tips, topics, info and insight to help you save money and make our world a little greener

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Save Water = Save Money: 8 Tips for Using Less Water

After the rainy summer of 2009 and snowy winter of 2010, it might be hard to get people in our little corner of southeast Pennsylvania to worry about water usage. But, even here, with our unpredictable river that gave us three devastating floods in 2 years (we haven't had a major flood in more than 3 years, knock wood), water is a precious commodity that we can't afford to take for granted. While the water table is high right now, and the aquifer may have had some replenishment, our water needs are always at the mercy of Mother Nature. And she can be downright stingy with water sometimes.

Last summer, when we had more rainy days than sunny, and the vegetables were rotting in the garden from too much moisture, my dear friend Nadine was suffering through yet another summer drought in Northern California. Last spring the Southeastern part of the country was recovering from a wretched 2 year drought. And according to NOAA, (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) there will be presistent or intensifying drought conditions in 8 western states this year, and abnormally dry conditions in another 6 states.

Over all, drought predictions in this country are no where near as grim as they could be. But water conservation practices make good environmental sense. And saving water can save you money. Here are some steps you can take to reduce your household water consumption. Some you may already do; others are so simple, you'll want to start doing them right away. I'll admit some may be too crunchy for everyone's lifestyle:

  1. Don't run the water when you brush your teeth. Simple enough to do. Squeeze some toothpaste on your brush. Wet it with a drop of water from the tap. Turn the water off. Then brush. Spit. Wet your brush again. Repeat. Add a little water to a glass (reusable, please). Rinse. Done. You've used less than a cup of water, and probably saved about 3 gallons. If there are 4 people in your household, and everyone brushes twice a day, you could save 24 gallons of water a day. Multiply that by the 350 days (I'm giving you some vacation time in this calculation) and you've saved 8400 gallons of water. With the average price of 1000 gallons of water at about $2.81, that would save you $23.88 per year. But water is far more expensive than that in some communities, and in other places, usage fees go up with the more water you use.
  2. Use this basic premise with shaving too. Or shave in the shower.
  3. Run full loads in the dishwasher and washing machine. By only running the machines when they are full, you will use them less often, so you'll use less water. And, if you're thinking about getting a new washer, check out the front loaders...they use between 40 and 75% less water than top loaders. Interestingly, doing dishes by hand uses a lot more water than if you use a dishwasher. Seems counter-intuitive, but it's true. You can read what my friend Leah Ingram, the Suddenly Frugal blogger, wrote about hand-washing vs. diswashers here.
  4. Keep a pitcher of water in the refrigerator. While tap water is usually cool, it can often take a few minutes of running the water to get it to the point where it is cold enough to drink. If you always have a big pitcher of water in the fridge, you won't every have to run the water to get it cold.
  5. Save the water that runs before it's hot enough for your shower. Sometimes it can take a good 3 or 4 minutes, or more, for the water to get hot in the shower. And all that cooler water just runs down the drain...a terrible waste. To capture the wasted water, keep a couple of buckets in the bathroom and put them under the tap while you wait for the water to warm up. Then use the water to fill the toilet tank, water indoor plants, water the garden, fill the dog's water bowl or a bird bath or to add to the washing machine.
  6. Avoid using your garbage disposal. Most in-sink garbage disposals require that you run water while they churn, with average water consumption of 4 gallons per minute. Think about composting most of your kitchen garbage (except grease and meat and dairy products). You'll use less water and you'll wind up with some nice, rich organic matter for your garden. 
  7. Flush less. OK, here's where I might lose some of you. But I'm going to throw it out there. Many years ago, when my parents visited old friends at their walnut ranch near Paso Robles, CA, the area was experiencing a severe drought. The friends cautioned my parents that everyone, guests included, had to participate in pretty heavy-handed water conservation practices. This included fewer flushes. Next to the toilets were little signs that discreetly said "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down." At my first, my mother was ready to head for the nearest Motel 6. But she says they got used to the concept. And, it seems, that the men were perfectly happy to pee outdoors. And that leads us to another approach to the fewer flushes water conservation method. Deanna Duke, whom many of you know as The Crunchy Chicken, suggested using diluted urine for fertilizer in the garden.   She had 115 comments to that post! It seems that quite a few people tried it out with favorable results.
  8. Take fewer showers. If I haven't lost you by now, then maybe you'll be open-minded about this one too. I'm not advocating turning your back on personal hygiene. But some people may find that they don't actually have to shower every day, especially in cold weather, and when they aren't doing any strenuous  exercise. People with very dry skin, or skin conditions like ecxema may get some relief by limiting baths or showers to every other day. And one can always clean one's smellier parts with a soapy washcloth. Just a thought...
To help you determine how much water your family uses each day, use this handy chart. And consult this list for many more water-saving tips. If you've got a water saving tip, please share.


  1. Great advice, Dee Dee and thanks for mentioning Suddenly Frugal. Our saving grace has been the pitcher of water in the fridge!


  2. thanks Leah. We've been doing the Britta pitcher in the fridge for years. I suppose we should factor in the cost of opening and closing the refrigerator door every time someone gets a glass of water!

  3. Great article, Dee. I think in the next couple years we will putting in 2 cisterns - one for grey water and one for rain water run-off. And of course solar panels - my electric bill is now running about $350 a month, and we heat with natural gas!

  4. thanks Nadine. Cisterns and rain barrels are a great idea, especially for you California folk. I am hoping my dad will install a couple of rain barrels in Carlsbad to help water his fruit trees. By law, we can't trap grey water here so it just goes into the sewer which seems like such a waste.