Let’s Stop Wasting Water
Many of us still think of fresh water as something that we’ll never run out of. We turn the faucet, the water flows freely, and we expect that things will always work this way for the rest of our lives – and for coming generations.
But the reality could be much different. Potable water is already a precious commodity in many parts of the world today. And here in America, severe droughts have placed large portions of the country under watering restrictions for several years running.
A quick word to the wise… all of these simple improvements can be wiped out by a single leak. Fix any leaky faucets, toilets, or spigots as your first step. A single leaky toilet can waste 200 gallons of water a day. So, start by fixing your leaks.
Here are 9 simple things you can change in your daily routine to conserve water without cramping your lifestyle.
#9 Turn Off the Tap While You Brush
How long should you brush your teeth? Two minutes. Or at least that’s the company line from the dental industry. If you’re in the habit of running the faucet while you brush your teeth… stop it!
Get your brush wet if you want to, and then turn the faucet back off. No need to leave the faucet running while you brush. According to the EPA you can conserve 8 gallons of water a day by making this simple change. That’s about 240 gallons a month, and almost 3000 gallons a year.
#8 Turn Off the Tap While You Wash Your Hands
This time we’re only talking about 20 seconds. It might seem much less important than the 2 minutes of tooth brushing, but think about it. You only brush your teeth twice a day. But hopefully, you wash your hands many times.
If you wash your hands 12 times a day for 20 seconds each – that’s the same as brushing twice for 2 minutes. Just get your hands wet first, turn the faucet off, apply soap and scrub – then turn the faucet back on to rinse.
#7 Take a Shower, and Time It
A bath can use up 70 gallons of water, while the average shower takes only 10 – 25 gallons. And if you’re feeling like an over achiever on this one, get yourself a shower timer.
I’ve seen some pretty fancy options out there that turn the water off after 5 minutes, but the only one I have any personal experience with is a simple sand timer that runs out at 5 minutes. There are smart phone apps for this… or, of course, you could just glance at the clock.
#6 Clean with a Bucket
When you’re cleaning your car, motorcycle, trailer, deck, porch, or whatever; clean it using soapy water in a bucket. A running hose uses about 6 gallons of water a minute, and almost all of it is going to waste. Use soapy water to wash, and then use the hose to rinse.
Or just let your car be dirty for a while. Try it, you might like it.
Read more: A Guide for Using Tap Water in Your Garden
#5 Water Wisely
Lots of people go for the hose when they see their plants “laying down” in the afternoon sun. This is the worst time to water. Depending on conditions, much of that water is probably evaporating before it does any good for the soil or the plants. Water very early or very late, if possible.
It’s normal for plants to lay down on hot summer afternoons. The heat is stressful for your plants, just like it’s stressful for most other living things in temperate climates. Animals head for the shade, people take a nap, and plants droop. Wait a few hours for the sun to get low, and those plants will probably perk right back up.
#4 Use a Spot Sprinkler
When you do need to water in the afternoon, use the right tool for the job. Oscillating sprinklers and irrigation system sprinkler heads are especially susceptible to evaporation during hot afternoon hours. And walking around with a hose is probably pointless. Unless you’re standing in the same spot for a very long time, you’re probably just getting the surface wet, and it is probably just going to evaporate.
Try a spot sprinkler for afternoon watering. I use one like this: spot sprinkler on Amazon. The key thing here is to only turn the water on just enough to wet the area around the plant you’re worried about – probably only a foot or two.
Read more: Alternative Strategies for a Disrupted Water Supply
#3 Give Up on Your Garden
What?!? Did The Grow Network just say that you should give up on your garden? Well, sort of. But only for a few weeks. Here in Central Texas, there comes a point in most summers when we realize that we’re using more water than makes sense for the amount of food we’re getting. Over the years we’ve learned to plan our garden for a short rest through the worst of the summer. I wrote more about it a while ago here: The Best Raised Bed Cover Crop for Summertime.
Obviously, this only applies to places where the heat is intense enough that you end up in a losing battle. If you’re gardening up north, there’s no reason not to garden in July. But if you’re watering non-stop and your harvest is getting smaller and smaller… cut your losses. Just for a few weeks.
#2 Back Off the Water Pressure
In my mind, probably the single biggest thing people can do to conserve water is to back off the water pressure and use the appropriate amount of water for the task at hand. I see it all the time when someone is rinsing their hands, or a clean dish, with the faucet wide open. The task could be done just as quickly with the faucet barely turned on.
When this really gets to me is when I see someone watering their lawn with the sprinkler turned on too high. I can’t stand seeing water running down the street gutter on a hot day – it’s like nails on a chalkboard. And if I follow the water to the source, 9 times out of 10 it comes from a sprinkler that is turned on too high, so that it is literally watering the street. Just a tiny twist of the spigot handle back to the right, and that water wouldn’t be wasted.
#1 Kill Your Lawn
Nobody wants to hear it, but we’re wasting the most water on our lawns. They don’t feed us, medicate us, or provide shelter to any of our local wildlife – yet we spend billions of gallons of water on our lawns every single day. We put together lots of stats on this issue in this post: Replace Lawns with Edible Gardens.
Depending on your circumstance, homeowners’ association, neighbors, ordinances… getting rid of your lawn altogether might not be an option. But everyone can do something. Look at the square footage you have to irrigate, and think about ways that you could make it smaller – with rocks, native landscaping, xeriscaping, or even permeable pavement. Irrigate your lawn less, if you can.
