The world is going green – from recycling cans and bottles to buying environmentally friendly cleaning products, efforts to conserve natural resources have become common place. And today, in the midst of our nation’s worst economy in 26 years, conserving resources that cost you money has never been more important.
Did you know?
- More than 1.25 trillion gallons of water leak from American homes each year. (EPA) That’s enough to fill over 61,000 swimming pools or almost 21 million bathtubs-more than enough for everyone in New York City and Los Angeles to take a bath.
- In the U.S., 36 states anticipate water shortages over the next five years. (U.S. Government Accountability Office)
- In the U.S., water damage caused by frozen and broken pipes ranks # 2 behind hurricanes both the number of homes damaged and the claim costs (Insurance Information Network of California)
- Insurance companies can be wary of water-related claims. From their perspective, a water leak can indicate poor maintenance and may lead to increased homeowner insurance premiums or worse. (Kiplinger.com)
- Undetected water leaks will increase your water and sewer bills.
- Simple, low-cost fixes to your homes plumbing systems can save as much as 10% on your water bill.
It’s easy to see how maintaining your home’s water supply and plumbing systems can impact your wallet. Regular maintenance and repairs-like the ones listed here-often can be managed by homeowners.
#1 – Determine whether your home has a leak
Remember: You may not be able to see leaking water-unseen water can leak 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Your water meter can help you determine if you have a leak. Water Wise Home Water Audit is a great tool to use in evaluating your water usage, too.
How to check:
- Pick a time when no water will be used (no one is showering, washing clothes, etc.). Find your water meter-usually located at the front of your lawn, near the street-and record the water usage number. Wait two hours (making sure no one uses any water) and record the number again. If the two numbers are not exactly the same, your home has a water leak somewhere.
- Evaluate exposed pipes under your sinks or vanities, in your basement, crawl space or attic. Look for obvious drips, leaks or signs of leaks such as:
- Damp, wet areas
- Rusty pipes
- Bulging or bowed structures near pipes, indicating water damage
- Water stains
- Check less obvious water users, like ice makers, automatic pool refill systems, etc.
- Determine if it is possible that you have failed polybutylene pipes. Blue polybutylene pipe was introduced in the 1970s as a cost-effective replacement for iron or copper pipe and was used to connect homes with the public water systems. After 10 years of exposure to chlorinated water, the pipe began to fail-corroding and cracking unseen, underground. Unsuspecting residents received exorbitant water bills for thousands of dollars.
- Houses built between 1970 to the early ’90s are most at risk. If you have polybutylene pipe it should be replaced immediately-it will fail! While many plumbing fixes can be managed by handy homeowners, this is one project best left to a professional plumber. For more information on this issue, visit repipenews.com.
- Now let’s look at some sources of water leaks and other ways to save water and money.
#2 – Check your toilets
Toilets account for nearly 30% of indoor water consumption and leaking toilets, sinks and other plumbing fixtures can increase your water bill by more than 34%.
Check for toilet leaks (there are three types):
- Flapper leak – Toilet flappers, which connect your holding tank to the toilet bowl, deteriorate with age and develop mineral buildup. This can cause a faulty seal and allow water to seep through. According to ToiletFlapper.org, a faulty flapper can waste up to 200 gallons of water a day. Add a few drops of food coloring to the holding tank and wait 30 minutes. If you have a leak, the coloring will appear in the water in the bowl. Flush the toilet immediately after this test to prevent the food coloring from staining the tank.
- Fill-valve leak – Listen. Do you hear water running? With a fill-valve leak, you can hear water running continuously.
- Flush handle leak – Over years of use, flush handles can become loose or stuck in the flush position allowing water to seep into the bowl and down the drain.
- Toilet flapper, valve leak and flush handle replacement kits are available at most hardware stores and are fairly simple to install.
- Toilets manufactured prior to 1993 use at least 3.5 gallons per flush with some water guzzlers using as much as 7 gallons per flush! Consider replacing older toilets with high-efficiency models that use less than 1.3 gallons per flush. Replacing one toilet can save up to 16,500 gallons of water per year.
- If you have an older toilet, a displacement device, such as plastic half-gallon milk jugs (filled with water or pebbles), placed in a toilet tank will reduce the amount of water used per flush. Don’t use bricks as they can erode over time. Ensure there is no interference with the flushing mechanism or the flow of water. A toilet dam, which holds back a reservoir of water when the toilet is flushed, can also be used.
- Don’t flush trash-bugs, tissues, cigarette butts, etc. Use a garbage can instead to save flushes, water and money.
- Today’s low-flush toilets have significantly improved flush performance over earlier models. People unhappy with their older, low-flush models should avoid double flushing, and instead, consider:
- Replacing the old model with a newer, more efficient low-flush toilet.
- Install dual flush toilets that offer two flush handles: one for heavy or light flushes.
- Install pressure-flush toilets, which store water under pressure to assist with the flush performance.
#3 – Check your water faucets
Faucets deteriorate over time and can develop leaks due to hardened or disintegrated washers. A leak at the rate of one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water each year. How much water are you losing? Click here to use an interactive drip water-loss calculator.
Check for faucet leaks and drips:
- Indoor leaks-dripping kitchen or bathroom faucets-are obvious.
- Don’t forget to check outdoor faucets, sprinklers and hoses as well.
- Most dripping faucets are caused by worn or faulty gaskets. Replacement gaskets are inexpensive and available at virtually every hardware store. For drips from a two-handled faucet, replace the faucet washers. For drips from a single-handled faucet, replace the cartridge in the valve. With this repair, disassembly and assembly can be tricky so allow plenty of time to complete.
- Standard bathroom faucets use 2.5 gallons of water per minute. If your bathroom is ready for a new look, you may consider installing a new low-flow faucet with an aerator as one way to reduce water use.
- Adding a low-volume faucet aerator-which mixes water and air-to an existing faucet can reduce water flow to a more efficient 1.5 gallons per minute. Faucets made over the last 20 years have aerators, but time and use can reduce effectiveness. Replace them if the water flow seems restricted.
#4 – Check your shower heads
Showers account for about 20 percent of total indoor water use. That’s not hard to believe when you consider that the average shower lasts 12 to 15 minutes and uses approximately 150 gallons of water.
Check for shower head leaks and identify the source of the leak:
- It’s easy to know that a shower head is leaking. The tricky part is identifying what is causing the leak. There are generally three sources and they are all inside the shower head:
- The internal rubber gasket needs to be replaced. Replacement gaskets are inexpensive, easy to install, and available at virtually every hardware store.
- The connection between the pipe and the shower head is not properly sealed.
- Residue or mineral build up has clogged the showerhead forcing water out through tiny openings.
- Identifying the source requires the removal of the shower head.
- Once the shower head has been removed, check the condition of the rubber gasket inside the shower head. If the gasket leaves a black residue on your fingers it should be replaced.
- A bit of Teflon tape wrapped around the pipe threads will ensure the connection between the pipe and the shower head is secure.
- Wash out any debris with water and/or vinegar, which will take care of any mineral or calcium deposits.
- Put the shower head back together and reinstall.
- If your shower fills a one-gallon bucket in less than 20 seconds, you may want to consider replacing the shower head with a water-efficient model. Replacing a standard 4.5-gallon-per-minute shower head with a 2.5-gallon-per-minute head, a family of four could save some 20,000 gallons of water per year.
- Shorten your shower by a minute or two to save up to 150 gallons per month.
- Install a shower aerator, which provides the desired water pressure but not the excessive volume.
- Waiting for your shower water to get warm? Install a “stop and start” style shower head that pauses the water flow once the water reaches a certain temperature to reduce waste.
- Add a hand-held shower head that offers an “On/Off” switch and the ability to better direct the water to where you want it to go.
#5 – Check and reduce your water pressure
Water flow rate is directly related to water pressure. Reducing your home’s water pressure from 100 pounds per square inch (PSI) to 50 PSI can result in a water flow reduction of about 30 percent.
Check your home’s water pressure:
- Homes built within the last 25 to 30 years have adjustable pressure valves on the supply line leading into the house.
- First locate the valve, which could be in the same box with the water meter, in the basement or crawlspace. Look for a brass valve with a bell-shaped middle section and a screw with a locknut in the end of the bell. Check your water pressure.
- Normal pressure ranges between 40 to 60 PSI. A reading of more than 80 PSI is too high and a reading of 20 PSI or less is too low.
Reduce: the pressure (which can be done in two ways):
- Adjust the pressure at the valve so that it falls in the 40 to 60 PSI range. This can be a tricky and time-consuming adjustment.
