Making Water Conservation a Way of Life – Indoors

Water conservation is a gift that keeps on giving.

Once you make water conservation a part of your daily life, you can almost effortlessly save water and money, month after month, year after year. It all adds up.

During the 2012-2017 drought in California, our small town on the Central Coast worried about running out of water. The water company imposed severe water use restrictions. Residents, businesses, and visitors all contributed to a massive reduction in the town’s water use. We made it through the drought.

This is the third post in a three-part series about making water conservation a way of life.

In the first post, I shared six years of our household’s water data to illustrate how water and cost savings can add up over time. The second post focused on ideas for making your yard both beautiful and drought resistant.

The third post is about indoor water use habits and water saving devices. My intent is to show you what is possible so that you can come up with your own ideas that will suit you and your family.

To me, water conservation is like eating a healthy diet. The best approach is to make changes and do things that you can do for the rest of your life.

Changing Water Use Habits and Installing Water Saving Devices

Picture your morning routine. Chances are you do certain things each day, almost without thinking, like making your bed, starting the coffee maker, or taking a shower. You probably have water use habits you learned over years or decades that you could change or stop.

Without spending any money, you can evaluate your water use habits and implement some water saving ideas. Purchasing and installing water saving devices can substantially increase water conservation, but you can still participate even if you buy nothing.

During the drought, we experimented with various behavioral changes. Some things worked and some did not. Over several years, we adopted water use practices that we could envision ourselves doing forever.

Doing Laundry

Changing laundry habits required significant reprogramming for me. We took a two-pronged approach to conserving water in the laundry room. First, we attempted to generate less laundry and then wash only full loads. That was easier said than done.

Creating less laundry meant being more thoughtful about getting dressed and undressed. For instance, instead of automatically tossing a t-shirt in the laundry basket, I had to learn to consciously decide whether it could be worn again or not. I became accustomed to wearing the same pants for several days or purposefully wearing a pair that I had worn earlier in the week and hung up in my closet.

I began washing towels and sheets every two weeks instead of once a week and I still do.

Back when I learned to do laundry, sorting and washing by color and fabric was important. If you threw a red shirt in with white socks, you might end up with pink socks. Today’s colorfast and blended fabrics can often be washed together (read the labels) making it easier to do full loads. Nowadays, I sort laundry into full load piles and I separate items by fabric weight before I put them in the dryer to make drying more efficient.

Fortunately, no one in our household ever requests extra laundry loads be done because their favorite whatever is in the laundry hamper.

Washing Dishes

If you have a dishwasher, use it.

A standard kitchen faucet pumps out 2 gallons of water per minute or more so if you run it for just 10 minutes while doing the dishes by hand you will have used 20 gallons of water. Older dishwashers use about 10-15 gallons of water per cycle and new models reduce water use by 50% or more.

Using the dishwasher was not a problem for me, but I was an over rinser. It was a hard habit to break. To find the sweet spot for our dishwasher I tried by putting in dishes with varying amounts of food left on and then seeing if they got clean or not. I also learned how to load the dishwasher to make sure the spray nozzles could reach the insides and outsides of the dishes.

Water and Energy Efficient Bosch Dishwasher

Our water conservation efforts got a boost in 2013 that put a dent in our wallet. The pump on our home’s original 23-year-old dishwasher died in a puff of smoke.

We considered having it repaired but decided to buy a new water and energy efficient dishwasher. It cost $570.00 plus tax and installation.

If you do not have a dishwasher or just want to do your dishes by hand, consider switching out your old kitchen faucet to a model that saves water every time you turn it on.

Showering and Bathing

Taking long, hot showers or taking a bath in a bathtub is not consistent with living in a drought-prone area.

In 2012, I decided to time how long it took me to take a shower (on average) so I could figure out how much water I was using. A standard showerhead pumps out 2.5 gallons of water per minute or more. At that rate, a 10-minute shower uses 25 gallons of water. A low flow showerhead uses a maximum of 2.0 gallons per minute and many models use less.

