As homesteaders (in all our forms), we seek to change our lifestyle to become more sustainable, and part of living intentionally is conserving resources. Striving to conserve water and electricity in your Apartment Homestead should be a top priority.
Why conserve? Because there are certain resources we absolutely cannot live without, and our homestead lifestyle is entirely unsustainable without them. For modern homesteaders, a key resource is water. We can’t grow food, raise animals, or survive without water.
Let’s talk about an awesome “s” word that defines these “lifestyle changes”:
Many modern homesteaders have the option and ability to replace the source of their energy.
But when we rent our apartment or condo homestead space, we can only seek to conserve instead of replacing many of those necessary resources. We require water, but we need electricity also, and our power comes mostly from unsustainable sources—like fossil fuels.
I have yet to meet a landlord who is willing to switch us over entirely to solar or wind energy or install a gray-water system … though I hope that day is coming!
So as renters, we must learn to conserve water and electricity in our apartment homesteads through some simple lifestyle changes.
Let’s start with water—the ever necessary and perhaps most wasted resource in our world today. Good ol’ H2O. We can’t live without it because we’re 60 percent made of it. H2O is a resource we can’t afford to waste!
First, a BIG tip for conserving water: Fix any and all leaks!
A drippy faucet can waste GALLONS of water a day. If you’re a renter, remember that your landlord is supposed to respond to your request for maintenance. That’s one perk of apartment/condo living! Ask your landlord to fix your leaky faucets and toilets.
Dishwasher vs. handwashing
What uses more water: running a dishwasher or handwashing dinnerware?
The answer depends on your machine efficiency. Do a little research to see how much water your particular dishwasher uses per load. If it uses more than six gallons per load, it isn’t efficient. Ask your landlord to change it out with a high-efficiency appliance. If that’s a no-go, use these tips to make your dishwasher more efficient:
- Run your dishwasher only when you have a full load.
- Turn off the heated dry to conserve energy.
- Clean your dishwasher regularly to ensure it is working properly.
- Use natural dishwasher detergent (Stay tuned for my dishwasher detergent recipe in another article of the Apartment Homesteader!)
But what about handwashing your dishes?
The average faucet dispenses two gallons of water per minute. Unless you’re a super-speed hand washer, you’ll probably end up using way more than six gallons of water, which means the dishwasher option uses less.
But if you don’t have a dishwasher or want to use even less than the average 6 gallons of water per load, you’ll need to get a little creative. Try the 2-sink trick.
The 2-Sink Trick
- Put a stopper in one side of the sink and fill it halfway (approximately 1-1 1/2 gallons) with warm water and soap.
- Stop up the other side of the sink and fill it just under halfway with cold water (if you only have one side of a sink, fill a five-gallon bucket 1/3 full with cold water).
- Scrub/wash dishes in sink 1.
- Rinse dishes in sink 2.
- Drain sink 1.
- Use the water in sink 2 to water plants in your garden, flush your toilet, or rinse out some laundry. Pour it into an empty milk jug for easy re-use.
A few notes about handwashing dishes:
- Make sure to use natural, bio-friendly soap.
- Use warm water instead of hot water. Hot water requires energy to heat.
- Consider asking your landlord to install low-flow faucets.
Shower vs. Bath
Now that you have some ideas for conserving water when washing dishes, let’s talk about saving water when you bathe!
The shower versus bath debate is pretty easily won by the shower. Where a bath can use 35-to-50 gallons of water, a 5-minute shower uses more like 25 gallons of water with a conventional shower head.
But there are ways to cut down even more on your water usage while cleaning yourself.
First, ask your landlord to switch your current shower head to a low-flow shower head that uses only 2.5 gallons per minute—cutting your 5-minute shower usage in half.
Consider using the military shower trick: Turn off the water while you lather up.
Catch and reuse water
The shower is a great place to catch and reuse water. While the water is warming up, put a bucket under the faucet to catch the water that would usually go down the drain. Use that water for your indoor garden, flush toilets, or hand-wash some laundry. Pour the water into an empty milk jug for easy use.
Ladies (and gents with long hair), another easy way to conserve water in the shower is only to wash your hair every couple of days. You know how long it takes to wash shampoo out of long hair, and we won’t even talk about conditioner.
Depending on the weather, you might even consider showering every other day—though if it’s hot outside, you should at least rinse off after sweating, so your body doesn’t reabsorb the toxins it sweat out.
Use homemade dry shampoo or pop on that baseball cap in between hair washings. Stay tuned for a future article on making and using your own personal care products to keep you feeling clean and fresh between washings.
Another tip for conserving resources in the shower:
Take warm or cool showers. You’ll get in and out faster, conserve more water and energy by making your water heater work less.
Ask your landlord to insulate your water heater and turn down the heating temperature slightly to conserve even more.
Have you seen the MEME floating around Facebook? It is a photo of a kid in an African village saying, “Let me get this straight: You have so much clean water that you $hi+ in it?” Unfortunately, that’s too true …
Here are some ways to conserve water in your bathroom:
- Fill a plastic bottle with water and put it in your toilet tank to reduce the amount of water per flush.
