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A few tweaks to the biggest water consumers in your house could dramatically cut your water use.

By Susannah Shmurak Posted Jul 14, 2017

leaky faucet dripping water

Most of us in North America are lucky to have a steady supply of fresh, drinkable water. It’s easy to take for granted, but witnessing droughts around the world has taught more of us that there’s good reason not to.

As climate change heats the planet and makes weather more unpredictable, reservoir levels and water tables are falling. A recent report from the US Government Accountability Office revealed that water managers in all but ten states expect water shortages within the next decade. We all need to adjust our habits to conserve this life-sustaining resource in our changing climate.

Further, it takes energy to treat and transport all that precious liquid, so when we waste water, we’re effectively increasing our carbon footprint. Wasting water creates unnecessary pollution, worsening the problem of climate change.

According to a 2014 study from Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, people tend to underestimate water use and lack knowledge about the most effective ways to conserve. In a survey of over a thousand people, most incorrectly chose curtailing water use (taking shorter showers, for example) over making efficiency upgrades as the best way to conserve water.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the average American uses 100 gallons of water daily. The average European uses only 50. A few efficiency upgrades in your home and habits can help bring down your household water use considerably, with little effect on your lifestyle. Some simple swaps to the devices in your house that waste the most water can add up to significant water savings, so there’s no reason not to implement these changes as soon as possible.

Water Waster #1: Your Toilets

If you want to make the biggest dent in your water use, look no further than your toilet. Responsible for up to 25% of household use, toilets are a prime target for your water reduction efforts. An older toilet wastes gallons of water with every flush. Upgrading to a low-flow toilet can save up to 75%!

If you’re not ready to replace an older toilet, an adjustable flapper can greatly reduce your usage. You can also put filled plastic bottles or a tank bank in the toilet tank to make it use less water per flush.

Toilet fill valve Whether you have a low-flow toilet or not, consider a flapper and valve kit designed to detect and prevent leaks and reduce the water needed for each flush. You can also install a dual flush converter so you’re using as little water as possible for flushes that don’t need more. They’re quick and easy to install and let you cut water waste further, up to 15,000 gallons for an average family. We’ve had one for years and have saved nearly a gallon of water with every low-flow flush, thousands of gallons we didn’t waste. An added bonus: It works as a tool with our kids to teach them about water conservation.

Also be sure to test your toilets for leaks, since approximately 20% of toilets leak to some degree. According to the EPA, a running toilet may waste as much as 200 gallons per day, up to two-thirds of an average family’s water use! Checking a leaky toilet is simple. Just add food coloring to the toilet tank. If you see color in the bowl, you know your flapper needs replacing.

You might also consider a composting toilet. Composting toilets use no water at all, work in off-grid settings, and close the waste loop.

Water Waster #2: Your Washing Machine

stacked washer and dryer in laundry room Did you know washing your clothes may take up to 54 gallons per load with a conventional top-load washer? The most efficient front loader washers require only seven gallons, a huge water savings. If you’re an average family doing eight loads a week, cutting the water footprint of your laundry with an efficient washer may save you thousands of gallons of water each year, in addition to the energy saved on heating water. High-efficiency washers also use less electricity than traditional models and take more water out of clothes so drying time is shortened, cutting energy use still further.

You might also consider doing laundry less often. If clothes or towels aren’t visibly dirty, there’s no reason they can’t be used more than once. I had a student in an environmental studies class many years ago who’d grown up using bath towels only once before they went in the laundry. When she did a required environmental impact assessment, she realized she could dry her clean body on a towel a few times before pitching it in the hamper, saving not only water and electricity, but also time and money. For more information on greening your laundry habits, read our article about how to make your laundry more eco-friendly.

Water Waster #3: Your Shower

Earth Massage showerheadWhile far more water-efficient than baths, showers still account for 17% of indoor water use. Using a low-flow showerhead will cut water use by about 40% over standard showerheads. The EPA reports that if every showerhead in the United States were WaterSense models, we’d collectively save 260 billion gallons of water and over $5 billion annually!

Keeping your showers shorter and turning off the water while you lather will cut waste as well. Additionally, since you’re using hot water, conserving in the shower will also save energy.


Water Waster #4: Your Faucets

Faucets account for about 17% of household water use, so adding water-saving aerators to your taps can mean big savings. Some aerators cut water flow by 77%!

Aerators are simple to install, inexpensive, and can cut water use significantly. Keep an eye out for leaks and fix them immediately. All those little drips can really add up. And of course, remember to turn off the tap when you’re soaping up your hands or dishes or brushing your teeth.

Water Waster #5: Leaks

In addition to fixing leaky faucets and toilets, it’s a good practice to check the rest of your house for drips and puddles that could indicate ongoing leaks. According to California’s Save Our Water program, repairing leaks around the house can save up to 110 gallons of water per year. That includes inspecting the pipes under your sinks, in and around your hot water tank, and in any outbuildings with water service.

If you don’t see any evidence of leaks, it’s still worth checking your water meter when you know no one is using water in your house. Is it moving? Record meter readings over one hour and note the difference. If your meter advances when no water is in use, you have a leak somewhere.

Want to do more to conserve water? Below are many more water-smart ways to shrink your household’s water footprint.

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Top 5 Water Wasters in Your Home

susannahshmurak

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Susannah Shmurak is an enthusiastic advocate for healthier, more sustainable lifestyles. She shares practical tips about gardening, food, and low-impact living at HealthyGreenSavvy.com.
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  • Great post and very helpful! We’re having to look into this as we just got a water bill that was 4x’s what it has been…and that increase is just not in the budget these days. I think our issue might be the toilet one so we’ll be using those suggestions immediately. Thanks for the tips!

    • We recently replaced a toilet and noticed a significant water savings, more than expected.

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