Low Flow Handheld Showerhead
Low Flow Handheld Showerhead that I Installed.

We decided to try a low flow handheld showerhead and I found one that used 1.6 gallons of water per minute for $45.00, which I installed. I am not the least bit handy so this demonstrates that almost anyone can do it. A handheld showerhead makes rinsing off easier, saving more water, so we decided to replace our other two showerheads.

As the drought worsened, we had to double down on water conservation so we probably took more basin baths than showers for a time. To take a basin bath you put your bath mat in front of your bathroom sink, fill the basin with water, wet a washcloth and soap up, and then use the water in the basin and your washcloth to rinse off. I did not like this at all.

I started practicing taking showers as quickly as possible without being ridiculous and eventually, this just became a normal way to take a shower. At one point, I decided to try taking a shower every other day unless I had been doing something that involved getting sweaty or dirty. Surprisingly, the condition of my skin and hair actually improved with less showering. On non-shower days, I would wash my face in the morning and before I went to bed. I still do this.

Flushing Toilets

Toilets are water hogs accounting for about 27% of indoor household water use. Older toilets use 3-5 gallons of water per flush or more and often develop slow leaks over time that end up wasting a lot of water. Newer models use 1.6 gallons per flush and high-efficiency toilets use 1.28 gallons per flush.

In 2014, we tried the “if its yellow, let it mellow” toilet flushing policy for a while but it did not seem like a good long-term strategy. Neither did putting a brick in the toilet tank or installing one of the retrofit kits that were being marketed as inexpensive ways to make your old toilet more water efficient.

Dual Flush High Efficiency ToiletWe decided to replace our three old leaky toilets with new high-efficiency toilets. At $560 each plus tax and installation, this was an expensive investment (the water company gave us a $25 rebate per toilet).

The toilet user pushes the lever one way to flush with 0.9 gallons of water and the other way to flush with 1.28 gallons of water (there is a label on top of the toilet tank).

After more than three years, the toilets work flawlessly and are well on their way to paying for their acquisition cost in water savings. Even if we moved tomorrow, I would be happy to have provided the next occupant with toilets that will continue conserving water for decades.

If after reading this post, you feel like racing to the nearest home improvement store to buy a high-efficiency toilet, great, if not that is okay, too.

Perhaps trying some water conservation habits is right for you. All it takes is the willingness to question the way you use water and to try out water saving ideas until you find the ones you and your family can live with. In a severe drought, you can up the ante by dusting off some of the ideas you tried and decided against (like basin baths).

I realize that many people rent an apartment, house, or condominium so dealing with a landlord or facility manager may present a challenge especially if you want to convince them to install water saving devices. If anyone has experience with this, please share with other readers.

Regardless, you can reduce your water use through behavioral changes without involving your landlord. If utilities like water are included in your rent, then you might not reap the financial benefits of reducing your water use, but that does not mean it is not worth doing.

Water conservation is a gift we give to ourselves and all the living things sharing the planet with us.

Featured Image at Top: Water Drop Falling into Water Making Concentric Circles – Photo Credit Shutterstock/science photo

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Greening Your Laundry Habits

Freshly Washed Towels with Bottles of White Distilled Vinegar

Greening your laundry habits may be easier than you think. Laziness and using fewer products are the keys to success.

Doing laundry is a habit, something you do routinely without giving much thought to it. Over the course of your lifetime, you will either do or contribute to thousands of loads of laundry. When you consider that everyone else around the country is also doing thousands of loads of laundry, you realize it all adds up.

Laundry Habits and the Environment

Each load of laundry uses water, electricity, and possibly natural gas. So does making washers, dryers, and laundry products and their containers. If you use liquid laundry products, which consist mostly of water you are paying for diesel-powered semi trucks to transport extra water and then flushing it down the drain. Recycling plastic and cardboard containers are better than tossing them in the trash, but recycling also uses energy and creates waste.

