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faucetI live about 20 minutes north of Atlanta. For some time, and particularly since last October, we have been in the midst of a severe drought condition; although the condition has slightly abated, we are still faced with extreme, some would say draconian (look it up -- it'll be your word of the day), water restrictions -- in essence, pretty much all homeowner outdoor watering is prohibited.

Although some slight relief from the ban is expected in the coming months, thanks to winter rains, we are all going to have to reduce our water consumption so that we have something to drink next Summer. To that end, here are some suggestions; some you've seen and a number, I'll wager, you haven't.

But first, some visuals.

First, an easy way to check for unseen water leaks. Make sure that all of the water-using fixtures in your home are not in service: faucets, toilets, dish and clothes washers and the like. Then head for your water meter and note the reading on the dial, and particularly, the location of the gallon "arrow". Now go somewhere and do something for at least an hour.

Upon your return, check the meter to see if any water has been used; if not, you are good to go; if so, you now need to start looking for previously unseen water leaks which likely will be hidden in a crawl space, garage, or the vicinity of outdoor faucets, etc. After finding and fixing these, and it will probably be a real chore, you can get on with the business of tweaking your water reduction program.

For the inside of your residence, my suggestions:

  • faucets -- low-flow nozzles are a real advantage; also replace leaking faucet washers and don't forget to look under the cabinet for leaks. If you want to go really high-tech, look into infra-red taps.
  • toilets -- you can use food coloring in the tank to determine if water is leaking through the flapper valve into the bowl; a replacement flapper is a couple bucks. Additionally, if your fixture is not low-flow, put a gallon water jug, filled with water, in the tank to displace extra flush water. For my part, I have adjusted the float levels in my toilet tanks to fill the tank only about 1/2 full, but the water jug trick is easier. (For you more progressive types: I have seen, in the Caribbean, signs in the bathrooms that read -- "In this land of fun and sun, we don't flush for number one" -- 'nuff said.)
  • sinks -- when shaving, or brushing your choppers, don't run the water continuously.
  • showers -- I'm not a proponent of the Navy's "rain locker" shower program, wherein you get wet, soap up with the water off, and rinse down. In addition to having a low-flow nozzle, I put a five gallon bucket in the shower basin; it fills in about 6 minutes and is not only a convenient "get out of the shower" timer, but I then use the water on my outside plants.
  • I guess I don't need to belabor the point that you should only run your dishwasher with a full load.
  • clothes washers -- again, you should only run full loads; if you are fortunate to own a front-load washer, know that you are using about half the water of top-loaders. (As an aside, if you note the instructions on a box of laundry soap, you will likely find that you don't need hot water to do all your laundry; generally, you can use a warm/cold setting. While this won't save you any water, it will save you some hot water, with the attendant heating cost.)
  • I have a solar hot water heating panel, which I can use from mid-March to mid-November; during the "shoulder" seasons, if the nightly temperature drops below freezing, I use the panel during the day, then drain it into my clothes washer at night, so as not to waste the water; it's already warm, and I can then run a load of clothes; it takes a bit of scheduling forethought to make this happen efficiently, but I got the hang of it.
  • hot water heaters -- conventional tanks won't necessarily save you any water, but if you locate them in a heated space, and insulate them, you save water by not running the hot side a long time to get the water to a distant site for use. Alternatively, a tankless water heater (long used by our European friends) is a great way to cut down on water going down the drain while waiting on the hot water to arrive at the faucet.
  • Insulating the hot water lines throughout your home is a great way to save both energy costs and water; no sense heating up a crawl space or attic while waiting for the hot water to arrive at the faucets or clothes washer. Dollar for dollar, insulating has the best cost-benefit ratio for saving money, in my view.

For the outside of your home; really fertile ground (so to speak):

  • for your planting areas, use drip irrigation. It applies the right amount of water for the right amount of time -- good stuff. Whether you have drip or overhead irrigation, use a moisture sensor or a rain sensor to keep the system from running unnecessarily.
  • pipe your downspout drains to either a rain barrel or to your planting areas; I have done the latter, directing the water to areas that are inconvenient for sprinkler irrigation.
  • plant drought-resistant plants in a xeriscape plan and you'll be well satisfied with the results; most low-water-needs plants are native to your area, so you don't generally have to baby them, after initial watering.
  • don't water excessively -- more plants die from too much water, rather than too little. If you're in a water-saving scenario, water your trees, shrubs, and perennials first, and the annuals last.
  • as for your turf, aerate it so the moisture gets to the roots and cut the grass taller in high Summer (I raise the blade of my mower an inch per month in June, July, and August). Avoid planting turf on a slope as the water absorption is very inefficient; that pretty much goes for shrubs, also, unless you are using drip irrigation or spot-watering them by hand.
  • the best time to water is on a windless morning, before 9 AM; that helps keep the moisture from ending up in the neighbor's yard and allows the plants or turf to dry out during the day. In my neck of the woods, one inch of water per week is the right amount (you'll have to decide what's right for you.) I use a rain gauge to keep track of what's needed -- an open tuna can (eat the tuna first) will suffice nicely as a substitute.
  • use the minimum amount of fertilizer necessary to keep your turf and plants healthy, thus requiring less water.
  • mulch your plants to retain moisture and minimize extra watering.
  • instead of washing down your driveway or sidewalks, use a broom or leaf blower.
  • wash your car with a waterless car wash liquid.
  • permeable pavers, also known as pervious pavers, allow rainwater to soak through their openings, where the water is naturally filtered and then returns to the groundwater source without running down the street -- what a deal! Classic recycling of a limited resource.

OK, that's my story and I'm stickin' to it. Conserve water, save money, and help Mother Nature -- can it be better than that?

  • Adam Burton

    Those are great tips, Bill. Water conservation is becoming a big issue allover the country, and a lot of companies are coming up with interesting solutions. Check out some stuff in Moen's new Rothbury line - the faucets and shower heads are designed to help reduce water usage, but still be stylish and functional.

  • WaiWela

    The WaiWela Mini Tanks are great point-of-use tankless water heaters that actually contribute to water conservation. They are available for "under the sink" use in either 2.5 gpm or 4.0 gpm. Look into it at!

  • Lawrence Self

    Great article! Well written, interesting, informative and fun to read. Do some more..... perhaps how to drive to save petrol, low energy recipes for the kitchen, how to build a solar hot water heater for fifty cents....
    turn old plastic soda bottles into a home nuclear reactor,....

  • 3 Comments / 1 Pages

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