Pour money down the drain. That's what many of us do every time we run the water. But you can stem the tide with a few simple steps that will lower your water and sewer bills and, sometimes, your electric bill as well. Even if you use well water, you will save on your electric bill and possibly pump repairs too.
My water/sewer bill alone is 20-25% lower since I've started using these easy tips. That means I have another $100 or more a year to spend on other things. If you have a larger family, you might save even more.
Let's start in the bathroom, where 25% to 60% of household water is used. Consider replacing old toilets with low-flush models. Newer designs eliminate double flushing while saving as much as six gallons per flush. For older toilets, fill a one-gallon plastic milk jug with water and place it in the tank to save at least a gallon per flush. Alternatively, place a solid object like a brick in the tank to displace some of the water.
You can replace old showerheads with low flow massagers or less expensive "navy" showerheads that allow you to stop water flow at the push of a button while you soap up or shave.
Baths use up to 50 gallons each, but a six-minute shower with a low flow showerhead uses only 11 gallons. That's about 1200 gallons a month per shower.
Install low-flow aerators in bathroom and kitchen faucets. A new type has a little lever that you flip up to stop the flow of water while you soap up and then push down to restore water flow. I use these and find they also help keep the faucets cleaner, since there is no more dirty water dripping off my hands when I turn off the water while I'm soaping up.
Whenever possible, save water for later use rather than watching it run down the drain. I fill watering cans while I wait for my shower water to heat.
In the kitchen, I keep a dishpan in the sink to catch water that would otherwise be wasted. I rinse dishes over the pan and save that water too. I use it to soak pots and rinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. I always run my dishwasher on the short cycle, saving several gallons of water each time. The dishes always come out perfectly clean.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey website, a dishwasher uses twenty gallons of water every time it's run, so fill it before you run it. You can add your dish drainer and dishpan in the bottom rack and your scrubber and sponge in the top rack. You'll save time, water, and have clean, sanitary kitchen tools without extra work.
In the laundry room, set your washing machine's water level for each load of wash. Try to run full loads. If you have a laundry tub, you can install a "gray water" saver that diverts laundry water to the tub for re-use.
According to water company websites, up to fifty percent of home water is used outdoors. Water lawns early in the day, providing one inch of water weekly, including rainfall. Native and drought tolerant trees and shrubs require less water during dry periods. A good layer of mulch does double duty by helping to prevent water from evaporating while keeping down weeds. I also water indoor and outdoor plants with water from the dehumidifier.
In the garden, a soaker hose allows water to trickle down to the roots. Keep water off sidewalks, driveways and roads and never use the hose to clean them. Runoff contributes to pollution of nearby watersheds.
Washing your car? Save by filling a bucket with water and mild detergent, then use a sponge to wash one section of the car at a time, starting at the top. Rinse each section before moving to the next.
If you have a swimming pool, don't overfill it. Cover it when not in use to prevent evaporation.
Fix all leaks right away. A leaky faucet can waste nine gallons of water a day or 260 gallons a month. That's $12 a year for a tiny leak or $150 for a big one. A toilet leak can cost much more. Water companies and conservation groups provide kits to check for leaks, or you can simply put a few drops of food coloring in the tank and check back later to see if the water in the bowl has changed colors. Do not flush during the interim.
For directions for plumbing repairs, check out a home repair book from your library or go to a website such as www.doityourself.com or www.hometips.com. You can also find a good, inexpensive home repair book at a discount bookstore.
If you qualify for energy assistance, ask for help through the weatherization program. Your local energy program may provide free water-saving equipment. Mine does.
So what are you waiting for? Start saving water and money now!
Barbara Sloan is a freelance writer who has published hundreds of articles. She lives and saves in Connecticut, one of the nation's most expensive states.
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