Drought Prompts Tips to Cut Residential Water Use
With the National Climate Data Center reporting that about 43% of the contiguous U.S. is now experiencing a moderate to extreme drought, the Partnership for Advancing Housing Technology (PATH) has recently put together information on simple and inexpensive ways to conserve water in and around the house.
As examples of how drought is appearing in different parts of the country, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan are currently about two feet below their long-term levels, PATH says, and Georgia, Florida and Alabama are fighting over water in a river basin that feeds all three states.
Even in areas where drought has not appeared, PATH recommends water conservation because “using water wisely gives us more flexibility in future water shortages and reduces long-term maintenance costs.”
To start conserving residential water use, low-flow fixtures and Energy Star appliances should be installed wherever possible, PATH says. For consumers who don’t like the feel of aerated water that reduces water flow or complain that it splashes, laminar flow fixtures are available that significantly reduce water usage but still feel like a higher water flow.
Fixing leaky faucets and plumbing joints is another area where home owners can cut their water consumption significantly. Just one leak can waste as much as 20 gallons per day, enough to do a load of laundry in an Energy Star washer. The American Water Works Association's Water Wiser® Drip Calculator can be used to determine exactly how much water is being lost through a leak.
Ways in which water consumption can be reduced in the kitchen include:
- The least amount of detergent possible should be used to wash dishes by hand, which reduces rinsing time.
- In double sinks, fill one sink with rinse water instead of running the faucet continuously.
- Dishwashers should be Energy Star models and only full loads should be washed.
- Starting a compost pile instead of running a water-consuming garbage disposal will save 50 to 150 gallons per month and create top-notch fertilizer for gardening.
To conserve water in the bathroom:
- Replace five to seven gallon-per-flush toilets with a new low-flush or dual flush model, for a savings of about 1,000 gallons every month. Many types of high-efficiency toilets are now available.
- Check for toilet leaks by placing some food coloring in the tank. If color appears in the bowl without flushing, there is a leak. Fixing a leak can yield monthly savings of 400 gallons.
- Installing a hot water recirculation system can prevent water running down the drain while waiting for hot water to arrive. These systems use sensors and a pump to quickly deliver hot water to the faucet while recirculating the cooled water in the pipes back to the water heater. The system costs less than $400 installed and can save a family of four up to 12,000 gallons of water a year, almost the equivalent of the amount of water a person drinks during their entire lifetime.
- Not letting the water run when shaving, brushing your teeth or washing your face can save more than 3,000 gallons per year.
To save water for the lawn and garden:
- Put a thick layer of mulch around trees and other plants to reduce evaporation and cut down on watering. This can save 750 to 1,000 gallons monthly.
- Rainwater harvesting — collecting rainfall in barrels or cisterns for later use — significantly reduces the amount of tap water used to maintain the landscape.
- Lawns should be watered wisely. Grass that springs back when it is stepped on doesn’t need to be watered. Automatic sprinklers should be turned off during the rain. Wind and excessive heat increase evaporation, wasting up to 300 gallons per watering for large lawns. The best time to water is around dawn, when it’s still cool. Watering in the cool of the evening can foster overnight mold growth.
- Consider installing a “smart” irrigation system. Unlike simple timer-based controllers, “smart” controllers monitor site conditions — solid moisture, rain, slope, plant type and more — and the information they provide can be used to apply the right amount of water to maintain healthy growing conditions. Some systems use local weather station data, others use sensors placed in the garden.
- Plant native species that have evolved and adapted to local soil and climate conditions; they will need less watering and weeding.
To save water in the driveway:
- Sweep the driveway and sidewalk instead of hosing them off. Hoses run about 10 gallons per minute and using them for 15 minutes a week wastes 7,800 gallons of water annually.
- Use carwashes that recycle their wastewater.
- When washing a car, water should be used sparingly, and rinse water should be directed onto the lawn to accomplish two chores at once. However, even the most careful home car wash uses almost twice as much water as a commercial car wash — 80 to 140 gallons at home compared to about 45 gallons at the carwash.
- Care should be taken when changing car oil. One quart of oil can contaminate 250,000 gallons, enough water to make 4.5 million cups of coffee.