If you read the news regularly, you’ve undoubtedly heard of various water crises around the world. A quarter of humanity lives in countries that are in risk of running out of water, and many have experienced repercussions of drought, such as the devastating Australian bushfires and the California wildfires.
During the 2018 water crisis in Cape Town, South Africa, the reservoirs were dwindling so much that residents were asked to cut their water usage to 13.2 gallons per day. In comparison, the average American family uses more than 300 gallons of water per day, or 80 to 100 gallons per person. That is an astounding difference. Between showers, laundry and watering our lawns, we use an immense amount of water.
But with looming droughts around the country, we should all probably take a few steps to reduce our consumption. Curious about how much water you use each day? Take a minute and use this handy calculator from the USGS. After you figure out how much water you use daily in your home, take a look at some of the tips below on how to reduce your consumption.
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How to Conserve Water in Your Home
In most homes, the bathroom is where the vast majority of water is consumed. The kitchen generally follows quite closely, with the laundry room a distant third. In each of these rooms, there are tactics you can use, and devices you can buy, to help you curb your water usage.
As you consider these ways to cut your water use, it’s important to remember to take small steps. Pick a few to start out with and slowly, over time, cut back on your water usage. Let’s kick things off in the bathroom.
Saving Water in the Bathroom
The shower/bathtub is probably one of the largest water hogs in your home, especially if you have multiple people living there who shower every day. One five-minute shower could use more than 25 gallons if you’re using a conventional showerhead. This makes your shower the first place to start when trying to cut back on your water consumption.
First, install a low-flow showerhead. Modern iterations deliver fantastic pressure while cutting your water usage substantially. If you’re looking for the ultimate, budget-friendly showerhead, then this one by Niagra is a great choice. With an option for 0.5, 1.0 and 1.5 gallons per minute (GPM), this showerhead gives you the ability to switch it up to find the flow rate you like. Niagara also makes this 1.25 GPM showerhead that’s budget friendly and, with fewer moving parts, less likely to break down from the wear and tear of regular showers.
The High Sierra WaterSense showerhead is another great option that uses water at a rate of 1.8 GPM. While a bit pricier than the ones from Niagara, it delivers a great spray for a comfortable shower.
My personal favorite, however, is the Delta 2-Setting showerhead. It flows at 2.5 GPM, which may sound excessive, but it has a simple lever you can move that slows the flow to a drip. So you can jump in, get wet, move the lever and suds up with very little water running, then switch the lever back on to rinse off. It delivers fantastic pressure while also helping you save water.
Once you have a low-flow showerhead installed, you can use a few of these other tips to cut back your water consumption:
- When you’re first starting the shower, place a small bucket under the faucet while the water warms up so you can capture this water rather than simply sending it down the drain. Then you can use it to take care of your indoor plants.
- Shorten your shower time. This can get tricky with kids, but a simple shower timer may help.
- Turn the water off when you’re using soap. Get wet, turn the water off and soap up, then turn the water back on and rinse off.
- Skip your shower. Unless you’re getting really sweaty, consider skipping the occasional shower.
The sink is the next place to work on cutting back on your usage. With the bathroom sink, there are really two main things you can do to cut back on your water usage. The first is to install an aerator. This simple device restricts the flow of water through the faucet. And don’t forget to pick up an aerator key; these are essential for getting an aerator on and off.
The second thing to work on is turning the water off when your brushing your teeth. You can also shut the water off while lathering up when washing your hands and when shaving. They are both small things, but all of these little things really add up.
Finally, let’s talk about the toilet. If you’re really serious about reducing your water usage, you can replace your toilet. While older toilets may use 3.5 gallons per flush (GPF), high-efficiency models can use as little as 1.28 gallons per flush. Your local hardware store can help you figure out which high-efficiency model will work best for you. While this tip may not be for everyone, the adage “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” is another way to conserve water. (That is, don’t flush if there’s just pee in the bowl.)
Saving Water in the Kitchen
Just like your bathroom sink, the first thing you should do is install a faucet aerator in your kitchen sink, if you don’t already have one. If you’re planning to replace your dishwasher, choose a high-efficiency model that will use far less water to wash your dishes.
When you need to wash dishes by hand, fill up the sink with the water you need rather than letting it constantly run while you wash and rinse. You’d be surprised how much water you can end up using when you just let it run. You can also do something similar when you rinse off fruits and vegetables, putting water in a bowl and using that to rinse them off or scrub them.
Saving Water in the Laundry Room
A high-efficiency washer is really the best way to save water in the laundry room. A high-efficiency washer uses less water than a traditional washer. It will also remove more water from the clothes before drying, resulting in shorter dry times. Here are a few other tips for saving water in the laundry room:
- Only run the washer when you have a full load.
- Use wool dryer balls to cut your dry time.
- Let stained clothes soak in the sink beforehand so they don’t need to be washed twice.
Conserving Water Outside
Most lawn care experts recommend your lawn receive 1 inch of water each week. A rough calculation you can use to see how much water your lawn needs/uses is to multiply each square foot of lawn by 0.623 gallons. So if your lawn is 20 feet by 10 feet, you use about 124.6 gallons of water. That’s a substantial amount of water. For this reason, your lawn is the first place to look when trying to save water.
If you absolutely do not want to get rid of your lawn or it’s not an option, be sure to follow best practices when it comes to watering it. Early in the morning is considered the best time to water. You should also check your sprinklers to make sure they are actually hitting your lawn and not just watering the sidewalk or street. Consider also making it a habit of checking your sprinklers regularly for broken sprinkler heads or drops in pressure that could indicate a broken pipe underground.
If you aren’t attached to your lawn, consider pulling out a portion of it, or even all of it, and replacing it with native plants. Native plants are accustomed to the natural amount of water the region receives and therefore won’t be as dependent upon you watering them.
If you garden, consider using water-conserving soaker hoses or even watering cans rather than sprinklers to keep your plants fed.
One last option for reducing your water usage is to collect rainwater. Before you do so, check your local laws, as rainwater collection isn’t legal everywhere. If you are able to collect rainwater, check out our guide on getting a rainwater collection system set up.
Can You Actually Make a Difference?
The reality is, the minor changes you make in your household will only save a few gallons each day. As such, you may be tempted to ask: What’s the point? Why spend time, energy and maybe even money to cut back on your water consumption?
Just like recycling, the more people who do it, the greater impact you can have. In Cape Town, South Africa, the government asked its citizens to cut back on their water consumption. They shared advice on how to do so, and gave people a specific amount to use each day. As the water tables in their reservoirs dwindled, they informed residents that they would have to shut off the city’s water supply in April, labeled “Day Zero.” Fortunately, Day Zero has been pushed back until July. Many are hopeful that winter rains will arrive before then to replenish their reservoirs.
Because so many people committed to following the guidance of the government, they were able to cut back on their cities’ water usage and delay Day Zero. As each of us collectively conserves water in our home and yard, we can make a significant impact.
Editor’s note: Originally published on March, 7, 2018, this article was updated in March 2020.