Fall 2011

Close To Home | Save Water for a Cooler Climate

The average American family of four uses 400 gallons of water every day—enough to fill about seven in-ground swimming pools each year. Even if you do not live in a drought-prone area, water conservation can save you money (through lower water and water heating costs), preserve freshwater supplies, and even fight global warming. Here are some strategies to address water guzzlers in and around your home.

Water Down the Drain

About 125 gallons of water each day—almost a third of a family’s daily total—are used by toilets and showers alone. If you have older fixtures in your home you could save thousands of gallons each year by upgrading to products bearing the WaterSense label, which meet stringent efficiency standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

For example, replacing an old toilet that uses between 3.5 and 7 gallons per flush (gpf) with a 1.6 gpf WaterSense toilet could save a family of four up to 25,000 gallons per year. WaterSense showerheads use no more than two gallons per minute (gpm), compared with older showerheads that can use 5 gpm or more. And by using less water they also reduce water heating costs.

Clothes washers account for another 22 percent of total indoor water consumption. Energy Star-rated washers use 14 gallons per load—about half the water used by conventional models.

Saving Water in the Garden

Of the 30 percent of total household water used outdoors, about one-third to one-half goes into lawns and gardens—more than 7 billion gallons per day. However, up to half of this water can be wasted through evaporation, poor irrigation design (how many sprinklers have you seen watering sidewalks?), and overwatering.

A variety of gadgets can help reduce this waste, including timers, soaker hoses (which lose less water to evaporation), rain shutoff sensors, and soil moisture sensors. Planting flowers and shrubs appropriate for your climate can also help, as they can thrive on precipitation alone.

Connecting a rain barrel (or two) to your gutters’ downspouts can also reduce water consumption: just a half-inch of rain falling on a 1,000-square-foot roof will yield 300 gallons of water. Capturing even some of this would allow you to wash a car or water flowers (it is not recommended for vegetables due to the bacteria or chemicals it may pick up from animal waste or roofing materials).

The Energy-Water Connection

Not everyone is aware that the amount of water we use depends not just on toilets and sprinklers, but on lighting and appliances as well. In providing electricity to our homes, utilities withdraw massive amounts of water to cool the steam that spins turbines in coal, nuclear, and many other power plants—often requiring several times more water to generate the electricity for a home than the amount of water used in that home.

In addition, transporting, treating, and heating the water used in our homes, and the wastewater that leaves our homes, consumes energy and produces heat-trapping carbon dioxide, the primary contributor to global warming.

So if you want to do your part in helping to both preserve natural resources and avoid the worst effects of climate change, start saving water and energy today. To learn more, visit the UCS website at www.ucsusa.org/energy-water.


Also in this issue of Earthwise:


Are there risks associated with the production and consumption of genetically engineered (GE) salmon?