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 it’s 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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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

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References

  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