Conserving water at home can result in several downstream benefits and savings. Being mindful of home water use helps preserve the amount of water in our local reservoirs and reduces costs associated with water and wastewater treatment, including the cost of delivering it to the home (for those using a public water service).
Leaky toilets, showerheads, and dripping faucets can waste up to 2,700 gallons of water annually. Home water conservation can start by simply checking your house for any leaks and drips. Another easy way to conserve water is to limit running water when it isn’t necessary. For example, turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth, and defrost food in the refrigerator or in the microwave instead of placing frozen food under running water.
Home gardens are another potential area for water conservation. Thoughtful planning can transform your home garden from a water drain to a water-efficient oasis.
Start planning your garden already by researching drought-resistant plants or those with minimal water needs. Group the plants by similar water needs to avoid waste by watering from plant to plant. Additionally, a drip irrigation system for plants that require more water can boost efficiency by using less water over a longer period. Alternatively, set lawn sprinklers on a timer to limit water use and place them where the water will only reach plants, not pavement.
Another conservation option is to use a rain barrel to collect water for non-potable purposes. Harvested rainwater is an excellent option for watering ornate gardens and washing cars.
Another option for collecting water for the garden is to collect cold water that runs while you’re waiting on the water to heat. Every drop of running water you can utilize helps.
Reducing water use at home can also help lower your energy use. The Department of Energy estimates that water heating accounts for about 20% of a home’s energy bill. Switching to an energy-efficient heat pump water heater can save considerable money on electric bills. Heat pump water heaters have higher upfront costs than storage tank models, but tax incentives and potential rebates can offset this cost. Check with your local electric cooperative to see if they offer rebates or a load management program.
If upgrading your water heater isn’t an option, there are small changes you can make to increase water heating efficiency. Reduce hot water use by switching to low-flow faucets and showerheads. You can also turn down the water heater thermostat to 120 degrees and insulate hot water lines to increase energy savings.
Additional ways to conserve both water and electricity in the home include upgrading clothes washers and dishwashers to newer, more energy-efficient models.
Running these appliances only when full or selecting a “light wash” setting reduces water and electricity use. Washing dishes by hand uses more water than an energy-efficient dishwasher, so avoid this method when possible.
If your home uses well water, it’s important to be mindful of water conservation, particularly in drier climates. Well pumps run on electricity and can be a source of higher energy bills. Dry, overpumped wells can cause the pump to run continuously, using excess energy in the process. Malfunctioning well pumps also lead to spikes in energy use. Regular maintenance can help identify problems, such as leaks and faulty intake, which can lead to increased use of both water and electricity.
As you can see, there are a variety of changes––some large, some small––that can help you conserve water at home. Regardless of how you do it, thoughtfully managing water use can protect our water supply and make significant changes on energy bills.
Katherine Loving writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives.