When you turn on a faucet, it may not occur to you that what’s pouring out is a limited, precious resource. But consider this: less than 1% of the planet’s water is liquid, drinkable freshwater. And that limited supply has to meet the needs of an ever-growing global population.
As Americans, we use more than our share of this scarce resource. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American family uses over 300 gallons per day at home. We spray it liberally on our lawns and flowerbeds. We bathe in it, flush our toilets with it, wash our hands and clothes and dishes in it. And all too often, we don’t stop to think about the environmental costs.
Reducing your water use at home has many benefits—for you, and for the planet as a whole. It can:
Understanding why you should conserve water is a good beginning. But to follow through, you also have to know how. These tips can help you get started.
Did you know the average household loses 10,000 gallons of water to leaks every year? That’s more than 25 gallons every day. About 10 percent of homes have bigger leaks that waste up to 90 gallons per day!
Here’s a simple way to look for water leaks in your home. Check the water meter before and after a period of at least two hours when no one is using water in the house. If the reading changes, you know there’s a leak somewhere. This checklist from the EPA can help you track it down and repair it at the source.
An even easier way to find leaks is with smart water monitoring. Water monitoring systems, such as Flume or Moen’s Flo, attach to your main water line and track water use throughout your home. These tools can detect and locate leaks in real time. Some of them can even shut off a leaking fixture automatically to prevent damage.
If you have a top-loading clothes washer, adjust the load size settings so you don’t use more water than needed for any given load. If you have a front-loader, wait until you have a full load before running it. These machines use the same amount of water on every load, so there’s no point in running them half-empty.
The same rule applies to your dishwater. Using a dishwasher is more water-efficient than washing dishes by hand, but only if the machine is fully loaded. And don’t bother to pre-rinse your dishes before loading the dishwasher. It may not get dishes any cleaner, so it’s simply a waste of water.
When it comes time to replace your washing machine, consider an ENERGY STAR model. Washers with the ENERGY STAR label use 33% less water and 25% less energy than other models. For the biggest savings, choose a front-loader. These machines use less water and energy than even the most efficient top-loaders, and they clean better too.
Any time you leave water running while you’re not actively using it, it’s just going to waste. According to the EPA, leaving a faucet running while you shave or brush your teeth could waste as much as 3,000 gallons per year.
Long showers aren’t exactly a waste of water, but they’re an expensive luxury. A typical showerhead uses 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm). That’s 25 gallons of water for a 10-minute shower—and if it’s hot water, you’re sending energy down the drain too.
To save water when showering, set a timer. When it goes off, you know it’s time to hop out and dry off. Or, to make it more fun, turn on a favorite music playlist on your phone. Try to get in and out of the shower before the first two songs are finished.
Can’t bear to shorten your showers? You can still cut water use with a WaterSense showerhead. These models use no more than 2 gpm, cutting your water use for a 10-minute shower by 5 gallons.
You can also find the WaterSense label on bathroom faucets. These faucets use no more than 1.5 gpm, compared to 2.2 gpm for a standard faucet. Upgrading old faucets to WaterSense models can save the average family 700 gallons of water per year. And you don’t always have to replace the faucets to get these savings. Often, you can buy a WaterSense aerator for just a few dollars and twist it onto the tap.
For even bigger savings, upgrade to a low-flow toilet. Old toilets are one of a home’s biggest water hogs, using as much as 6 gallons per flush. By contrast, modern toilets use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush, and WaterSense models use only 1.28 gallons. To see how much all these water savings can add up, check out the EPA WaterSense calculator.
Around 30% of the average U.S. household’s water use—and up to 60% in dry regions—occurs outdoors. More than half of this outdoor water use is for irrigation, or watering lawns and gardens. Unfortunately, up to half the water used for irrigation is wasted. It runs off, blows away, or evaporates, rather than flowing down to plants’ roots where it’s needed.
To waste less water outdoors, water your lawn or garden in the morning or evening. (Better yet, practice sustainable gardening that requires less water!) You’ll lose less water to evaporation at these cooler times of day. To reduce evaporation loss from the lawn still more, “cut it high and let it lie.” Set the mower blade at 2 to 4 inches high and leave clippings on the lawn rather than bagging them.
To figure out how much to water, put a few empty tuna cans around the yard while running the sprinkler. Time how long it takes for them to fill up to about half an inch. Run your sprinkler for that amount of time twice per week in dry weather, and less when it rains. Or use a WaterSense irrigation controller to adjust the amount of water based on your climate and soil conditions.
To save even more water, consider reducing the size of your lawn altogether. Replace thirsty turfgrass with native species and other plants that can thrive on less water in your location. To find suitable plants, check out the EPA’s links to landscaping resources for each state.
Another way to cut water use outdoors is to install a rain barrel. By hooking up a barrel to a downspout from your roof, you can save rainwater for later use. This water can pick up pollutants from your roof surface, so it’s not suitable for drinking. But you can use it for watering lawns and other non-edible plants or for washing your car.
When installing a rain barrel, take a few precautions. First, check your local regulations. Some states restrict the amount of rainwater homeowners can harvest. On the other hand, some cities and towns distribute rain barrels to residents free or at a low cost. (If yours doesn’t, you can find barrels at home or garden supply stores or online.)
Second, make sure the opening of the rain barrel is covered with a fine-mesh screen. Otherwise, the standing water in the barrel can become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
It might surprise you to learn that most of your personal water usage doesn’t take place in your home. Your “water footprint” also includes the water that’s used to produce the food you eat the products you buy.
Roughly half of the average American’s water footprint comes from food alone. Here’s how much water it takes to produce one pound of several different foods:
|Food product||Gallons per pound|
Source: Water Footprint Network
As you can see, most of the biggest water users are animal products, especially beef. One of the best things you can do to reduce the water footprint of your diet is to cut back on your meat consumption. A more plant-based diet has a lower carbon footprint, too, and studies show it’s both healthier and cheaper.
When you do eat meat, choose pasture-raised meat if you can. Pasture-raised beef draws less from the water supply and produces less water pollution. As for the rest of your diet, choose whole foods rather than highly processed snack foods or frozen dinners.
Finally, do your best to avoid food waste. Nearly 40% of all the food grown in America is wasted, and nearly 25% of our freshwater goes toward producing wasted food.
Looking for more ways to save water at home? Try the Water Footprint Calculator tool. This five-minute quiz can show you where your household uses most water—indoors, outdoors, and indirectly. You can see where your water footprint is biggest and link to tips on how to shrink it. You can even request an email reminder to check back in three months and see how much you’ve managed to save.
Reducing your water footprint doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. In fact, some of the biggest changes you can make—like eating less meat or reducing lawn size—will actually save you money. And at the same time, they’ll help you invest in something more precious than money: a better world. By cutting your water use today, you’ll preserve water, food, and the beauty of nature for generations to come.