Why is Now a Good Time to Implement Water Saving Ideas?

The best time to prepare for a drought is before the drought.

Tomorrow marks the first day of spring and Thursday is World Water Day. These two events have me thinking about wildflowers and water conservation.

Where I live on the California Central Coast, we have been receiving rain showers for a couple of weeks so we are now up to a whopping 8” of rain for the season. Our dry parched yard has greeted the rain by instantly sprouting a variety of greenery that usually appears months earlier. Hopefully, wildflowers will follow.

The deer that had been ignoring our dormant yard, except to drink out of our bird baths, have begun wandering through again grazing on fresh green shoots as they traverse the yard. I do not know specifically what they eat but they are good at nosing around in the various grasses that grow here and nibbling on the plants they find tasty. Sometimes, this includes supposedly “deer resistant” plants that I would prefer they do not eat.

Last week, I spotted a note I had written on the mini wall calendar tacked up near my desk, reminding me that March 22 is World Water Day. This is a United Nations-sponsored international day of awareness that has been focusing on the importance of fresh water since 1993.

“Considering that the extent to which water resource development contributes to economic productivity and social well being is not widely appreciated, although all social and economic activities rely heavily on the supply and quality of fresh water,…” —United Nations Resolution A/RES/47/193, December 22, 1992

Yep, fresh water is important.

As a resident of a small town that came dangerously close to running out of water at the height of the latest California drought, I have developed a new appreciation for water. We had to learn how to conserve water—in a big way.

With rain falling gently outside my home office window, I decided to write a two-part post about water conservation and how saving water can and should become a normal and regular part of your life, forever.

Making Water Conservation Part of Your Daily Life

Do you think it is weird for me to bring up water conservation when it is raining? Maybe it is, however, perhaps it is an ideal time because you are not under pressure to save water.

This gives you the opportunity to leisurely review your past water bills (if you have them) and consider your household’s water use habits. Then you can decide if you want to change one or more habits and try your ideas out. If you choose to install a water-saving device or two, you have plenty of time to read reviews and shop around. Chances are the item or items you select will be in stock because right now there is a not a high demand. You might even find products on sale.

Our Rain Barrel with a Plastic Bucket
Our Rain Barrel with a Plastic Bucket

The best thing about putting water saving ideas into action now is that water conservation is like the proverbial gift that keeps on giving.

In this post, I will attempt to illustrate how our six years of water conservation has really paid off and hopefully convince you to get started with implementing your own ideas, now.

6 Years of Water Conservation Pays Off

I started keeping digital copies of our water bills in 2012, so I decided to create a spreadsheet to help me analyze both our water usage and cost of water. I knew that we had reduced our household’s water use and that water rates had gone up over the years but I had never looked at the data all together.

I was astonished by two of the results.

But, first some background on how our water bill is calculated. There is probably a wide variation in how much water costs depending on where you live and who provides your water but there are likely some similarities.

In our town, water, wastewater treatment, fire protection, parks, and other community services are provided by what is called a special district. This is basically an organization that allows communities to run their own show.

Our home’s water meter is contained in a concrete housing buried in the ground at the end of the driveway and measures our water usage in units. One unit is equivalent to 748 gallons of water.

Water and sewer charges are combined and billed every two months. There are minimum charges for both water and sewer. Added to this are charges for water and sewer based on how many units of water we use. Since the end of 2014, a surcharge is added to each bill to pay for a water project that was built during the drought (a story for another time).

Determining our water use per person per day presented a dilemma since we have had a varying number of people living in our household for the past six years. I decided to use partial residents in my calculations. For instance, if one of our sons was home from college for the summer, I counted him as a .25 resident because he lived here for a quarter of a year.

The table below summarizes our household water use for 2012 through 2017. In general, water use went down and costs went up. Adding full-time residents to our household increased our overall water use but at the same time, our water conservation strategies were saving water.

Residential Water Use 2012-2017

Two things really stood out for me.

The first is that in 2012, we had 2.25 full-time residents living in our household and in 2017, we had 4.0. We all work from home so we are using our own water during the workday. Our household size basically doubled, however, our total 2017 water use (30,668 gallons) only increased 5% from our previous high (29,172 gallons) which occurred in 2013.

The second is that although I knew our bill amount had increased over the years it was not until I did my analysis that I realized our cost per gallon of water had doubled in less than two years. That was a shocker.

These two things are significant because we have two more people living in our household but have only increased our total water use by a small amount (5%). At the same time, the price we pay per gallon has doubled ($.02 to $.04) which would mean a much higher bill if we had not reduced our water usage. Another price increase is going into effect this month.

A Case for Water Conservation

Sometimes water conservation is counterintuitive for water companies like ours whose revenue is based on the amount of water we use. Less water, less income.

Wastewater Treatment Plant
Wastewater Treatment Plant

This can cause a problem because water companies still need to operate water delivery and wastewater treatment facilities, maintain and replace aging infrastructure, and pay their employees. During a drought, water conservation ramps up and revenue decreases.

On the other hand, if water demand is increasing due to population growth as a city expands, water companies may promote water conservation to eliminate or delay the need to build costly new facilities.

Regardless, once rates go up for any utility service like electricity, cable television, or water, I have never seen them go down so it is likely water rates will continue to rise. It is a given that California and other dry regions will continue to experience droughts, which will likely increase in severity and duration.

You can do your part to conserve water by implementing water saving ideas now. Once you do, you will reap the benefits of water conservation month after month, year after year.

In the next post, you will have an opportunity to review some of our water conservation strategies which included changing our water use habits and installing water-saving equipment. Then you can decide if any of these ideas appeal to you or come up with your own.

Reader Note: You have my sympathy if you are trying to maintain one or more thirsty turf grass lawns. I am originally from Southern California where we had turf grass lawns in our front and back yards so I know how much water they can suck up. Now, our yard is mostly wild. We have lots of perennial grasses but no turf grass. Not watering a lawn has certainly made a substantial contribution to our water savings.

Featured Image at Top: Four California Mule Deer Grazing on Newly Sprouted Green Plants in Our Yard.

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Energy Awareness Month – 10 Energy Saving Tips

You have the power to conserve energy.

This October, fulfill the promise you made to yourself earlier in the year to get serious about saving energy and reducing your carbon footprint.

October is an ideal time to address your energy use for a number of reasons. First, you still have plenty of time to put energy saving ideas into action before cold winter weather arrives in earnest and the holiday season diverts your attention. Second, if you enjoy challenging yourself during national awareness days or months, you are in luck because October is Energy Awareness Month (it should be Energy Action Month). Third, reducing your energy use can also save you money.

I realize that switching to LED light bulbs and putting on a sweater instead of cranking up the heat will not stop Americans from burning fossil fuels. However, if millions of Americans take these and other seemingly small actions, it all adds up and can make a significant impact.

For instance, if each American household tackled their energy vampires for Halloween we could save 100 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and use it to provide the annual power needs of 35 million Americans.1

I believe that taking action, even a tiny action, acts as a strong antidote for inertia. The first action may be difficult but each subsequent action is easier because you gain momentum.

Are you ready to take action to save energy and reduce your carbon footprint? If you are, below are ten tips of varying degrees of difficulty and expense to help you get your creative juices flowing. Most of the tips include links to other posts where you can get more information and find useful resources.

Light with LEDs

If you have not made the switch to LED light bulbs yet, now is the time.

Residential LEDs use 75% less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs and they do not contain hazardous mercury as compact fluorescents do.2

The cost of LEDs has dropped dramatically over the past several years and now you can purchase an LED light bulb for around $2.00 maybe less (depending on wattage and type).

If you put LED bulbs in your indoor and outdoor light fixtures this month, you may not need to change a light bulb for a couple of decades and you will immediately reduce your energy use. You can even decorate your Christmas tree with a few strings of colored LEDs.

Snug House

Snug House - Scarf Wrapped Around Miniature HouseKeeping cold air outside and warm air inside during winter months and vice versa during the summer is a good idea, right. What you may not realize is how even small air leaks can wreak havoc with your heating and cooling bills. For example, a 1/8” gap under your front door lets in as much air as if the door had a 2 ¼” hole.3

Fortunately, you can shore up your home’s air defenses with a caulking gun, door sweeps, and weather stripping. You may be able to reduce some air leaks with things you have on hand like rolling up a bath towel to minimize door drafts. I folded up a piece of cardboard and stuck in a crack where the weather stripping on the fixed side of our double front door did not quite reach the threshold.

Read more in Seal Air Leaks to Reduce Home Energy Use and Cost.

Take Advantage of Your Thermostat

A thermostat is a useful device for moderating your home heating and cooling system. Turning back your thermostat 7°-10°F for 8 hours a day could save you 10% on your heating and cooling bills.If you frequently forget to adjust your thermostat when you leave for work, try hanging your keys on a hook next to it.

Learn more about thermostats, recommended temperatures, and thermostat options by reading Use Your Thermostat to Save Energy and Money.

