How To Save On Your Water Bills

by Dr. Charlotte Gorman

INTRODUCTION

Using less water means saving money whether you are on a city water line or own your own well. If you are on the city water line, your bills come regularly. If you own your own well, you must take into account the investment you have in your water system, repair and maintenance costs, and the cost of electricity used in operating the pump.

The following table shows the average number of gallons of water used each day by the typical American family of four for specific activities such as dishwashing, cooking and drinking, utility sink (washing hands, etc.), laundry, bathing, bathroom sink, and toilet.

DAILY WATER USE BY AMERICAN FAMILY OF FOUR

ACTIVITY        GALLONS

Dishwashing – 15

Cooking and Drinking – 12

Utility Sink (washing hands, etc.) – 5

Laundry – 35

Bathing – 80

Bathroom Sink – 8

Toilet – 100

TOTAL   -   255

WAYS TO SAVE IN THE BATHROOM

1. Cut down on the number of showers and tub baths you take. Replace some of them with "sponge" baths using the bathroom lavatory. The ordinary shower, equipped with a conventional shower head, uses from 5 to 10 gallons of water per minute. Showering accounts for approximately 30 percent of the total water used in the home. The amount of water used for a tub bath can vary greatly from person to person.

2. When taking a shower, turn on the water only long enough to wet your body. Then, turn off the water. Soap your body. Turn the water back on only long enough to rinse off the soap. Follow the same steps when washing your hair in the shower.

3. Use low-flow shower heads. They can reduce water flow by as much as 40 percent.

4. Run a small amount of water for a tub bath. Do you really need a full tub or a half tub of water? Will a one-fourth tubful or less be sufficient? Be sure to place the stopper in the drain before turning on the water. Run only as much water as absolutely necessary for your bath.

5. Don’t allow the water to run continuously in the lavatory while you shave or brush your teeth. Running the tap for two minutes while you are brushing your teeth uses roughly 2 � to 4 gallons of water.

6. If possible, install aerators in the faucets in your bathroom lavatories. Aerators will reduce the flow of water.

7. Make sure that the water is not running continuously in the commode. Listen very quietly for the faint sound of running water. An alternative and probably a better way to determine whether water is escaping is to place several drops of food coloring in the commode tank. Wait 15 to 30 minutes and don’t flush the commode. If the color appears in the water in the commode bowl, you have a "leak." Locate the leak and make the necessary repairs or have them made as soon as possible. Depending on the severity of the leak, it is possible that up to 100 gallons of water could be wasted each day.

8. Put one to three tightly closed, quart plastic bottles (with rocks inside them to weight them down) inside the commode tank. Be sure to place the bottles in such a position as to not interfere with the flushing mechanism. When you flush the commode, one to three fewer quarts of water will be used. Don’t use bricks for displacement of water in the commode tank. They may flake off and cause damage to the system. The flush volume of five gallons (for most conventional commodes) can be reduced by 15 percent without hindering performance.

9. Place plastic "dams" in your commode tanks. These flexible partitions are used to displace water in the tank and reduce the amount of water used with each flush of the commode. The plastic "dams" are inexpensive and should pay for themselves in a short time.

10. Don’t flush the commode unnecessarily. For instance, if the commode has been flushed after its last use, there is really no reason to flush it again before cleaning the bowl with a brush and cleaner. Also, if you happen to toss a piece of facial tissue into the commode, wait until the commode is used again before flushing the tissue away.

11. Don’t use the commode to dispose of such items as facial tissues, cotton swabs, and cotton balls. Put them in a waste-paper basket. Using the commode for trash disposal probably will lead to unnecessary flushings.

12. If you must install a new commode, consider a water-saving model. Some new models use around two gallons per flush.

13. If you purchase a new commode, consider a dual-flush model. The advantages of this type of commode are: A relatively small amount of water can be released for flushing only liquid waste, and a larger amount can be released when solid waste is present. I saw this model in a motel in which I stayed a few years ago. I do not recall the brand name.

WAYS TO SAVE IN THE LAUNDRY

Washing clothes in a conventional automatic washer uses approximately 40 to 60 gallons of water per load.

14. Check clothes to make sure they really need washing. Some pieces of clothing can be worn several times between washings. Get as many wearings as possible from a garment before washing it.

