6 Simple, Moneywise Steps to Greener Plumbing

    EvelynGiggles/flickrIf you're concerned about making your home plumbing more environmentally friendly, installing a greywater system or a solar water heater may be a "someday" dream of yours. But not every green change has to be a big, expensive one. Every action you take to save precious resources is valuable. In that spirit, we offer you six simple and affordable ways to green your home plumbing, by reducing your consumption of either water or electricity -- or even better, both.

    1. Fix leaks. Leaking kitchen or bathroom faucets, shower heads, and water pipes are just plain wasteful. A single leaky tap dripping once per second means an extravagant 8 gallons of water go down the drain every day! The good news is that these can be remedied with simple and inexpensive plumbing repairs that will save water and reduce your utility bills. (Unfortunately, a leaky hot water heater is a more serious -- and costly -- problem; it's a sign that your water heater will need to be replaced.)
    2. Insulate your plumbing pipes. Readymade insulation can be purchased in easy-to- install tube form. Insulating copper or plastic pipes will cause hot water to stay significantly warmer on its way to your bathroom or kitchen (this trick is not necessary with PEX or steel pipes, as they retain heat much better). The happy result? You'll be able to lower your water heater setting and still enjoy your nice hot shower in the morning.
    3. Install a low-flow shower head. As per federal law, the maximum allowable flow for all new showers these days is a conservative 2.5 gallons per minute. This is way, way down from pre-1992 shower heads, which often had flow rates as high as 5.5 gpm. So if your shower head was around when Windows 3.1 was released, replacing it will save you as much as 24 gallons of water for the average 8-minute shower. To save even more, try one of the latest low-flow shower heads, which cost only about $10-20 but boast an exceptionally low flow of 1.25 gpm.
    4. Switch to showers. Speaking of showers, are you aware that showering with a modern shower head for 5 minutes uses less than a fifth of the water you'd need for a bath? Yes, that shower will require a maximum of 12.5 gallons of water, while filling the tub consumes an eco-unfriendly 70 gallons! If you (or a family member) would like a graphic demonstration, put in the plug before you next shower. Then compare the amount of water left behind with a full bathtub.
    5. Use your washing machine wisely. Plan to do laundry only once you've accumulated a full load. If you're in the habit of washing whites separately, here's a tip: light colors (think yellow or pale blue, especially synthetics) that have already been laundered several times in hot water are not going to turn your white clothes dingy. This makes it safe to combine partial loads. However, never overfill the washer -- cramming clothes in means they won't get really clean.
    6. Ditto for your dishwasher. Should you happen to own a new Energy Star certified dishwasher, great. Don't pre-rinse and do fill to capacity for the most efficient method of getting your dishes clean, at 3-5 gallons of water and 1 kWh of electricity per load. But did you know that carefully planned hand-washing can be nearly as green as using the most newfangled dishwasher? Here's how: fit your kitchen faucet with an aerator to reduce water flow. Scrape food bits off your dishes (and into the compost, as appropriate). Have a basin of warm soapy water to soak pots, plates, and cutlery … much more efficient than pre-rinsing. And never let the water run unnecessarily. You'll use less than 8 gallons of water plus 1 kWh of energy. Compare that to the 15 gallons and 2-3 kWh an old-model dishwasher consumes.

    Laura Firszt writes for networx.com.

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