Staying Warm Indoors

On average, home space heating consumes a whopping 42% of the energy Americans use in our homes.5 Hot air rises and cold air sinks so during the winter we are living in the coolest layer of our homes.

You probably take care to dress appropriately for the weather when you go outdoors in the winter so why not carry that theme indoors. Instead of ratcheting up your heater consider wearing clothing made of warmer materials or trying one or more of the tips in 7 Ways to Stay Warm Indoors in the Winter and Be Green.

 Shower Power

Low-flow showerheads are water and energy saving devices. Using less water also means using less energy to heat water. A standard showerhead sprays out at least 2.5 gallons of water per minute even when you are lathering up your body or washing your hair.

Low Flow Handheld ShowerheadWhen you switch to a low-flow showerhead that puts out 1.6 gallons of water per minute you can easily cut your water use by 25% and reduce the energy needed to heat your shower water. If you buy a model with a “trickle” button or a shut-off valve you can reduce your water and energy use even more by restricting the water flow while you are soaping up.

Even non-handy people like me can easily install a low-flow showerhead for under $50.00.

Use Your Dishwasher

Washing dishes by hand is not a water or energy saving activity. A kitchen faucet pumps out 2.5 gallons of water per minute so you may be using more water than you think filling up the sink or a dish tub and then rinsing dishes.

Cramming a bunch of dishes in a dishwasher willy-nilly may result in some items not getting clean so do pay attention to where the spray jets are and learn to load your dishwasher efficiently.

Green and Lazy Laundry

Doing the laundry is a habit that you learn and then repeat thousands of times over your lifetime so you may find energy and water savings hiding in your laundry room.

I did not think much about my own laundry habits until my kids went away to college but if you have children at home you do not have to wait that long. If you are interested in evaluating your laundry habits, you may find the posts Laundry – Laziness is Good and Greening Your Laundry Habits useful.

Extra Credit: Using the sun to dry your clothes on a clothesline is a significant energy saving action, but I admit that I do not do it, at least not yet.

 Tackle Your Energy Vampires

Energy Vampire - Cell Phone ChargerAn energy vampire is a piece of equipment that sucks power even when it is not in use; this is called standby power. For instance, a cell phone charger left in a wall socket or a television both draw power just standing by waiting for you to use them.

Our Halloween activity for 2013 was tackling our energy vampires. It was fun, easy, and inexpensive. A few weeks after we completed our energy vampire project I learned the hard way that cable boxes must be on standby power to receive system updates. Our cable television service was abruptly discontinued without notice because our cable box had been going offline each evening. Now I leave it on.

Energy and Water Efficient Appliances

I am not advocating buying new appliances unless you need to replace a worn out or un-repairable appliance or piece of equipment. However, if you are in the market for a new refrigerator, air conditioner, or television, consider adding energy and water efficiency to your list of must-have features.

Look for the ENERGY STAR and WaterSense labels to identify and compare appliances and equipment. I wrote about my search for a high-efficiency replacement dishwasher in Dishwashers – Top 3 Eco-Friendly Features.

Go Solar

There is no better time than right now to go solar. Solar panel prices are low, tax incentives are available, and the summer rush for solar installers is over. You can increase the value of your home with solar panels while reducing or eliminating your electric bills. If you do not want to buy a rooftop solar system, then consider leasing.

Purchasing solar panels for your home is a sound financial investment and even more importantly, it pushes the ball forward in creating a clean renewable energy future for all our children.

You can learn more about home solar panels and our real life rooftop solar experience by reading Go Solar with Home Rooftop Photovoltaics – We Did, Rooftop Solar Costs Less than You Think, and You Can Increase Your Home’s Value with Owned Solar Panels.

My energy saving action for Energy Awareness Month is washing our laundry with cold water. I know, I know, why did I not make this change years ago? My only defense is that old habits stick with you. The good news is that you and I can change our habits today or any day and make a positive impact.

I hope one or more of the above ideas has struck your interest and helped inspire you to take action to reduce your energy use and carbon footprint. Please share what you are doing to reduce energy use with other readers.

Featured Image at Top: Coal-fired power plant looming over a residential neighborhood in West Virginia – Photo Credit Wigwam Jones

Related Posts


  1. Energy Vampires and Phantom Loads – Standby Power, Green Groundswell
  2. LED Lighting – Energy.gov
  3. Energy Advice for Owners of Historic and Older Homes – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  4. Thermostats –U.S. Department of Energy
  5. Use of Energy in the United States Explained: Energy Use in Homes – U.S. Energy Information Administration