So think about making some of these small changes in your daily routine. As you see, little things can make a big difference. Make a few of these small changes and you’ll be guilt-free next time you let your kids play in the sprinkler!
I have to laugh at this article. My partner and I use on average five gallons a day including laundry.
We have rain water plumbed into the shower and sink. We capture dish water and shower water and use it to flush. If there is extra grey water it goes to the garden.
We live in the city, but are completely off grid now.
That is awesome. Is there a place where people can learn more about how you set this up? Maybe some pictures? Sounds like a great example.
Here’s another idea: don’t flush the toilet every time you go. Before everyone says “Eewww!!”, let me explain. Even low flow toilets use more water than one thinks (and they often have to be flushed twice in order to get solids downs–so much for less water used!). Even if your tank only holds two gallons, let’s do the calculations: Average household size of four people, each using the home toilet four times a day (conservative figure) 4x4x2=32 gallons/day x 365 days= 11,680 gallons flushed down the sewer each year. A family can easily halve that (or even cut it by 75%) without causing any plumbing problems, saving 5,840 gallons a year on toilet flushing alone. It’s a total waste to use two gallons of potable water to flush away a half cup of urine. Our motto is “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.” You’ll soon get a sense of how much toilet paper can reasonably be flushed with one pull on the handle. Keeping the lid down keeps down the odor.
Hi Emilie – Let it mellow! One time I was waiting in line for a public restroom and an old hippy stepped out. He held the door for me and instead of saying, “It’s all yours,” he said, “It’s all urine.” I got a kick out of that.
A bonus of letting the yellow mellow is that you start to get more familiar with your urine. You learn what it looks and smells like when you’re feeling healthy and well-hydrated… and what it looks and smells like when you’re not taking good care of yourself. Sort of like checking your own oil…
When doing dishes, I use a very small amount of water in a pan for washing, and I use another pan for rinse water. At the end of the job, I take the wash water and pour it in cracks in the sidewalk and driveway to eliminate weeds and the rinse water is used along the edges of the garden. I also let my water from cooking and canning cool down and water the garden with it. In the winter I use my cooking water to water house plants. The dishwater goes to flush the toilet. I do dishes by hand only once a day.
Think about collecting your urine and using it as a predator barrier along the edge of your garden. Old time Ardennes did that a lot.
We do the same thing with a small pan of soapy water for washing dishes. Sounds like you’re really making good use of your grey water too!
Wash laundry without using detergent. Then you don’t have to rinse. Several options exist for devices that make it possible to use no detergent. I’ve been doing laundry like this for years, and my clothes do get dirty from outdoor work.
I keep a large container on my kitchen counter to collect “left behind” unsweetened drinks (water, melted ice, tea, etc) to use on my potted plants. I also have a large (12 gallon) bucket in the kitchen for when I need to run water for a temperature change (cold to hot or vice-versa). I keep the bucket clean so the water can be used for anything I would be running water for…cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, cleaning hands, flushing a toilet, or watering plants and garden.
over our humid summers I feel like the third world water woman: emptying the dehum several times a day. I will lug it to the bathroom for either washing myself (takes less than 2 gallons to clean me) or flushing the toilet. I will use it in the distiller for drinking, soaking dirty laundry, watering the flowers/ plants and best of all foot soaks on the deck after a long day (and then it can still water the plants). In all my 50 some years of living I have never once watered the lawn! less to mow when it is not growing 🙂 The garden gets rain water if needed – NATURAL TASTES do you have a recommendation on how to plumb rainwater into the system????? Then again, we pay for use of 100 gallons or 5000, same same, but I would rather shower with rainwater. However, off grid in the city is darn right ingenious!
Want to save water?
Eat a plant based diet. One hamburger = 600 gallons of water.
Watch Cowspiracy video.
We can’t save rain water – no rain. But, we do keep our hot water heater at a very low temperature – just warm enough for a shower and for doing our dishes by hand.
HOWEVER, the best way to conserve water is to stop eating animal products. Watch Cowspiracy. If we want to save our planet, we have to stop animal agriculture.
Like JB, I catch shower water until correct temperature is reached. And like Gudrun I have collected condensate water, but would stop short of drinking it. Since it has been stripped of balancing ions it can be extremely corrosive and pick up zinc and copper plus molds and bacteria.
I doubt any contaminant will pass through the distiller, but thanks for the concern – no, I would not drink it straight from the dehum; on the other hand, those bottles they make now, you can clip on your bike and get “fresh” drinking water while riding out doors are not really different. the balancing minerals you can add again; distilled water is not harmful and does not leach any thing out of your body, though some think it does; I read up on it plenty and am doing rather well so far after many years of use; beats our city water!
I also like to turn the water off in the shower while lathering up and usually have the pressure turned down as well while it is on.
One tip I didn’t see mentioned is to mulch your plants. Water evaporates much more quickly from bare ground than ground that is covered. Some years ago, I had a problem where I was living at the time, and had to haul all the water I used from a not so nearby spring. That was when I learned just how little water I actually needed to survive. The lesson stuck with me, and now I use water from the occasional bath or the bucket from hand washing laundry to flush the toilet. I wash dishes in a pan, rather that under running water as I have seen many people do. If they are too dirty, I scrape them and wipe them with a wet cloth first.