Yes, we all want to help save the planet, but a little more immediate pay-off would be nice, too. The ideas here are not just about what you give up, they’re about what you get – more comfort, more light, cleaner air, less expense, for starters, and as you’ll see, the more you do, the more benefits you’ll find.
Ten ideas for making the most of a precious and increasingly threatened fundamental resource:
1. Start noticing. We’ve had the luxury of paying virtually zero attention to our water use. We just turn on the tap and there it is. The average American uses 80-100 gallons of water a day (some estimates go even higher), and not just for cooking (about 20 gallons per day down the kitchen drain) or bathing (20-40 gallons for one shower). But almost everything we do or touch all day requires large amounts of water somewhere along the line. For example, it’s estimated that about 1,400 gallons of water are used during the entire production of just one fast-food meal of burger, fries and soft drink. So there’s massive room for improvement! You’ll probably find that once you start paying attention when you use water, the changes will start to flow.
2. Do the easy ones. Turn off the water while you’re brushing your teeth or shaving. Only run the dishwasher when it’s full. Same goes for clothes laundering. Surveys by the Saving Water Partnership show that many people under-fill their clothes washer by 30 percent. Keep cold water in the refrigerator instead of running the tap. (instead of, shudder, buying water in plastic bottles!)
3. Fix the flush. Typically, the largest use of household water is flushing the toilet (next are showers and bath). Check for leaks: many toilets have a constant small leak, often over 20 gallons a day or 8,000 gallons of completely wasted water. Better all around to replace toilets installed before 1994, particularly with dual flush toilets. Look for Energy Star ratings, and check the Consumer Reports' Greener Choices for appliance comparisons.
4. Shorten that shower. All they have to be is shorter. Cutting a shower even by one or two minutes can save 700 gallons a month. You’ll be even smarter if you use showerheads that flow at 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) or less.
5. Create less waste. Research shows that about 8 percent of home water is wasted through leaks. There’s a leak calculator at the U.S. Geological Survey site.
6. Buy better appliances and fixtures. Once again, Energy Star is a good guide. Water-wise dishwashers, horizontal axis washing machines, super efficient dryers, flow meters and faucet aerators are just the beginning. Find out more at H2OUSE.
7. Garden smart. Reduce water-guzzling lawn areas with ground cover. Choose native and drought-resistant plant species. And you could save 40 gallons a day by upgrading your sprinkler system to a “smart” controller that’s climate sensitive and will adjust for hotter temperatures and switch itself off when it rains. Remember to water before 8 a.m. to save all the water otherwise lost to evaporation.
8. Watch what you eat. Somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 gallons of water is required to produce one pound of beef. These calculations, though, while sobering, are also a little tricky, since alternatives may also require lots of water. For instance, about 25 gallons of water is required to produce one ear of corn, and a dairy cow must drink about 3 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of milk. But it’s worth being aware of how much water is required to produce our food, so we can make better decisions about water use on the community and even national level.
9. Use a constructed wetland. This is not something most of us can do at home, but it’s a design approach with a great future, and already being used in an exemplary school in New Jersey. At the Willow School in Gladstone, New Jersey, plants are used to help treat and recycle wastewater. Rainwater collected from the roof is captured in underground cisterns, and then sent into the building to flush the toilets. The effluent goes into a gravel bed, where the plants grow hydroponically, without soil. The water is cleaned and scrubbed so effectively by the plants that it is legally recreational-quality water. It goes into a leech field, designed with a wildflower meandow on top. The roots of the plants scrub the water one more time before it goes into the ground.
10. Find out more. Check out these tips about both conservation and water conservation: Water Use It Wisely and Get Wise