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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Making Water Conservation a Way of Life – Outdoors

Reimagine your thirsty yard.

If you live in a dry area, consider beginning your water conservation efforts in your yard, which can account for 50-70% of your household’s water use. By taking steps to make your yard less thirsty you have an opportunity to reimagine your yard and create one that is both beautiful and suited to the climate where you live.

For those of us living in areas with low annual rainfall or in drought-prone regions, even if it is wet now, there will be dry times ahead and drought in the future. The best time to prepare for a drought is before it occurs.

I am a lifelong Californian and a ten-year resident of a small town that relies on rainfall to refill our municipal water wells. The 2012-2017 drought posed a serious threat to our town. Water well levels dipped dangerously low. The water company issued severe water conservation mandates and pleaded with the town’s residents to save water. We collectively responded by drastically reducing our water use and fortunately, the wells did not run dry.

My relationship with water changed forever.

This is the second of a three-part series about making water conservation a normal and routine part of your daily life. In the first post, I attempted to convince readers that now is an excellent time to implement water saving ideas (at least in California). To back up my suggestion that there is no reason to wait, I provided a summary of how our six years of water conservation has really paid off with substantial water and money savings.

In this post and the next one, you will have an opportunity to read about how our household has made water conservation a way of life. I am not trying to suggest that we are paragons of water saving or that we know everything there is to know about it. However, we have done and learned a few things about conserving water in our yard and in our home that I hope you will find useful or that will spark a few ideas of your own.

We will begin with saving water outdoors.

Healthy, Beautiful and Drought Resistant Yard

Our town on the California Central Coast is in the midst of a very stressed out and precious Monterey pine forest. When we moved here from Southern California, we left our two thirsty turf grass lawns behind and learned to love our mostly wild yard, even during its dry dormant periods. As it turned out, not having any lawns gave us a huge head start on making our yard drought resistant.

Getting rid of turf grass lawns is probably the best thing you can do to reduce your water use (and pesticide use) but it is a huge and potentially costly undertaking. Anyone who does take out their lawn and puts in native plants and trees or a food garden is a hero in my book. An alternative to tackling the whole lawn is to remove a small section and plant natives or food crops. If everyone did this, it would save a significant amount of water, especially in large urban areas with low rainfall. In a dry region, the best place for lawns is at parks, schools, and other public places where many people can enjoy them.

Native Plants

When we moved here, we set about restoring the land and making our yard as drought resistant as possible. Over the years, I have spread literally tons of wood chips around the yard to help build healthy soil that retains water and nourishes the plants and trees.

Umpteen 96-gallon green waste receptacles have been filled with invasive plants that crowd out the native plants that should be growing here. Each year, I conduct an invasive plant patrol and try to remove as many of the worst ones that I can. I swear if you just stand still ice plant will grow before your very eyes and thistles seem to grow a foot overnight.

We encourage the native plants and trees that volunteer to grow in our yard and we have planted some on purpose. We do not have an irrigation system so the plants and trees have to live on either rainfall or being watered by bucket or watering can. Hiking around the yard carrying a 2-gallon watering can full of water is good exercise.

Outdoor Watering Ban

At the height of the drought, outdoor watering with municipal water was completely banned.

At first, the water company placed a huge tank of non-potable water (not drinking quality) in town where you could come get water free. Suddenly, almost every pickup truck was sporting a portable 250-gallon water storage tank and they started appearing in people’s yards. Residents with an entrepreneurial streak began providing water delivery and watering services.

This free water tank soon disappeared. Then a few local farmers with water to spare began selling water for a reasonable price, but you or a water delivery service had to come get it.

In an attempt to save our Monterey pine trees, we did pay a watering service to water our trees several times but it was expensive. We decided to stop the service and hope for the best. Some of our trees did die but thankfully many of them lived through the drought.

Bucket Brigade

Early on in the drought, we decided to try to collect some of the water from our faucets and showers so we could water our very few potted plants and Rosie, the venerable climbing rose bush that had been planted by the original owner of the house.

Rosie the Climbing Rose Bush in Front of Our House
We watered Rosie the climbing rose bush in front our house by bucket during the drought.

We began using the plastic dish tubs we had on hand but they were unwieldy so we bought several plastic buckets for about $25.00 total. One bucket sat in the kitchen sink collecting the water we used for rinsing and washing fruits and vegetables. Each shower was equipped with a bucket for collecting water during that first 30 seconds or so it takes hot water to make it up the pipe. I used a plastic bowl in my bathroom sink to collect cold water before it was warm enough to wash my face.

The bucket brigade may sound like a weird practice but you might be surprised at how much water flows down the drains in your home. Why not put it to good use.

Rain Barrel

In 2016, even though there had not been any rain to speak of yet, I bought a 50-gallon rain barrel and my spouse installed it. Instead of being filled with rain, we filled it with water from our indoor buckets. This gave us an extra 50 gallons of water that we kept refilling. With a hose attached to the spigot, we watered the trees and plants that we could reach with the hose.

We still use the buckets and the rain barrel.

Blue Jay Standing in Our Birdbath
A blue jay stands in our birdbath, which I kept filled with fresh water during the drought.

Throughout the drought, I consistently defied the outdoor watering ban by refilling our birdbath with water from the outdoor faucet. I also repurposed two large terra cotta pot bottoms as water saucers to provide drinking water for the parched birds, deer, and other animals that live in our neighborhood.

When we first moved here, I missed our turf grass lawns and I even considered planting a tiny patch. Fortunately, I waited long enough to do it so that I no longer wanted to. Now, I think our yard is beautiful.

As the saying goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” so reimagine your less thirsty and drought resistant yard to suit your vision. Water conservation is a gift you give yourself as well as the other living things in your yard and your neighborhood. I can see the trees smiling and hear the birds singing.

In the third and last post of this series, we will move indoors to discuss making water conservation a part of your daily life.

Featured Image at Top: A majestic Monterey pine tree in our yard silhouetted against a colorful sunset.

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