9 Ways to Save Water at Home

Typical homeowners use more water than they actually need. If you're trying to save money in today's tough economy, it makes financial sense to look at the way your house uses water and find ways to conserve.

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Where to Start Saving

We use an average of 100 gallons of water every day — 400 gallons, if we're talking about two parents and kids in a house. According to EPA reports, "40 of 50 states expect water shortages in some portion of their states under average conditions in the next 10 years". So if you're wondering where to begin and what you should be looking at, check out these different ways you can reduce water use in your home.

Invest in WaterSense Certified Products

The Environmental Protection Agency's WaterSense program partners with water utilities, product manufacturers and retailers to encourage water conservation and development of water-efficient products. Any product that uses water — faucets, toilets, showerheads, appliances — can have the WaterSense label, which shows the product meets EPA criteria for efficiency and performance.

Concerned about the effectiveness of low-flow products? Things have changed.

"The low-flow flushing and showerheads have a pretty bad rap, in part because, well, I always think of that Seinfeld episode," says Roto-Rooter spokesman Paul Abrams, referencing a plot where Jerry and Kramer aren't pleased by the low-flow showerheads that the apartment building has installed, "and as was the case with a lot of first generation innovations, they were pretty awful. But that's not the case anymore. These low-flow showerheads are fantastic. It comes down to, I think, better engineering. And if you look at the potential savings in water and energy, it's a no-brainer."

Retrofit Your Plumbing: Dual Flush for a Fraction of the Price

If you're serious about water conservation, a professional plumber can recommend ways you can make water flow in your home more efficient. National plumbing chain Roto-Rooter, for instance, recently unveiled a green program aimed at encouraging homeowners to retrofit their existing showers, sinks and toilets to make them more efficient in how they use water.

"We decided if we really wanted to be green, we needed to come up with a plan for all levels of society," Paul says. "People might not have a lot of money to buy a new toilet — saying, 'Hey, come into my house, and I'll buy and have you install three $250 toilets, that adds up pretty fast. But having your existing toilets, sinks and showers more efficient by retrofitting them, that's a little more manageable and can serve a much bigger slice of the population."

Paul says the price of doing that will vary depending where you live and what appliances you have, but he says the company is confident that customers will recoup their costs within a year. For instance, they can install a HydroRight dual-flush converter, which should save the average family up to 8,050 gallons of water a year, or approximately $58.

Go Tankless With Your Water Heater

Tankless water heaters are two to three times more expensive than a conventional water heater, but there are federal, state and local tax breaks and rebates to help offset the costs. Plus, you can cut your water bill by 20 percent to 60 percent.

How does it work? Unlike a traditional tank that heats a supply of water 24/7, a tankless heater only heats when you turn on the hot water faucet. Cold water zips through the tankless unit, and a gas burner quickly heats it to the preset temperature.

Install a Recirculation Pump

The California Energy Commission estimates that homes waste five to 20 gallons of water every day waiting for hot water to come out of the faucet.

If you're one of those people who will run water until it gets hot, consider installing a recirculation pump. The pump has a thermostatically controlled sensor valve and timer and allows the hot water in the hot water supply line to constantly remain hot, so that the moment you turn on the shower, you'll actually have hot water.

Over the course of a year, a recirculation pump might save you 1,825 gallons or as much as 7,300 gallons a year.

How much are they? The price varies, of course. You could spend several hundred dollars, but there are some good models out there for approximately $200.

Recycle Your Water

Graywater refers to the water that goes down the drain that is perfectly good water, like when you wash fruit or vegetables in the sink or when you shower, that could be used for something else. Blackwater is the disgusting water you'd never want to touch again, like the water from a toilet. Blackwater, bad. Graywater, good, though not something you'd want to drink.

In many cases, you'll want to consult with a professional plumber to design a graywater reuse system, especially since some states and communities have regulations governing the use of plumbing systems and graywater. Roto-Rooter's Paul Abrams says some homes have pipes leading from the kitchen to a bathroom toilet, so that any wasted water flows not toward the sewer but into the tank.

