Conserving Water at Home
Linda Heaton; Tom Ilvento; Joe Taraba
Most of us take for granted an abundant supply of good, fresh water. We meet our daily needs when we turn on the faucet and get seemingly unlimited running water. However, this situation is changing as more and more communities face water shortages.
Water shortages are certainly inconvenient and even scary. At first, they are hard to understand when we know that the US daily rainfall equals 4.2 trillion gallons. However, water is not always located where it is needed and demand keeps increasing.
In the last 30 years the US demand for water has grown faster than our ability to find new water sources. During this period while our population grew 52%, total water use tripled. Demand for water continues to rise sharply but population has increased only slightly in the last few years.
Just how much water do we consume each day? Studies show wide variations in different areas of the country and between urban and rural households.
How the average person uses water inside the home
According to the American Water Works Assn., the average US resident uses about 110 gallons a day. Statistics for our part of the country show that a typical consumer uses 50 to 75 gallons daily inside the home. We use the most for toilets, followed by bathing, laundry/dishes and cooking/drinking.
Water use varies with time of day and season of year. Households use less water in the early morning, while most people are sleeping, and during the winter. Peak consumption is in the spring and summer and when the family gets home in the late afternoon. However, everybody's use is a little different. Home water use mirrors each person's lifestyle and behavior.
Conservation --It's Everyone's Responsibility
Water shortages are real, touching many US communities each year. Because water conservation is a good defense against shortages, it should happen all the time, not just when shortages occur.
To begin conserving water, everyone needs to know some simple facts:
- Water is a limited resource.
- Water costs a great deal in energy and money to pump, move and purify.
- Water consumption can be reduced significantly in the average home.
Conservation is everybody's responsibility. Most of us can significantly reduce our household water consumption if we change some of our habits.
The rest of this publication presents several check lists that can help you reduce home water use. When possible, each group of water-saving techniques is listed in order, starting with little savings and going to big ones. Some items are severe measures, recommended only for emergencies.
Watches and Warnings
For emergencies, the Kentucky Natural Resources & Environmental Protection Cabinet has defined two levels of water shortages:
Water Shortage Watch: Rainfall levels, reservoir levels, stream flow and the Palmer Drought Index indicate the potential for water shortages.
Water Shortage Warning: Water supplies have entered an emergency phase; amounts are very limited.
Remember these two levels use the same words as tornado watches and warnings: "watch" means we have conditions that could lead to a bad shortage. "Warning" means the shortage is already here.
When drought conditions develop, local governments and water utility managers will announce a plan based on their community's situation. At that point, use the stricter recommendations listed under "During Emergencies."
Bathing & Personal Care
Save Water Every Day
- When you brush your teeth, don't let the water keep running. Instead, half fill a glass and use that water to wet your brush and rinse your mouth.
- When you shave or wash your hands, do not let the water run. Fill the basin and dip your razor or hands as needed.
- Don't flush the toilet unnecessarily. Each flush uses 5 to 7 gal of water. Throw tissues, insects and other trash in the wastebasket, not the toilet.
- Turn the shower off while you shampoo your hair.
- Bathe small children together.
- Turn faucets off completely to avoid drips and slow leaks. Too much pressure or turning too tightly can damage valve seats.
- Teach children water-saving techniques.
- Take short showers, not baths. Limit showers to 5 minutes or less.
- Install flow restrictors on individual water fixtures like shower head and faucets. They automatically reduce flow and aerate the water.
- Turn the valves under the sink to reduce the rate of water flow.
- When you take a bath, partly fill the tub. A good rule is 5 inches.
- Substitute a basin sponge bath instead of a shower or tub bath sometimes.
- As you wait for shower water to heat up, collect the cold water in a bucket for watering plants.
- Reduce the amount of water the toilet uses by filling a 1 gallon plastic container with water and putting it in the tank to displace 1 gallon of water.
