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Lower Your Water Bills!

In many parts of the United States-and the world-water is taken for granted. But anyone who lives in a dry area knows that water is extremely precious, and can play hard-to-get. Water is essential for life, health, and the food supply.

Yet water is often squandered. It's all-too-common for people to leave the water on full-force, instead of just turning it on when they actually need it. Thus, for many people, it's probably easier to reduce water use in and around the home than any other resource-because so few people even think about it.

While industry and agriculture account for most water use, household water consumption could easily be cut in half or better. May as well get in the habit now, before water bills start to skyrocket!

Many of the tips in this section revolve around a few basic principles: Turn the water off when it's not actively needed, shorten the time the water is on, avoid waste, and use less force at a time Here are some ideas; you'll find more in the laundry chapter:

    Free and Easy

  • Washing Dishes in a Dishwasher: Learn the secrets of loading your dishwasher (in mine, I can fit pretty much all the prep and cooking dishes for a dinner that serves eight people). Load it as full as you can without interfering with the water's ability to get to the tough places. And if you've got something like an eight-quart soup pot or a large mixing bowl, consider washing it by hand sometimes-and freeing up the space for six or eight plates and bowls. Presoaking in a dishpan gets them a lot cleaner. And turning off the "dry" cycle saves a lot of energy.
  • Washing Dishes By Hand: Scrape food residues into the compost, dog's dish, or trash. Then let the dishes soak for a few minutes in a dishpan with hot, soapy water. Sponge them with the water off, and then rinse in a light stream of water.
  • Cooking: Pasta packages always ask you to use far more water than you need. You'll save not only water but energy if you only fill the pot to about twice the height of the uncooked pasta (and you'll save even more energy if you turn the burner off for the last 1-2 minutes before you drain). Also, if you steam or boil vegetables, save the cooking water for soup stock.
  • Brushing Teeth. Wet the toothbrush with a small trickle of water, and then turn the water off! Turn it back on to rinse the toothpaste off the brush at the end. A family of four could save hundreds of gallons every month just from this simple trick.
  • Bathing: A two- or three-minute shower will use a lot less water than a bath. A 20-minute shower will not—so aim for short showers. If you're taking a luxurious hot bath, see if anyone else wants the water before you drain the tub. Even if the next person freshens it with a couple of gallons of new hot water, it's a lot less than refilling from scratch. (In Colonial times, a whole family would use one weekly bath—pity the last person in!)
  • Toilet: Make sure the stopper goes in tightly enough so the toilet stops running within a minute or so after each flush. Never put a brick in your tank! The clay will erode and mess up your plumbing, big time. But the principle of water displacement is sound. If you have an older tank-style toilet, try filling a plastic 1-quart milk jug with water, and put that in your tank; you'll use a quart less water on every flush. Also, especially in the cooler months, consider not flushing every single time there's a wee bit of urine in the bowl.
  • Watering Lawns, Shrubs, and Gardens: Use an aerator hose, and water in the early morning or late evening. See how your lawn does without irrigating; it doesn't really have to be emerald green! In many places, there's enough rain so you rarely or never need to irrigate.
  • Very Low-Cost, High-Payback

  • Fix All Leaks! Get a plumber in and do them all at once. Even a small drip can make a huge dent in your water use. If you don't have a spray nozzle on your kitchen sink, get one installed at the same time.
  • Install faucet aerators on all faucets, and low-flow high-performance shower heads on all showers. Some of these items may be free with an energy audit from your local utility. Even if you have to pay for them, the aerators should cost only pennies, and the shower heads no more than $25 or so (sometimes as little as $5). You can easily install them yourself.
  • Install valves that flush with more water for solid waste, less for liquid. This can sharply educe the water consumption of an older toilet.
  • Put an insulating wrap on your hot water heater, if yours is an older, uninsulated model. You'll save both water and energy costs, as you won't need to run the water a long time to get it hot.
  • Modest Cost

  • Toilets: Replace older toilets that can gulp five gallons at a flush. Newer toilets typically drink no more than 1-1/2 gallons per flush. In many locations, all new toilets have to conform to this standard. While at current water rates, it will take a long time to pay back the investment in a single-family residence, if you have to put in a new toilet for some other reason, make sure to get a low-water model. (And in high-use public bathrooms, low-flow and/or timed-flush toilets will pay the investment back far more rapidly.)
  • Tankless Water Heaters: Instead of heating water in the basement and piping it to your sinks, a tankless water heater raises the water temperature right where it will be used. Once again, this cuts water use because the heating is instant, so you don't need to run the water until it gets hot. Costs range from under $200 on up to about $600 for a whole-house unit. One manufacturer estimates the average residential customer will cut water heating bills by 50%.
  • Home-built Solar Hot Water Systems: For those who are fairly handy, home-built solar hot water systems can lower energy bills at least during the warmer months. A tank to heat water in the yard or in a greenhouse can ease the load on your regular water heater-but be sure to drain it thoroughly before the frost!
  • Major Investment/Build In to New Construction

    Gray Water Recycling: Capture nearly-clean waste water from sinks and baths for use in gardens, maybe even toilets.

    Composting Toilets: With virtually no use of water, change toilet waste into fertilizer. Resources include

    Commercial Solar Hot Water

Shel Horowitz is the owner of and the author of six books, including Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook

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