All the substances that you flush down your washing machine, toilet, sink, shower, and bathtub end up in at a sewer treatment plant, unless you have a septic tank in which case your wastewater percolates into the ground. Sewer treatment plants primarily attempt to remove solids and kill pathogens before pumping the remaining effluent into an ocean, lake, river, stream, or aquifer. Although many natural and synthetic compounds are broken down in water, not all are. The more substances wastewater treatment plants have to deal with the more energy and chemicals they use to clean the water.

Here are some easy actions you can take to green your laundry habits.

Laundry Laziness Policy

My sons introduced me to the concept of laundry laziness.

Upon arriving at their college dorm rooms, the quickly abandoned most of the laundry habits I had taught them and laundry piled up until they would run out of clean clothes. When I asked them why they did not do their laundry every week, they responded with something like, “I have better things to do or I’m lazy.”

That got me to thinking about my own laundry routine. One thing led to the next, I began questioning everything about laundry habits and wrote about it in the post Laundry – Laziness is Good.

The drought in California forced my hand. At one point, our small town’s water supply was running dangerously low so conserving water was critical. My sons’ laundry laziness strategy seemed like a good water saving measure so I began doing only full loads of laundry and only when it became absolutely necessary.

I discovered that I could actually survive without doing small loads of laundry to wash my favorite jeans.

Laundry laziness is easy to implement because all you need is a slight change in mindset. Doing fewer loads of laundry might even save you money.

Using fewer laundry products will also help you green your laundry routine.

Use Fewer Laundry Products

Depending on how many different products you currently use to wash and dry your laundry, using fewer or in some cases, different products can substantially reduce your laundry environmental footprint.

One of the unexpected results of the drought was that I was laser focused on what we were putting down our drains. That is why I ended up standing in front of my laundry cupboard one day surveying its contents and sighing.

My collection included several different laundry detergents (you know for different fabrics), bleach, color safe bleach, an oxy additive, both a stick and a spray for pre-treating stains, liquid fabric softener, and washing machine cleaner (for the high-efficiency washer).

As I stood there, I asked myself “Do I actually need all these products to get our laundry clean?”

The answer was “I doubt it.” My next thought was “Why did I buy all this stuff in the first place?” followed by “Aha, advertising got me.” I see myself as an intelligent woman capable of making informed choices, but apparently, I had been easy prey for shrewd laundry product advertisers. Thank goodness, I came to my senses before laundry scent booster found its way into my shopping cart.

I decided to try using fewer products, which would mean fewer chemicals and other substances going down our drains or being in contact with our skin 24/7.

The first challenge was using up the products I had on hand. I did not want to dump the products I no longer wanted down the drain or toss them in the trash because that would not be environmentally sound and would waste money. Since I had bought some products in bulk, and am I now using them sparingly, I probably have enough bleach and pre-treating spray on hand to last for at least a decade.

Ditching fabric softer for distilled white vinegar was a major change for me. I buy vinegar by the gallon and transfer some into a smaller bottle which makes it easier to pour into the fabric softener dispenser of my washing machine.

Vinegar effectively removes odors and acts as a softener. The towels and clothes might not be quite as soft and fluffy, but they are soft and thankfully, they do not have that cloying “fresh laundry” smell. When static cling occurs, I just shake it out. Vinegar also keeps the washing machine clean.

I wish I had changed to vinegar years ago, but oh well.

Go look at your own laundry shelf or cupboard and then decide what products you can do without and which ones you want to change to a more environmentally and people friendly version.

Consider adopting a laundry laziness policy and then enjoy having extra time to do fun things instead of laundry.

Reader Note: If your washer is over ten years old, you could be using twice the amount of water of newer more efficient washers that also use less electricity. Old electric or natural gas dryers are also less efficient than newer models. However, I am not advocating replacing appliances that are currently in good working order. When it is time to replace your washer and dryer, consider buying water and energy saving models. Look for the ENERGY STAR label.

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