Like clean air, we all need clean water on a regular basis. Business, industry, and agriculture need plenty of water, as well, so we all have some incentive to manage our water use for greater efficiency. There are a couple of major tracks we can all follow to enhance our water efficiency: using efficient fixtures and following efficient practices.
Before we get to those, do you know how much water your family uses per day or year? It’s usually surprising. According to U.S. government studies, each American uses 82 gallons of water per day at home, on average. It’s also surprising how much most of us waste.
That’s one reason the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency created WaterSense, a voluntary label for products and a resource for water-efficiency programs, to help us all manage our water usage. WaterSense works with product manufacturers, homebuilders, utilities, irrigation professionals, retailers, and distributors to increase the usage of WaterSense-labeled products and programs.
When you see a WaterSense label, you know it’s been through third-party testing, and it’s 20% more water efficient than a standard model of that product. Here are some water-related facts from WaterSense that show what we’re dealing with:
When we’re talking about water use, the bathroom is the place to start. That’s where Americans use the most water at home–more than 50% of all indoor water use, in fact. Switching to low-flow fixtures is the way to go, but many people resist because of the reputation of low-flow fixtures. I get it; 20 years ago, the low-flow offerings were, shall we say, “underdeveloped.” Using them felt like a sacrifice.
But now, as I mentioned, all WaterSense products have been developed with manufacturers and tested by third parties with real people. The whole point of real-world testing is to develop products that offer equivalent performance with at least 20% greater efficiency. That’s what WaterSense-labeled products have delivered.
A standard bathroom faucet will deliver a flow of 2.2 gallons per minute. A WaterSense faucet or aerator attachment will cut that by 30% or more down to 1.5 gallons per minute or less without sacrificing performance. According to WaterSense, your average American family could save about 700 gallons of water per year by switching out your standard bathroom faucets for WaterSense faucets. That’s enough water for 45 showers! Here’s an aerator for about $9 as an example, and a good-quality faucet for just over $100.
Often, a shower is the most pleasant and peaceful time of the day. It’s also a big water user, darn it, accounting for 17% of residential indoor water use. That comes out to about 40 gallons per day for the average family. But our hypothetical average family can plan to save about 2,700 gallons of water per year after installing a WaterSense-labeled showerhead. This is one of those large-format units that provides the rain-like spray pattern with 1.8 gallon-per-minute flow rate. It’s also certified by the California Energy Commission (CEC). This basic model from Delta costs a lot less but gives you all you need. WaterSense fixtures can be very nice units but do not have to be expensive.
Another thing about saving water: when you save hot water, you save a lot of energy. According to WaterSense, when you’re saving 2700 gallons of water per year, you’re also not heating that water, which will save you around 330 kilowatt hours. That’s roughly enough to power a house for 11 days.
Toilets were always heavy water users back in the day. Six gallons of water per flush?! We can’t afford that anymore, and so WaterSense toilets have been thoroughly tested to perform as well as standard toilets. Here’s how they do it: “To earn the WaterSense label, a toilet must pass a test of flushing 350 grams of soybean paste with a flush of 1.28 gallons or less of water. This is at least 20% less water than the current federal standard maximum of 1.6 gallons per flush.”
Here’s one low-flow toilet from a top brand that uses a water-swirling feature they call Tornado Flush, along with a large water surface area, to maximize performance. Another option for toilets is dual-flush units. This example lets you choose between the light 0.92-gallon flush and the larger 1.28-gallon flush. And yet another option is to retrofit your existing toilet with a dual-flush kit. This kit is by one of the leading manufacturers that you see in the big-box stores. Basically, you just swap out the hardware in the toilet tank with this kit. Then, you can lift the handle for a half-flush and push the handle down for a full flush. In an hour or less, you could cut your water use substantially for about $25! And you don’t have to mess around with replacing and disposing of a toilet.
In addition to optimizing your fixtures in the house, taking a few action steps now and then can dramatically curb your water use. For one thing, make sure your toilet doesn’t continue running after flushing. It should fill the tank, and then the sound of filling water should stop. If it doesn’t, you need to investigate because that toilet is wasting water.
Water leaks, in total, can waste 180 gallons of water per week for the average family, according to WaterSense, which amounts to more than 9,000 gallons per year. Ouch. I sure wouldn’t want to pay for all that.
Outside the house, don’t use the hose to clean off the driveway! Water is too precious for that, even in the wetter areas of the country. Use a broom instead.
Depending on where you live, you can consider changing your landscape to drought-tolerant plants and managing your watering schedule. Using soaker hoses can save a substantial amount of water compared to sprinklers, and watering early and late in the day can minimize water lost to evaporation in the blazing hot midday sun.
Short answer: yes.
If you live in an area that’s been historically blessed with abundant water, whether it’s groundwater, rainwater, or both, it might be tempting to dismiss all this as “concerns for those desert areas.” That’s shortsighted, though, as year after year, we’re finding our weather to be less predictable than we’d like. Just this year, the Mississippi River has gone from flooding to drought—in a few short months. When the weather can shift so dramatically so quickly, protecting our water supplies is a critical task, and we can all do our part.