- Save all the water you use in washing or showering to flush the toilet or water your plants. Don't store this "gray" (used) water more than 24 hours.
- Take sponge baths.
- Take a "Navy shower." Wet yourself, turn the water off, lather up, then turn the water on to rinse the soap off.
- Turn off incoming water to the toilet. Use "gray" water for flushing by pouring it into the bowl. Pour fairly quickly so the force makes the toilet flush.
- Pour "gray" water around, but not directly on, outdoor plants.
Save Water Every Day
- Wash clothes when they are dirty, not just to remove wrinkles.
- Hand wash several items at the same time. Use the final rinse water from one group of items as the wash water for the next group.
- Launder full loads.
- If the washing machine has a water-level control, adjust it to the laundry load size. However, do not skimp on water amount as it makes washing less effective and increases wrinkles and friction (wear) on garment items. Corrective measures often require rewashing or re-rinsing.
- Use good laundering techniques sort clothes and follow the product (detergent, bleach, fabric softener, etc.) recommendations carefully.
- Before using a permanent press cycle, read the manufacturer's directions. This cycle may fill the tub an extra time, which can add up to 20 extra gallons. If use a different cycle.
- Turn your washer's water supply off' when not in use. Check the hoses and look for leaks periodically.
As with your water from baths and showers, you can re-cycle your used laundry water for flushing the toilet, watering outdoor plants or doing other household cleaning like mopping floors. Do not use wash water containing bleach or borax for watering plants.
Cooking & Drinking Water
Save Water Every Day
- Use tight-fitting lids on pans to keep water from boiling away faster.
- Cook food in as little water as possible. Doing so also prevents loss of nutrient value.
- Save the water left after you cook vegetables for soups, cooking other raw vegetables or fruits. Refrigerate and use within a few days.
- Select the proper size pans for cooking. Large pans require more cooking water.
- Follow recipes carefully and do not overcook or measure out more water than necessary.
- Serve drinking water only if someone requests it.
- For drinking, keep a covered bottle of water in the refrigerator so you won't have to let the water run to get cold.
- Use a small pan of water to wash, peel or clean vegetables rather than letting the water run.
- Limit use of the garbage disposal since it requires a sizable amount of water to operate properly. Wait and use disposal only once rather than several times. Save food scraps for a compost pile.
- Hand wash cooking utensils and serving dishes that take up a lot of dishwasher space. Wash them as soon as possible to prevent food particles from getting hard and becoming more difficult to remove.
- Wash only full loads in the dishwasher.
- Scrape/wipe dishes rather than rinsing if they are to be washed immediately in the dishwasher.
- Follow your dishwasher manufacturer's instructions on how to best save water and energy. Select shorter cycles when possible to use less water.
- When hand washing dishes, use a pan of soapy water for washing and one of hot water for rinsing. Doing so uses less water than a running faucet.
- While waiting for faucet water to warm, catch water and use it for other parts of the meal preparation (cleaning vegetables, cooking liquid, hand dish washing, etc.), or to water plants.
- Use rinse water after it has cooled to water outdoor plants.
- Prepare meals which do not need water. Fix one dish meals where vegetables and meats are cooked without water or provide their own cooking liquid.
- Use paper plates and cups, and plastic eating utensils.
- Use "gray" water from handwashing dishes to flush the toilet.
Save Water Every Day
- Clean up spills and remove spots as quickly as possible so you won't have to mop floor or shampoo the carpet as often. Vacuum rugs regularly so you will not have to shampoo them as often.
- Wash windows outdoors with a bucket of soapy water. Rinse quickly with a hose using high pressure, low volume and a pistol-grip nozzle.
- Plan household cleaning chores so that you can reuse water for certain activities. Clean lightly soiled surfaces first, then the dirtier areas. Doing several tasks at the same time can save water.
- Clean the driveway, patio, sidewalks and garage floor with a broom rather than a hose and water.
