Water is seemingly so abundant, it's easy to take for granted. So easy, in fact, that demand in this country has more than tripled since 1950. The average family of four in the United States uses about 400 gallons of water a day (that's 6,400 eight-ounce glasses) with indoor uses like showering accounting for up to 70 percent of it. And our thirst is still growing. By 2013 at least 36 states anticipate water shortages; a little more than a decade after that, a third of the world's population will likely face severe and chronic shortages. As aquifer and groundwater reservoir levels drop, pollutant concentrations go up, so toxins pose even greater threats to our health and the environment.
But with a few basic changes we can collectively save as much as 3 trillion gallons and $17 billion dollars a year. If your family tends to be on the wasteful side, a boost of water wisdom can mean a big drop in your yearly bills. Here are nine ways to start saving today.
1. Fix Leaks
To test for general leaks, turn off all fixtures; note your water meter reading. Keep water off for an hour, then check again; if the reading changes, you have a leak. For toilets, put a few drops of food coloring in the tank; wait 10 minutes. If color appears in the bowl, it's time for repairs.
Potential annual savings: 104,000 gallons and $252
2. Replace Old Toilets
Toilets sold before 1994 use 3.5-plus gallons per flush, as compared to new ultra-low-flush toilets, which use 1.6 gallons or less. The latter, now federally mandated for all new installations, can pay off within five years (prices start around $100).
Potential annual savings: 14,800 gallons and $28
3. Turn Off Faucet
Running the bathroom tap for just two minutes while brushing your teeth wastes more than 2 gallons of water. If your family does that morning and night (and longer when shaving), wasted water adds up. Keep a reminder near the sink until you're all in the habit of turning water off.
Potential annual savings: 8,540 gallons and $17
4. Tame Your Sprinkling
Sensors that trigger sprinklers to shut off when it rains can cut outdoor water use by about 15 percent. Rain sensors are available at home and garden stores for less than $30 and install easily on sprinkler clocks.
Potential annual savings: 1,640 gallons and $3
5. Start Chilling
Keep a pitcher of water in the fridge so you don't waste water waiting for the tap to run cold; kitchen faucets flow at an average rate of more than a gallon per minute.
Potential annual savings: 1,400 gallons and $3
6. Do a Full Load
Combine four half-loads of laundry into two full loads every week to save work and water. Buying a new washer? Opt for an Energy Star or WaterSense model. Most use only 18 to 25 gallons of water per load, about 38 percent less than standard machines.
Potential annual savings: 6,450 gallons and $13
7. Sweep, Don't Hose
If you usually rely on water pressure to clean your driveway, sidewalk, or yard during the summer, switch to elbow grease and a broom for at least 10 minutes of the weekly chore.
Potential annual savings: 1,200 gallons and $2
8. Go Low Flow
Replace pre-1992 showerheads with low-flow models (2.5 gallons per minute or less). If a 1-gallon bucket in the shower fills in 24 seconds or less, get a lower-flow model. Aerated ones give the feel of higher pressure. To do more, shave a few minutes off shower times.
Potential annual savings: 45,990 gallons and $92
9. Go to the Car Wash
Washing your car with a running hose wastes up to 10 gallons a minute. Many commercial washes recycle water, so taking family cars in once a month uses less water than washing at home. Prefer to DIY? Use a bucket of water and a hose with an automatic shutoff.
Potential annual savings: 1,800 gallons and $4
*Savings for a four-person household's annual water bill based on per capita averages and worst-case scenarios.
Text by Kelly Tagore; illustrations by Anne Smith