Water Efficiency at Home Matters

These are WaterSense certified fixtures by American Standard. Pretty nice, eh? [Photo via American Standard/ResponsibleBathroom.com]About the only thing Americans waste as much as they waste energy is water.  Kind of like the person who thinks that if there are blank checks in their checkbook that they must have money, we take for granted the clean water that comes out of our faucets every day.  It helps to understand why we should conserve water by looking at how much fresh water we actually have:  97% of the earth’s water is salt, and of the 3% that is fresh, about 2% is ice, leaving us only about 1% of all the water on the earth available for us to use. 

So how can we cut down on water use in our homes?  Well, it’s not all that hard, but it takes a little effort.  First, replace showerheads, toilets, and faucet aerators with more efficient models.  I’ve heard plenty of whining about showers that don’t work and toilets that don’t flush, but that is history.  Check out WaterSense® certified fixtures – they really work with most plumbing.  The old days of low flush toilets and shower heads that don’t work are history. 

Second, don’t irrigate your yard, at least not with water that comes from your city or county.  Put in plants that are drought tolerant and native to your climate, especially if you are gardening in an arid area like Las Vegas. Once the plants are established, they will survive fine with minimal watering.  If you have to water some things like vegetables, use rainwater. Rain barrels are inexpensive and easy to set up and if you want to spend some more money, have a central rainwater collection system installed. (Some areas of the US have restrictions on rain water collection, so check with your county or municipality.)

If when you run your shower or faucets it takes a long time for hot water to get there, put in a demand pump or relocate your water heater closer to the fixtures.  Finally, fix those leaks. The EPA estimates that the typical household loses about 10,000 gallons of water per year from leaks, dripping faucets, and running toilets. 

The next big think to pay attention to is the connection between water and energy.  About 3% of the country’s energy is used to treat and pump drinking water – almost 56 billion kWh per year.  If just 1% of American homes replaced inefficient fixtures, the water savings would also save about 100 million kWh of power.  On the other side of the equation, we use a heck of a lot of water to generate power, to the tune of about 200 million gallons of water per day just to run our power plants.  So when we waste energy we waste water and when we waste water, we waste energy.

On average, Americans use about 125 gallons of water per day per person.  That is about twice what France uses and almost 6 times China’s rate.  It seems like we could pretty easily cut down our water use without much suffering with just a little effort.  Any water we don’t use means money saved from not paying for it and energy saved from not having to treat and transport it.  And beyond the energy savings, it’s important to think about how water affects our lives.  In most climates if you run out of heat in the winter, you can dress warmer.  If you don’t have energy to run air conditioning in the summer, you can dress lighter and stay out of the sun.  If you run out of water you die.  Seems pretty simple – we need to conserve water.  Unless, of course, you don’t care about living.

Green building consultant Carl Seville writes for Networx. Get home & garden ideas like this on Networx. 

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