Indoor water cents
By Megan Bame
for the Salisbury Post
Water conservation is nothing new, but when rainfall is normal and lake levels are high, it’s easy to be complacent. It’s easy to pay no mind to how much water runs from the tap, or the hose, or the showerheads. Only when large geographic areas are gripped by drought and big cities start warning that the seemingly endless water supply may be exhausted within 30 days do folks start to look for ways that they can conserve.
While the recent rains in North Carolina are starting to relieve water use restrictions, that doesn’t mean that it’s time to set aside the conservation measures. Some municipalities, like Salisbury, have never been in danger of running out of water. However, residents heeded the voluntary restrictions and reduced water use by around 30 percent, according to Salisbury-Rowan Utilities.
Water conservation is about more than one town’s surplus or another town’s deficit during a time of extreme drought ó remember, the majority of residents in Rowan County are on well-water. It’s no doubt that as lakes and ponds dried up, those folks noticed and they too looked for ways to conserve.
Just like so many other environmentally responsible actions, water conservation is a “big picture” effort. The fact is, the supply of potable water is limited. Individual participation may seem insignificant, but collectively, individuals can make a huge impact on the future availability of this precious resource and they can probably save a few pennies ó or dollars ó along the way.
Although outdoor sprinklers may be easy to spot and therefore easy to regulate, the vast majority of a household’s water use occurs indoors. Developing a conservation mindset will help every member of the family work toward using less water. For example, new recyclers head to the trashcan out of habit, but before tossing the waste in, they consider, “Can I recycle this?” If the answer is yes, it goes in the appropriate bin, and eventually the old habit is replaced. The same effort can be applied to water use in the house. Just start paying attention when water is on and how much of it is going down the drain ó often unused.
Accounting for more than half of the indoor water use, the bathroom is a great place to start conserving and there are plenty of low cost solutions that won’t even be noticeable. Water use can be attributed to at least three locations within the bathroom: the toilet, the bath/shower and the sink.
The toilet is the biggest user of indoor water, which is slightly ironic since that water is only used to carry our waste and we probably don’t even consider it as water use we can control. Older toilets can use up to seven gallons per flush. (Try to visualize gallons by thinking of milk jugs or 5-gallon buckets.)
In the case of toilets, the greatest water saver comes at the greatest expense. New model low-flow toilets use 1.6 gallons per flush, or less.
Unfortunately, the early model low-flow toilets had a bad reputation for poor flushing and often required a double flush, which compromised the intended water savings and was annoying to the user. However, newer models have the flush force necessary to dispose of waste with one low volume flush.
A new toilet will cost $100-300. The water savings for switching from a 5-gallon flush to a 1.6-gallon flush for a toilet that is flushed 10 times per day would be more than 30 gallons daily or more than 12,000 gallons annually. The savings in one year, based on the current water rate of Salisbury-Rowan Utilities, would be $109.
If you aren’t in the market for a new toilet, there are other ways to save. Displacement in the tank is an easy, inexpensive option. Simply fill a plastic bottle with water and place it in the toilet tank. A 2-liter bottle will reduce each flush by a half-gallon. Do not use bricks for displacement since they can deteriorate and cause mechanical problems.
While you’ve got the tank open, you can give your toilet a check-up to make sure it isn’t leaking. Put a few drops of blue food coloring in the tank. Do not flush, but return later to see if the water in the bowl has turned blue. If so, you can fix the leak and save more than 600 gallons per month.
Although there are some compounding factors such as length of shower and showerhead flow rate, generally speaking, showers use less water than baths. Baths require 30-50 gallons of water. Showerheads in most homes built prior to 1992 use at least five gallons per minute. At that rate, a 10-minute shower will rival a bath.
Keeping a shower to 5 minutes (of course that includes the “warm up” time) is the waterwise recommendation. Just for fun, use a timer to find out how long each family member showers. Hard-core water savers will only use the water to wet and rinse, turning it off as they lather up.
Low-flow, high pressure showerheads use 2.5 gallons per minute or less. Prices range from $5 to $25 and installation is a do-it-yourself job. In addition to saving water, your energy costs will also be reduced by consuming less hot water. If you don’t know what flow pressure your showerhead is, try this simple test. Place a 1-gallon bucket beneath the showerhead. If the bucket is filled in less than 20 seconds, your showerhead uses more than 3 gallons per minute and is not a low-flow model.
Switching from a daily 10-minute shower using 5 gallons per minute to a 5-minute shower using 2.5 gallons a minute would be an annual savings of more than 13,000 gallons and $125.
The first step is to pay attention to lazy water use. Don’t let the water run while you’re brushing your teeth or shaving. When you turn it off, make sure that it’s not dripping ó a leaky faucet can use 140 gallons of water per week!
In the sink (and the shower), it may take a couple minutes for the water to get warm. Rather than letting that clean water go right down the drain, collect it for another use. Keep a pitcher in the refrigerator to always have cold water available (it also cuts down on the need for ice). Use it to water plants or to cook with, or to even flush the toilet (always pour it in the bowl, not the tank).
The must-have sink gizmo is a faucet aerator. For $2-$5, you can reduce the faucet flow from four gallons per minute to two gallons per minute. Faucets come with a standard aerator, so installing the low-flow option only requires unscrewing the original and screwing on the new one.
If a faucet runs at 4 gallons per minute for 13 minutes a day (between hand washing, face washing, teeth brushing, and shaving), it uses 52 gallons of water per day. By installing an aerator that reduces the flow to 2 gallons per minute, a savings of 26 gallons per day will be realized. That’s a reduction of 9,490 gallons a year, for a cost savings of $86 annually. That’s per person, per faucet!
Outside the bathroom, the clothes washer is the primary indoor water consumer requiring 40-60 gallons of water per load for top-loading machines and 20 gallons per load for front-loaders. Outside of washing full loads, adjusting the load size, and wearing clothes more often between washes, there’s little to do to reduce that water use.
Are you ready to save more the 35,000 gallons of water a year, or more than $300 per year, just by changing your bathroom habits? A trip to the home improvement store may be well worth the cost of a gallon of gasoline to get there.