Water Conservation for the Homeowner

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It has been said that due to the projected increase in population and demands on our fresh water supplies, water may become the next natural resource to be as coveted, guarded and fought over as oil. Water is vital to the survival of everything on the planet and is limited in supply. The earth might seem like it has abundant water, but in fact less than 1 percent is available for human use. The rest is either salt water found in oceans, fresh water frozen in the polar ice caps, or too inaccessible for use. While the population and the demand on freshwater resources are increasing, supply remains constant. Just imagine, in the U.S., 340 billion gallons of fresh water is withdrawn from rivers and reservoirs each day to support residential, non-residential, agricultural and recreational activities. And on an annual basis, we extract more than 3,700 billion gallons of water than we return to the natural water system to recharge aquifers and other water sources, and it is estimated that 35 states will deplete their fresh water reserves by 2015. Shockingly, 20% of the water we consume annually is used for irrigation. If all U.S. households installed water-efficient appliances, the country would save more than 3 trillion gallons of water and more than $18 billion dollars per year! Also, when we use water more efficiently, we reduce the need for costly water supply infrastructure investments and new wastewater treatment facilities. It takes a considerable amount of energy to deliver and treat the water you use every day. American public water supply and treatment facilities consume about 56 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year—enough electricity to power more than 5 million homes for an entire year. For example, letting your faucet run for five minutes uses about as much energy as letting a 60-watt light bulb run for 14 hours.         


For many, our yards are our outdoor homes that are beautiful and great spaces for relaxing and by taking care of our lawns and gardens properly, we can save money, time, and help protect the environment. The EPA’s GreenScaping program encompasses a set of landscaping practices that can improve the health and appearance of your lawn and garden while protecting and preserving natural resources. Save money by eliminating unnecessary water and chemical use. Save time by landscaping with plants that require less care. Protect the environment by conserving water supplies, using chemicals properly and only when necessary and reducing yard waste by recycling yard trimmings into free fertilizer and mulch. Did you know that watering too much or too little is the cause of many common plant problems? You can have healthier plants, save money on water bills and conserve precious water resources by learning to give your lawn and garden just what they need, and no more. Have your landscaper group plants according to their water needs. Specify plants, shrubs and grasses that are indigenous to your climate. These types of plants have acclimated to the regional climate and require less, if any, irrigation or pesticides. Rebuying means rethinking your purchasing habits. Look for products that meet your needs but have a better environmental profile than your current product purchases. Consider biobased, recycled content, water efficiency, energy efficiency, and other environmentally preferable aspects in your purchasing decisions. A few examples include water and energy efficient products, organic pesticides and fertilizers, manual or electric yard equipment, and solar landscape lighting. Rebuying is key to sustaining recycling markets and it aids in the development of technology that conserves resources and prevents waste. Another strategy is using rain barrels to collect water runoff from the roof. A roof area of only 1,000 square feet can provide about 600 gallons of water during a 1 inch rainfall. Check with your local stormwater utility, as many are now providing rain barrels free, or at little cost.        


On the inside of our homes, there are also easy and inexpensive ways to reduce our water consumption. To begin, it would be helpful to understand the EPA’s partnership program – WaterSense. Since the program’s inception in 2006, WaterSense has helped consumers save a cumulative 46 billion gallons of water and $343 million in water and sewer bills, reductions of 4.9 billion kwh of electricity and 1.75 million metric tons of carbon dioxide through the use of WaterSense labeled products. If you are building a new home, your plumbing supplier or contractor can provide advice for selecting WaterSense products for your faucets, showerheads and toilets. If you are remodeling or need to replace a broken or tired fixture, use a WaterSense fixture at little additional cost. For new construction, a properly designed, efficient water heating system should be incorporated into the new home. If you do anything to reduce the amount of heated water you use, you have also reduced the amount of energy consumed. It takes energy to heat water, so you get bonus points here that should be considered in your decision making process.                       

Here are a few tips on saving water inside your home:       

Toilets: Consider installing a WaterSense labeled toilet, which uses 20 percent less water while offering equal or superior performance. Compared to older, inefficient models, WaterSense labeled toilets could save a family of four more than $90 annually on its water utility bill, and $2,000 over the lifetime of the toilets. Check for toilet leaks by adding food coloring to the tank. If the toilet is leaking, color will appear in the bowl within 15 minutes.       

Faucets: Installing a WaterSense labeled aerator is one of the most cost-effective ways to save water. Also consider replacing the entire faucet with a WaterSense labeled model. Either way, you can increase the faucet’s efficiency by 30 percent without sacrificing performance. Repair dripping faucets and showerheads. A drip rate of one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons per year.                    

Tub vs Shower: A full bathtub can require up to 70 gallons of water, while taking a 5-minute shower uses only 10 to 25 gallons. Turning off the tap while you brush your teeth can save 8 gallons per day.                    

Washing Dishes and Clothes: Wash only full loads of dishes and clothes or lower the water settings for smaller loads. Replace your old washing machine with a high-efficiency, ENERGY STAR® labeled model, which uses up to 50 percent less water and electricity.

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