15. Save your laundry until you have enough to load your washing machine to its recommended capacity. Don’t wash small or medium loads unless your washer has water level settings for such loads. If it does have such settings, don’t forget to set them before you wash a small or medium load.

16. The permanent press cycle on most automatic clothes washers uses approximately one-third more water than the regular cycle. Therefore, limiting your use of the permanent press cycle will save water.

17. If you have only a few, small pieces of laundry, wash and rinse them by hand in the lavatory or laundry sink rather than in the clothes washer. Place the stopper in the lavatory or sink drain and run only the needed amount of water. Don’t let the water run continuously while washing and rinsing.

18. Buy clothing and household items which don’t have to be washed separately. Washing them separately will require additional use of the clothes washer (unless you wash them by hand) which means additional money for water.

19. When purchasing a clothes washer, consider a model with choices of water levels (small, medium, and large load settings). By merely pressing a button, you can save many gallons of water per load.

WAYS TO SAVE IN THE KITCHEN

20. If possible, install aerators in the kitchen water faucets. They will reduce the flow of water through the faucets.

21. Avoid unnecessary rinsing of dishes that go directly from the table into the automatic dishwasher for immediate washing. Scrape off leftover food, place them in your dishwasher, and let it do the rinsing for you.

22. Run your dishwasher only when it is full. The same amount of water will be used regardless of the size of the load. Get as much as you can for your water dollar.

23. Compare the water requirements of different dishwashers before buying one. If all other things are almost equal, consider purchasing the model which has a "water miser" cycle, which uses less water than the normal wash cycle.

24. After washing, rinsing, and drying dishes which you use only occasionally, wrap them in plastic wrap, put them in plastic bags, or cover them in some other manner to keep them clean. This will save you the time and the water required for washing them again before the next use.

25. Heat a kettle of water for various small uses rather than draw hot water from the tap. Depending on the distance of the water heater from the tap, many gallons of water may have to be run off before the hot water reaches the tap.

26. Use a pan when washing vegetables and fruits. When you have finished, use the water to water plants. Reusing water is like getting double value for your water dollar.

27. Limit the number of utensils you use in preparing food as well as plates, flatware, glasses, and other dishes used with meals. Generally, the more items you have to wash, the more water will be required.

28. Use the smallest amount of water necessary in pans to cook foods. Saving a cup here and a pint there will add up to a considerable number of gallons over a month’s time.

29. Use tight-fitting lids on pans when cooking to minimize the loss of steam. Steam that escapes is water wasted. There are, of course, certain foods and recipes which necessitate the pan to be uncovered while cooking. Follow the instructions given in the recipe and also use your own good judgement. Saving even a small amount of water when you cook can add up to significant savings on your water bill over time.

30. Place drinking water on the table only if people really drink it. Pouring unused water down the drain is like throwing money out of the window. (Incidentally, some restaurants will bring water to your table only if you request it.)

31. Keep a container of water for drinking in the refrigerator or in an insulated container on the counter. This will save your having to run extra water from the cold water tap to get water cool enough for drinking. During hot weather, you could waste one or more gallons of water each time you go to the tap for a drink.32. Take ice trays from the refrigerator a few minutes before the ice is needed so that the ice cubes can be removed without having to run water over the trays.

33. If you want to save money on your water bill, don’t use running water to thaw frozen foods. Take them from the freezer in time for them to thaw before eating or cooking them. (Thaw meat, poultry, and fish in the refrigerator to avoid possible food poisoning. Other foods or dishes, also, may need to be thawed in the refrigerator, rather than on the kitchen counter. Use your good judgement.) Perishable foods should not remain in the temperature danger zone (41 – 140 degrees F) for more than two hours.

34. Use your garbage disposer sparingly. Consider putting certain kinds of food scraps in the garbage bag. Put selected food scraps in a compost for use in fertilizing the plants in your yard or vegetable garden. There will be fewer remaining scraps to go in the garbage disposer. Garbage disposers require water for proper operation, and water costs money.

WAYS TO SAVE ON HOUSEHOLD CLEANING

35. Wipe up small spills and spots immediately to avoid frequent and widespread mopping of floors. Cleaning small areas requires less water than mopping the entire floor.

36. Save up routine household cleaning jobs and do them all at one time to conserve water. Using the same water, start with the lightest soiled surface and end with the heaviest soiled surface. For example, start with the mirrors and end, eventually, with the floors. A few gallons of water saved each time you clean can add up to noticeable savings, moneywise, over time.