- Adjust the pressure by installing a pressure-regulating valve at the point where the water main enters the home.
#6 – Check your lawn irrigation system
Lawn irrigation systems make it easy to create beautiful yards. Automated systems are even more convenient. But according to a study by the American Water Works Association, automatic systems use up to 47 percent more water than non automated systems.
Check, Repair, Replace and Conserve:
- Inspect your system to ensure it is operating properly.
- Observe the system during a watering cycle to make certain you’re not watering the driveway, sidewalks or other areas that don’t need it.
- Repair or replace broken or misaligned sprinkler heads-these can leak profusely.
- Adjust automatic timers so that the lawn is watered ONLY as often and a long as absolutely necessary.
- Watering guidelines recommend one inch of water per week delivered in a single application. Determine how to accomplish this for your yard with your irrigation system by placing a straight-sided cup on the lawn in the watering area and turn the system on. Monitor the time it takes for the cup to accumulate an inch of water. This will be the proper watering time for your system. Program your system accordingly.
- If you notice excessive runoff while watering the lawn, shorten the cycle time for each area.
- Water in the morning or at twilight to reduce loss of water due to evaporation.
- Avoid watering on windy days, during a rainstorm or immediately after.
- Raise your lawnmower blade to its highest level. Taller grass encourages deeper root growth, shades the root system and holds moisture in the soil-all requiring less water through lawn irrigation.
#7 – Save water with your swimming pool
Who doesn’t like a nice, relaxing dip in the pool? Unfortunately, water usage with a pool doesn’t end after you fill it up!
- Pools that are uncovered loose water to evaporation and that water must be replaced. Help maintain the water level by covering the pool during extended periods of non-use and check the pump for leaks on a regular basis.
- When backwashing a pool-a process that can use 180-250 gallons of water-direct water onto the lawn or into landscaping. Water-saving pool filters can reduce the amount of water used during this process.
#8 – Make conservation a part of your daily life
Remember, any time water runs it costs you money and it impacts the environment. Implementing some minor changes into your daily routine can make a big difference.
- Only run the dishwasher when it’s full. It takes as much water to wash a few plates and bowls as it does to wash an entire load.
- If you are washing dishes by hand, fill one side of the sink with soapy water and use the other side to rinse using a SLOW stream of cold water.
- Use the garbage disposal sparingly. Compost vegetable food waste instead and save gallons of water.
- Wash your fruits and vegetables in a pan of water instead of running water from the tap.
- Some older refrigerators and ice-makers are cooled with circulating water. Consider upgrading to new appliances that are air-cooled, much more energy efficient and less wasteful.
- Drop an ice cube on the floor? Don’t throw it in the sink; drop into a potted plant instead.
- Use the “water level” selector on your washing machine to use less water for smaller loads and more water only for those larger loads.
- A running hose pours out up to 10 gallons of water per minute. When washing your car or watering plants, use a hose nozzle that allows you to turn off the water as you soap up you fender or move from plant to plant.
- Landscape with drought-tolerant lawns and plants.
- Use a broom to sweep sidewalks and driveways rather than hosing them off.
- Mulch, plastic sheeting and other weed prevention strategies also help reduce evaporation of plant bed moisture.
- A nice, long bath or shower can be the perfect end to a long, hard day. Keeping bath water levels as low and shortening the time spent in the shower could save several hundred gallons of water each month.
Sinks: Conservation at the sink is a great way for adults and kids alike to contribute to water conservation efforts. For example:
- Turn off the water while brushing your teeth and save 25 gallons a month
- Turn off the faucet while lathering hands with soap, turning it on for rinsing.
- Turn off the water while you shave and save up to 300 gallons a month.
- Close faucets tightly after use.
#9 – Educate Yourself
The best kind of homeowner is informed and equipped to care for and maintain their home. Reputable websites that can assist you in conserving water and saving money include:
- Huntsville Utilities Water Saving Tips
- Alabama Department of Environmental Management Water Division
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense Program
- “Water, Use It Wisely”-Water Conservation Tips, Facts, and Resources
- The Water Saver Home
- Consumer Reports
- Earth 911
Related articles include:
#10 – Find a dependable plumber before you need one
Read our guide on everything you need to know about hiring a contractor.