Water Conservation In and Around the Home

Drinking Water and Human Health December 06, 2010 Print Friendly and PDF

Conservation is the wise and efficient use of a limited, natural resource. Conserving water saves money and energy while helping to reduce water pollution.

Water conservation reduces money expenditures

Significant amounts of energy are used to pump, heat and treat water used in your home. By reducing water use, you save energy and reduce your monthly bills. If you have a private well, minimizing the use of your water pump may reduce costly repairs. If you have a septic system, reducing the amount of wastewater generated can prolong the life of your septic system.

Front loading washing machines offer higher water savings.

Water conservation reduces pollution

Conservation reduces wastewater entering sewage treatment plants and septic systems. Often this means better treatment and ultimately, cleaner water being discharged into groundwater, rivers, lakes, and bays. Outdoor water conservation and proper irrigation of lawns and gardens reduces pollution from recently applied fertilizers, pesticides, and unmanaged pet waste.

Water conservation reduces the effects of droughts

Droughts are periods of abnormally dry weather that persist long enough to produce water imbalance that effects crop production, water supplies, and water needs in the natural environment. During a prolonged drought, drinking water wells may go dry and public water supplies may issue water use restrictions. With water conservation practices, water withdrawals and use decline reducing the overall water deficit during a drought.

Water conservation reduces risk of saltwater intrusion

Saltwater in coastal areas commonly extends inland some distance beneath the coastal land surface. Freshwater is less dense than saltwater, so freshwater floats on top of the saline groundwater. If there is extensive pumping of wells near the coast coupled with a lack of groundwater recharge (usually during hot, dry periods) saltwater may infiltrate further beneath the coastal land surface and the well may withdraw saltwater. Minimizing the use of water from these wells will make it less likely for saltwater to intrude in these systems.

What can you do to conserve water?

Use a faucet aerator to cut back on water usage.

There are many things that you can do to conserve water. Some require changing habits while others may require an investment in relatively inexpensive equipment. Water consumption can be reduced by 20 to 40 percent without purchasing expensive equipment and with little inconvenience.

  • Check for leaks in faucets, toilets, hoses and pipes. A steady drip can waste up to 20 gallons a day!
  • If you are on public water, check for leaks by turning off everything in your house that uses water. Record the reading on your water meter. After an hour, recheck your meter. You have a leak if the reading changes.
  • Repairing a leaky faucet can be as simple as changing a washer.
  • To check the toilet, put enough food coloring into the tank to color the water. If without flushing, the color appears in the bowl, you have a leak. Adjusting or replacing the float arm or the plunger bowl often repairs leaky toilets.
  • Install water conserving fixtures and appliances. Conventional fixtures and appliances require more water than necessary under normal pressure.
    • Install an aerator, an inexpensive device available at hardware stores, on each household faucet.
    • Install low-flow showerheads to reduce flow by 50-75%.
    • Install a low-flow toilet or pressurized toilet when making renovations.
  • Contact your public water supplier to see if they have a conservation kit available.
  • Run the water less to get it to heat up.
  • Change your water use habits:
    • Bathroom:
      1. Avoid running water in the shower while you are shampooing or soaping. Many water-saving showerheads come with a button to shut off the flow without changing the mix of hot and cold water.
      2. Take brief showers instead of baths.
      3. Do not use toilets as ashtrays or trash receptacles.
      4. Turn off water while brushing teeth, shaving, and washing.
    • Kitchen and Laundry:
      1. Wash fruits and vegetables in a bowl of water rather than running the faucet. When done, use the water for plants.
      2. When washing dishes by hand, use one basin for washing and another for rinsing instead of running water continuously. Also, use the least amount of detergent possible to avoid having to rinse continuously.
      3. Run the dishwasher only when full.
      4. Compost your food scraps rather than using the garbage disposal. Disposals use a great deal of water and add unnecessary solids to the sewer or septic system.
      5. Keep a bottle of water in the refrigerator instead of running the faucet until the water is cold.
      6. Use your washing machine only when it's full.
      7. Invest in a front loading washing machines, which offer higher water savings than traditional top loaders.
    • Outside:
      1. Slow, deep waterings are more beneficial for plants than fast, shallow sprinkling. Plants, soil, and plant root zones can only store so much water at a given time. Over-watering wastes water, increases the risk of pollution and can weaken plants and encourage disease.
      2. Always abide by any outdoor water use restrictions mandated by your local water utility.
      3. Keep your grass at least 2-3 inches high. Taller grass retains more moisture than short.
      4. Lawns require one inch of water per week to remain actively growing. Measure weekly rainfall and apply only the amount of water needed to make up the difference. You can also let your lawn to go dormant during the hot, dry summer months – it will regrow when rain and cooler weather return.
      5. Apply water during the cool parts of the day, preferably in the morning, to prevent excess evaporation.
      6. Use a drip irrigation system in your garden to add water directly to individual plant root zones. This practice saves water and reduces weeds because areas between rows and plots are not watered.
      7. Select sustainable plants that have low requirements for water, fertilizers and pesticides. Consider planting native species that are well adapted to local soils and climate.
      8. Form ditches or basins around plants to allow water to pond and seep in slowly and to prevent runoff.
      9. Mulch landscaped and garden areas to reduce evaporation.
      10. Don’t use sprinklers and hoses for play.
      11. Use low-pressure, perforated hoses for watering shrubs and gardens rather than sprinklers.
      12. Install a rain barrel under roof downspouts to catch water flowing off the roof. Re-use the captured water in the flower or vegetable garden.
      13. Don’t leave the water running while washing your car. Allow the washwater to drain onto the lawn or garden instead of down the driveway or stormdrain.
      14. Use a broom instead of a hose to clean sidewalks, driveways, and patios.

This information was adapted from the RI Dept. of Health and the University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension, Dept of Natural Resources Science Factsheet. 2004. Water Conservation In and Around the Home.


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