are exchanged for "soft" sodium or potassium ions. Approximately 15-120 gallons of water are wasted for every 1,000 gallons softened. If you buy a water softener, consider bypassing the kitchen faucet where most drinking water comes from and separate outside faucets from the system so landscape plants do not get water high in sodium. If the outside faucets are connected to the softening system, use potassium as a softener as it will not "burn" plants like sodium.
Remember Your Habits!
Toilets are not wastebaskets or ashtrays, flush when you must, sing shorter songs in the shower, turn off the water when brushing your teeth or shaving (you can save 2-3 gallons per minute), insulate your hot water pipes and hot water heater, thaw frozen food in the refrigerator instead of under running water, wash full loads- either dishes or clothes and keep a cold pitcher of water in the 'fridge for drinking.