- You could also use a brick for the same effect.
- Check for a leaky toilet by putting food coloring in the tank. If the color seeps into the bowl without flushing, you have a leak. Ask your landlord to fix it.
- If you need more water to flush after putting the plastic bottle in the tank, use the shower water or dish-rinsing water from the 2-sink trick to flush with more water.
- Also, never flush anything other than toilet paper. Other things—like tissues or tampons—take more water to flush down, and they are not bio-friendly.
Laundry: Machine vs. Handwash
We’ve considered how to conserve water in every other form of washing, so let’s end this section with water conservation in our laundry.
Similar to the machine vs. handwashing debate above, machine washing your clothes is more efficient in general.
As long as you wash only full loads of your clothes in cold water with bio-friendly soap, you’re better off machine washing than washing by hand.
Here are some things to consider in your laundry cycle:
- Only use the correct amount of soap per load and turn off the “extra rinse.” If you use the right amount of soap, the extra rinse will be unnecessary.
- Only wash when you have full loads, and use your conserved shower water to hand wash anything you need in between loads.
- Wash in cold water only to reduce the amount of energy required to heat the water.
- Reuse towels multiple times before washing. Use a homemade fabric refresher to keep your clothes and towels fresher for longer. Stay tuned for an easy DIY fabric refresher recipe.
- Pretreat any stains in your clothes, so you don’t have to continue rewashing stained clothing and to use more water in the process.
- Also, conserve energy in the laundry room by hang or line drying your laundry. Consider asking your landlord to insulate your water heater and switch out your current washer and water heater with high-efficiency models.
8 Water-Conserving Quick Switches and DIYs
There are so many simple ways to conserve water in your apartment homestead. Try out these twelve simple lifestyle swaps and DIY projects.
- Use the 2-sink trick for washing dishes
- Cut down to 5 min showers every other day (or less)
- Collect pre-shower “cold” water in bucket and store in empty milk jugs for use around your apartment
- Ask your landlord to install low-flow shower heads and faucets (Or purchase them yourself and reinstall the old ones when you move out)
- Put a bottle filled with water in your toilet tank
- Ask your landlord to insulate your water heater
- Only run your washing machine when you have a full load and use only cold water. Turn off the extra rinse.
- Hang or line dry your clothes.
Apartments are power guzzlers. We live in such close proximity to one another, but each of us is on our own power grid. Our air conditioning, heat, electronics, appliances, and lights all guzzle electric energy.
There are a bunch of easy ways to conserve electricity in your apartment homestead, and none of them take more than a minute to implement.
Try these energy saving switches at various times throughout your apartment tenure.
Immediately after Move-in:
- Replace bulbs with energy-efficient bulbs.
- Plug all your electronics into a power strip so you can turn the strip off when you’re not using it.
- When not connected to a strip, unplug all electronic devices when not in use.
- Insulate your windows and doors.
- Don’t place any furniture over your registers. Make sure your air can flow freely.
- Install sun-blocking curtains for the warmer months.
Throughout your Lease:
- When not needed, turn the lights off.
- Unplug chargers when they aren’t charging.
- Turn off your electronics power strip when you’re done.
- Use lids on pots and pans to heat faster and use less energy.
- Run your furnace fan on auto, so it isn’t constantly running.
- Turn your AC temperature up in the summer and the heating temperature down in the winter. Put on less or more clothes to keep you at a comfortable temperature.
- In the colder months, open your sun-blocking blinds and use the sun’s heat to your advantage.
- Turn off the A/C and open the windows.
- If you choose to use your clothes dryer, clean your dryer lint trap after every load.
- Ask your landlord to install an energy-saving clothes dryer, fix any drafty windows or doors, and insulate your water heater.
- Replace your furnace filter regularly to ensure it is working properly.
When you move out:
Pay it forward: Make sure your landlord knows about anything that needs to be fixed so that it runs more efficiently and suggest that the landlord switch out any non-efficient appliances for future tenants.
You might even consider sharing this blog with your leasing agency! Ask them to share it with all their tenants so more apartment dwellers can make these easy lifestyle changes in their apartment and help conserve our valuable resources.
4 Electricity-Conserving Quick Fixes and DIYs
- Replace light bulbs with Energy-Efficient bulbs.
- Insulate windows and doors and install blackout curtains.
- Plug all electronics into power strips and turn them off at night and during the day when you’re not using them.
- Ask your landlord to fix or seal drafty windows and doors and insulate your water heater.
Using the water and electricity conservation ideas above, you can make some simple, yet effective lifestyle changes and be on your way to sustainability in your apartment homestead.
In the next article, we’ll discuss how to conserve fuel in your apartment homestead and explore ways to limit your trash production.
Sustainability, here we come!
How are you being sustainable in your apartment or condo? Let us know in the comments below.
Read the rest of the articles in the Apartment Homesteader series here.
Then, find more tips, tricks, and inspiration in The Apartment Homesteader Facebook group! Join your fellow apartment homesteaders here.
(This article was originally published on September 24, 2017.)