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Water conservation at home: 6 easy steps to help you save

Even renters can make simple adjustments to reduce their water usage

Daniel Dent

There are many low hassle water conservation strategies you can employ to reduce your home’s water consumption. Just ask Shahzeen Attari, an assistant professor at Indiana University Bloomington, and Benjamin Inskeep, a research analyst at EQ Research.

In 2014, they compiled “The Water Short List,” itemizing specific actions to make homes more water-efficient, primarily by capitalizing on technical advancements in appliances and fixtures. They found that with simple changes and upgrades, households can reduce their indoor water use by up to 45 percent.

Time has proven the validity of their suggestions. Since 1999, the average indoor water use per American household has decreased by 22 percent, largely due to the installation of new toilets and washing machines.

“Often we’re bombarded with a message of sacrifice and cutting-back,” says Inskeep. “One of the conclusions of our paper was that simple, out-of-sight and out-of-mind [actions]…offer a huge opportunity to reduce your resource consumption.”

Whether you want to save money on utility bills or sustain natural resources, here are the simplest measures for major water savings.

1. Replace an old toilet

If you can only take one step to reduce water usage in your household, this should be it. According to the Water Research Foundation, toilets account for an estimated 24 percent of a household’s indoor water consumption. Older models can use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, as compared to the 1.6 gallons or less that new models use. “Going from an old toilet to a new, high-efficiency toilet is one of the most effective ways to conserve water,” says Inskeep.

The EPA’s WaterSense program estimates that replacing an old, inefficient toilet can save 13,000 gallons of water and $110 annually. Just look for brands that carry the WaterSense label, which indicates that it’s been independently certified for high performance and efficiency.

2. Trade in the showerhead

Showers account for 20 percent of the water consumed in a household. In its 1999 study, the Water Research Foundation found that the average American household used 30 gallons a day for showers; a follow up study published in April revealed that this pattern hasn’t changed much (as compared to toilets, dishwashers, and laundry machines). American households still use 28 gallons of water a day for showering.

According to WaterSense, if every household installed a WaterSense-labeled showerhead, which uses no more than 2 gallons a minute without sacrificing performance, it would save 2,900 gallons a year. Want to do even better? The average American takes an eight-minute shower. Shorten that by one minute and save an additional 550 gallons a year.

3. Retrofit the faucets

Kitchen and bathroom faucets account for roughly 19 percent of a household’s indoor water use. Historically, faucets could run anywhere from 2.75 to 7 gallons of water per minute. Today, federal requirements limit the flow on contemporary models to 2.2 gallons per minute.

If you want to keep your old faucet, try retrofitting it with a WaterSense-labeled aerator, an insert that mixes air with water to control the stream and conserve water. Or switch to a new, WaterSense-stamped model and save up to 700 gallons of water a year.

4. Upgrade the washing machine

Another indoor water hog is your ancient washing machine. Traditional machines can use up to 23 gallons of water per load, with some as high as 40 gallons. Models built before 2003 are especially egregious.

The Energy Star website warns that “if you have a standard clothes washer that is over 10 years old, it’s costing you, on average $210 a year.” In contrast, Energy Star models use 13 gallons of water or less, for a potential savings of at least 3,000 gallons of water each year.

5. Update the dishwasher

According to the Water Research Foundation, newer dishwashers use substantially less water than their dated counterparts. “The average water volume per dishwasher load decreased 39 percent,” dropping from 10 gallons per load [in 1999] to 6.1 gallons.

By updating an old dishwasher to a current Energy Star model, you can save even more, as some use as little as 3.5 gallons per cycle. “It’s just remarkable how less water-intensive they are today than they were even a few years ago,” says Inskeep.

6. Decrease outdoor irrigation

“A big opportunity for households is also cutting back on their outdoor water consumption,” says Inskeep. “That can even be the majority of the household use if they’re watering their lawns or keeping manicured grass in the desert.”

Inskeep suggests reducing the consumption of treated water from the tap by setting up a backyard rainwater collection system. Planting a water-wise garden and native species, as opposed to turfgrass that’s ill suited to your climate, is also recommended.