- If you wash your car, consider using a mild detergent and parking the car on the grass so the water used will also water the grass. Use a bucket of water to wash car, then rinse quickly with hose (as with windows listed above). In emergencies washing cars may be prohibited.
- Take advantage of a soft summer rain to wash your car. Get out soap and a sponge and lend nature a helping hand. Clean the filter and maintain the swimming pool, spa and jacuzzi properly so you won't need to replace water as often. If they are outdoors, cover them when not in use to prevent evaporation. In emergencies, filling these items may be prohibited.
Garden and Lawn
Save Water Every Day
- When planting a garden, group vegetables needing more water so you can apply water most efficiently.
- Mulch shrubs and small trees to retain moisture in the soil for a longer time. Spread leaves, lawn clippings, small pieces of bark or plastic on the ground around plants.
- Pull out weeds to eliminate competition for water.
- When building or remodeling, plan your landscape and garden to minimize water needs.
- Water thoroughly, but less frequently. Doing so promotes a deeper grass root system to withstand dry weather better.
- Talk with your local garden center about the most effective irrigation systems and devices. "Trickle" or "drip" techniques use 25 to 50% less water than standard hoses or sprinklers.
- Be alert to water waste when you see it running down the driveway into the street or storm drain.
- Water your lawn and garden very early in the morning (before 10 a.m.) to avoid sun evaporation. Don't water when it is windy and during the heat of the day. Set an alarm to remind you to move or turn off the water.
- Check hoses, faucets and water devices periodically for leaks and malfunctions which can waste large amounts of water.
- Water brown spots separately so that you do not water areas not needing as much water.
- Avoid fertilizing the lawn during the summer as doing so increases its demand for water.
- When you plant new grass, try a variety that withstands dry weather. Do not replace grass during the summer. Consult your county Cooperative Extension agent for more information.
- When water use is restricted, lawns should have the lowest priority for outside watering. Water young trees and shrubs which will die more quickly and are more expensive to replace.
- Rinse water from bath or laundry can be used for watering outdoor plants. Be sure water does not contain bleach or borax. Pour water on the earth around the plant, not directly on the plant.
Save Water Every Day
- Be alert to potential faucet and toilet leaks throughout the house. Check and repair them as quickly as possible. A few simple repairs may reduce household water use by 10% or more.
- Insulate hot water pipes.
- Check for toilet leaks. Put a little food coloring into the tank. If the color trickles into the bowl, there is a leak and repairs are needed.
- Evaluate for other "hidden" water leaks. Read you water meter while no water is being used in your house. Check again after several hours when no one has used any water. If the meter reading has changed, you may have an underground water leak.
- When you leave home for a trip, turn off the water going to your faucet, so that no one can accidently turn on an outside faucet. Also turn off the hot water heater. Doing so prevents water loss and potential damage if a pipe or hose breaks.
- If you use a home water softener. check how often it backwashes and how many gallons of water are used for regeneration. A weekly cycling is usually more than enough for a family of four. You may want to run unsoftened water lines to the toilet and other select faucets.
- Look at water requirements when you buy new appliances like a dishwasher or washing machine.
- When you buy water-using equipment, consider selecting:
- water-saving toilet models.
- smaller than standard bath tubs.
- water heater sized to family needs and insulated to prevent heat loss.
- When building or remodeling:
- group the bathroom. laundry and kitchen in one general area to avoid long plumbing lines.
- locate the water heater near where hot water is needed: or, consider two smaller heaters when the distance between water use areas is great.
- If the water pressure is greater than 60 pounds per square inch (p.s.i.) consider installing a pressure reducing valve where the water comes into the house.
- Learn about new systems to reuse or recycle home wastewater. Before you install one, however, be sure to find out exactly how it operates and its recommendations for water use.
For more information on water use, see the following Cooperative Extension publications:
IP-1, Understanding the Water System
IP-3, Water Testing
IP-5, Water Treatment
IP-6, Carbon Filters
IP-7, Hard Water -- To Soften or Not To Soften
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