WAYS TO SAVE IN THE YARD AND VEGETABLE GARDEN

37. Water your vegetable garden, lawn, and outdoor plants only when necessary. Unnecessary watering wastes water, time, and your money.

38. Mulch plants in your yard and vegetable garden to help hold moisture in the soil. Spread leaves, cut grass, pieces of bark, plastic, and other appropriate materials around the plants. (Make sure that the mulch does not prevent water from soaking into the soil when you do water or when it rains.) The longer you can keep the soil moist through mulching, the more money you will save on watering.

39. Whenever possible, water your lawn, yard plants, and the vegetable garden only in the early morning, late afternoon, or evening. It is best to refrain from watering in the heat of the day, when it is windy, or when the sun is shining brightly. Under these conditions, you waste a large amount of water through evaporation.

40. Use a "soaker" hose rather than a sprinkler, where possible. Less water is required when a "soaker" hose is used because the water is concentrated on the soil nearer the roots; and there is, also, less evaporation.

41. Use drought resistant grasses and plants which can survive on limited amounts of water. The fewer times you must water your yard, the lower your water bill.

42. Remove weeds from your yard and vegetable garden. Weeds use water which could be used by your vegetables, flowers, shrubs, trees, and grass. A weed-free yard or garden will require less water than one infested with weeds.

WAYS TO SAVE ON CAR WASHING

43. Rinse off your car with the water hose first. Use low pressure so as not to cause the grit to scratch the finish. Then, turn off the water. Next, wash your car with a soft cloth or sponge and bucket of water. Finally, rinse the car again with the water hose. Don’t let the water run continuously while you wash the car. Letting the water hose run gently for a 20- minute car wash uses approximately 79 gallons of water. Turning the water on only for the initial and final rinsings could save you quite a tidy sum of money on water over the period of time you own your car.

44. When it is raining gently, leave your car out of the garage and let the rain "wash" the car for you. Rainwater is free.

MISCELLANEOUS WAYS TO SAVE WATER

45. Turn off water faucets completely and immediately after each use to avoid wasting water and money.

46. Repair dripping faucets. A slow, steady drip (100 drops per minute) wastes 330 gallons of water in a month. That’s nearly 4,000 gallons per year.

47. Locate and repair, as soon as possible, all leaking water pipes detected by visual inspection. For example, you normally can suspect a leak if you find unexplained dark green patches of grass or a permanently damp area of ground on your property. An unexplained jump in your water bill may also indicate a leak in your water mains.

48. Check to see if there are leaks in your plumbing system which are not evident from visual inspection. To do this, first turn off completely all water faucets inside and outside of the house, turn off the automatic icemaker, and don’t flush the commode. Watch your water meter for one-half hour. If the dial on the water meter moves, you have a leak somewhere. Locate the leak and repair it as soon as possible. The longer you delay repairs, the more water and money you will waste.

49. Don’t let children play with the water hose. Thirty minutes of fun could waste up to several hundred gallons of water. Even water used for play costs money.

50. Install your water heater as near as possible to the area in which the most hot water is used. The farther the water heater is away from the point of use, the greater the amount of cool water which must be run off before hot water reaches the tap.

51. Insulate hot water pipes. Insulation will help minimize the cooling down of hot water in the pipes; therefore, less cool water should have to be drawn off before the hot water is available for use at the tap.

52. Cover wading and swimming pools when they are not in use to reduce evaporation. Evaporation necessitates the use of more water to keep the pools filled.

53. Use a broom to sweep the garage, sidewalks, and driveway. Don’t remove debris by hosing it off with water. You could use over 100 gallons of water in hosing off the above.

54. When you are away from home for more than a day, consider turning off the water supply to your outside faucets. This will prevent loss of water should someone turn on the outside faucets while you are away. Or, you might consider placing locks on the outside faucets to prevent someone from turning them on. These precautions could save you from an unexpected rise in your water bill.

Source:  Dr. Charlotte Gorman is an Extension Agent – Family & Consumer Sciences, Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A & M University System. She is the author of The Frugal Mind, The Little Book of Living Frugal, and co-author of Speak for Yourself: A Handbook on Practical Public Speaking. E-mail: cagorman@digitex.net .