Water: the stuff of life. Without it, us---and the rest of life on this planet---couldn't exist.
In most places in North America, we're lucky to have almost limitless, drinkable running water. But only think of what is happening in California right now: a few years in different conditions, and suddenly water becomes the most precious commodity.
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In the shower and bathtub
The shower and bathtub are rife with potential water waste, especially with a bigger family. A conventional shower head uses 5+ gallons of water per minute; a typical bath uses 35 to 50 gallons of water.
The first thing you can do to save water in the shower is to put a bucket on top of the drain and collect the water used while waiting for it to warm up. You can use this water for watering plants, cleaning, doing dishes, or flushing the toilet.
Of course, you should change your conventional shower head with a low-flow shower head instead. The water savings are substantial: a low-flow shower head typically uses 2.5 gallons or less water per minute, vs. a typical shower head. The secret? More pressure and adding air to the water. Some excellent and affordable low-flow shower heads include the Delta Faucet 75152 Shower Head, the Niagara Earth Massage 1.25GPM Low Flow Showerhead or the luxurious Hydroluxe Full-Chrome 24 Function Ultra-Luxury 3-way 2 in 1 Shower-Head.
Learn how to take shorter showers. At 5 gallons per minute, a 5-minute difference is 25 gallons! Your usual daily shower should take no more than 5 to 7 minutes. Time yourself! Want to save even more time? Follow the no-poo method to stop having to wash your hair every day, and save a few seconds every day.
As a bath lover, I must admit I take way too many baths. I just love to relax in a hot bath with lavender Epsom salts and a good book. But since baths take between 35 and 50 gallons of water, it should be a treat and not a habit. Or, if you absolutely must, fill up half the bath instead of as full as possible.
For those who shave in the shower, consider using the sink instead, or turning of the water while you shave.
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At the sink
Bad sink habits can be very wasteful. It doesn't seem like much, but a few minutes every day build up to dozens of wasted gallons of water every year.
The first water-saving habit I have ever learned for the sink is turning off the tap while brushing my teeth. I wet my toothbrush, turn off the tap, brush my teeth, then turn it back on to rinse my toothbrush and my mouth. Since we're supposed to brush our teeth for at least 3 minutes, you can save up to 9 gallons (or 4.5 if using a low-flow faucet) every day with this simple habit.
Adding a low-flow faucet aerator is simple, cheap, and will reduce the amount of water used by half. They cost literally nothing (less than $10 for two) and you won't see the difference in how wet your toothbrush or hands get. Get these affordable and effective faucet aerators from Amazon.
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At the toilet
Toilets are among the biggest water wasters in the house. A typical toilet uses between 5 and 7 gallons per flush; at 5 flushes per person per day, it accumulates really quickly.
The first thing you can do to reduce this is to purchase a low-flow toilet. Low-flow toilets use as little as 1.6 gallons of water per flush, making an enormous difference in the amount of water used daily. This Toto low-flow toilet uses 1.28 gallons per flush, and so does this more affordable Kohler toilet. (Changing your toilet? Read my Ultimate Toilet Buying Guide.)
If you can't replace your current toilet, there are a few things you can do to reduce the amount of water you use flushing every day. The first is to, well, flush less often. A single flush can handle the paper used for a few pees---I usually flush every 3-5 pees. However, if it's brown, I do flush it down! Instead of the typical 5 toilet flushes a day, I usually get away with 3. It saves quite a bit of water when you start adding them up over weeks and months!
To instantly reduce the amount of water used by your tank, fill up a large bottle or airtight container with water, and place it in the tank. There is less space for flushing water in the tank, resulting in water savings.
Check for toilet leaks regularly by putting dye in the tank. If there is a leak, the dye will appear in the bowl without flushing. Toilet leaks are also very wasteful; make sure to get it repaired right away (or do it yourself). Keeping your toilet in good condition will save water in the long run.
When you work to save water, everyone wins. You win instantly because you will save on your water bill (if water is billed in your area). The environment wins because you waste less water, leaving more for things like forests and animals. And the human race wins because we can't survive without it---either to drink or to water our food crops.
Water may seem abundant and infinite to you, but ask a Californian these days: they'll tell you that their perception of water usage has changed drastically since the beginning of the drought. Prevent this from happening in your state by adopting some of these green habits!