Some homeowners have created do-it-yourself graywater reuse systems. Marie Oaks, an American chef living in Bosque Village, a sustainable village in Mexico, outfitted her kitchen with a basic graywater system that cost her less than $100 to set up. She has a tube running from the kitchen sink to the outside, through a pit of sand and gravel for filtration, and leading to the gardens.

"To re-plumb a kitchen or bathroom sounds daunting," Marie admits, "but keeping a bucket in your kitchen to save water that is used to rinse rice, beans, or fruits and vegetables is quite easy and powerful. A family of four could water a substantial vegetable garden using the graywater they harvest from their kitchen."

Consider Drip Irrigation

Many households spend half of their water outside, on their lawn and garden, says Dr. Elizabeth Dougherty, director of Wholly H20, a San Francisco-based company that helps homeowners and businesses find better ways to manage water. "Turf is the most irrigated crop in the United States," Elizabeth says. "Aside from corn, grass is the thing we water the most, and let me tell you, grass is generally one or two species, and it doesn't support a lot of biodiversity."

If you're someone who loves a lush lawn and garden, consider using drip irrigation. Rather than a hose or a sprinkler system, you use flexible polyethylene tubing equipped with water-dripping emitters and low-volume micro-sprays. With this system, you're still watering everything — you're just doing it slowly and exactly where it needs to be done, minimizing not just water evaporation but the runoff, if you use chemicals on your lawn.

Collect and Reuse Rainwater

Like a lot of water conservation methods, you can go big here, or small. You can simply have a rain barrel placed anywhere in your yard — though at the end of rain gutter is a logical choice — and as it collects water, you can use that to water your plants. Or you can be a little more elaborate and not just have one barrel, but several, and have pipes running from them to your garden and then use a pump to spray your lawn or garden. One company, Rainwater HOGs, can professionally install modular tanks to catch and store your rainwater.

Typically, a rain barrel holds about 55 to 80 gallons of rainwater and works best in areas that tend to get a lot of rain, like the Pacific Northwest or the Midwest.

Landscape to Prevent Overwatering

Xeriscaping is landscaping and gardening in ways that reduce the need for additional irrigation. Here are some tips:

Choose drought-resistant plants and plants that do well in arid regions (though keep in mind that you should stick with plants native to your area).

Batch plants together so that flowers, bushes or trees that need a lot of water are all together, while those that don't require too much are somewhere else in the yard. That way you aren't giving one plan the ideal amount of water and overwatering its neighbor.

It may sound complicated, but you end up with a beautiful landscape. "Being waterwise doesn't mean you have to suffer. You can still have a lush and yummy yard," says Dougherty, whose Southern California home features a lot of bamboo and fruit trees. "You just have to be willing to adjust and see the beauty in other things, plants that you may not be used to."

"Learn about the native plants around you and propogate the pretty of useful ones in your own dirt," Fey encourages. "Mimic the best of the natural environment. It is easy to learn to propogate from seeds and cuttings for free plants. Visit a nursery, and ask them what you can plant that won't need to be watered. It seems pretty silly that people overwater their yards, and then have to work hard clearing out the extra yard waste. Xeriscaping provides a yard which needs nearly no maintenance, looks good all year and attracts local birds."

Be Sensible

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the idea of transporting your kitchen water to your toilet or microspraying your plants through an irrigation drip, just remember that the most effective method of saving water doesn't come from pipes, it comes from you.

For instance, if you have to run the shower until it gets hot but don't want to buy a recirculation pump, stick a bucket in the shower and use what you collect to water your lawn or plants. One water conservation company actually has a bucket, Pour It Forward BUXX, especially designed for doing just that. Other practical tips: Turn off the faucet if you're not using the water, like when you brush your teeth or while preparing a meal.

"The best bang for anybody's buck is use your head. It's the least sexy of options," Doughtery says, "but ask yourself, 'Do I really need to turn on my kitchen sink full blast to wash that apple? Should I really walk away from the water filling the pot, so I can check on my kids, and then come back, and it's overflowing into the sink? That's a lot of water right there."

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