Toilets, Showers, and Yards
Last week I told you a bit about our new water challenges and how that shapes our water consumption habits. We discussed conservation at the sink and on laundry day. Today, we will continue the water-savings and touch on how to take your first steps towards improvement in your own home.
In the Shower
The shower is by far our largest water hog. We currently have a “low-flow” shower head using 2.5 gallons per minute, the same as most households, these days. If the two of us each take a 10-minute shower, we’ve blasted through 1/2 of our supply in one morning. Clearly we have to be careful in this arena.
Replace your shower head.
This is a simple, one-time project that allows you to enjoy the benefits for years. The EPA grant a “water-sense” label to shower heads with 2.0 gpm or less. I am looking to replace our current shower head with one that uses just 1.75 gpm.
If you have a fire-hydrant shower head which you absolutely LOVE, consider putting it in your guest bathroom and treating yourself to one luxurious shower a week. Compromise!
Dropping 0.5 gpm would save the average American 1,500 gallons annually. That’s less than half the daily evaporative loss of the Bellagio Fountain in Vegas. Aren’t you glad you don’t have that water bill?
Don’t shower every day.
This sounds crazier than it is. My skin happens to be quite sensitive. Daily showering with soap and shampoo causes dry, itchy skin and dandruff. I gave up daily showering long before I gave up running water. The result is healthier skin and hair, with a lower water bill.
If you get dirty or work up a sweat, have a quick rinse. This takes much less water than a full-length shower. (It will also help you beat the heat without cranking the A/C.)
Follow your body’s queues for less frequent lathering. My hair prefers a wash every 2-3 days, but every body is different!
Cutting down to every 2-3 days would save an annual average of 4,500 gallons per person. This water would generate 540 watts of hydroelectric power if dropped 100 ft.
Kick the bath tub habit.
This might be a hard one. I fully understand the appeal of a glass of wine and a hot soak after a long day. Depending on your tub situation, that bath costs you 30-100 gallons! That’s a 12-40 minute shower with our “low-flow” head! Try taking up a new hobby to relax. Maybe a glass of wine and a book, or a glass of wine while gardening? 😉
For folks with young kiddos, check out the variety of “tub in a tub” options now available. These can greatly reduce bath water usage until they are old enough for the shower.
One person could save 1,600-5,200 gallons annually by dropping a weekly bath habit. This range aligns with the average sizes of residential septic tanks.
Conserve your warm-up water.
There is a certain amount of pipe between your shower head and your hot water tank. No matter how low your shower head flows, you will have to move the cold water out of this length before the water is at a comfortable temperature. We have short pipe runs. So it’s just 1/2 a gallon per shower for us, but even that adds up fast!
There are a variety of options to eliminate the warm-up waste problem, including an in-line heater (Expensive and inefficient) or a solar shower (inconvenient). I haven’t found any option that is as easy or cheap as simply spraying the cold water into a beverage dispenser that I keep in the shower. This water ends up in my dog’s bowl or, in the future, my vegetable garden. You might choose to keep your pets’ water bowl right next to the shower. (Just make sure you don’t let any soap or shampoo contaminate the water.) Zero waste, near-zero effort!
This habit saves 300-500 gallons per year, depending on pipe size and length of run. That’s approximately the annual sweat production of the average family.
Take a Navy shower.
This takes some getting used to, but on our water budget, it’s a must. A “Navy shower” is simply turning the water off while lathering up, with a goal to use no more than three-minutes of water flow. (As opposed to the 10-minute “Hollywood” shower.) You get just as clean and use a fraction of the water.
Cold mornings make this more of a challenge. Since we follow the weather, those are less common for us. The skylight helps, letting in a shower of warm sunshine. Even if you only try this during the summer, it would help offset the extra water used for lawn maintenance.
A family of five could save 23,500 gallons annually, which would fill the interior of our entire motorhome, including the “basement”!
On the Porcelain Throne
While on a mission trip, it was pointed out to me that 1 in 10 people globally lack access to clean drinking water and 1 in 3 lack access to a toilet. Meanwhile, westerners are using our clean drinking water to flush our toilets. That fact hits hard when you are looking into the faces of those without access. So for me, it’s easier to push the envelope in the commode conservation.
Warning: We are wandering into fairly personal territory here. To each their own!
Get an ultra low flow toilet.
The new federal plumbing requirements call for no more than 1.6 gallons per flush, although lower flow options are available. Older models use closer to 3.6 gallons. If you can’t afford a new toilet right now, you can simply put a few water bottles in your tank. This will displace some of the water, causing less usage per flush.
Upgrading to a newer standard toilet model can save 2 gallons per flush, or 3,650 gallons annually, per person. This is the volume of a hippo. So if you’ve had an exotic guest in your pool recently, you would need this much water to refill what she displaced.
Use someone else’s toilet.
This tactic explicitly ignores the big-picture and strictly focuses on “me”. Frankly, if we’re out on the town on Day 12 and my fresh tank is blinking on empty, a clean restroom at the grocery store suddenly becomes quite appealing. We take advantage when and where it is convenient to us.
It doesn’t have to be weird. Perhaps you rush home everyday after work and end up going straight to the powder room. If you make that pit stop before you leave, you can save 350+ gallons per year off your water bill. Bonus points if the work commode is more efficient than the home commode.
Depending on the toilets, this habit would save one 400-900 gallons annually, which is the average gallons of automotive fuel consumed per person/driver in the same time frame.
Get a composting toilet.
Not to be confused with a vault toilet, which is just awful.
This is a great option in more rural areas. At just 1-2 quarts per month, they dramatically reduce the need for fresh water in the whole toilet experience. We already have an RV toilet, which uses water only for rinsing the bowl and flushing solids. Embracing the composting toilet will save us 20-30 gallons per tank fill. This modification alone will get us half way to our 3.5 gallon goal!
It may sound extreme to most, but these toilets actually create a cleaner bathroom environment. We will save the details for another day, but suffice it to say that composting toilets are actually cleaner and smell better than a standard flush toilet, particularly in an RV setting. Incinerating toilets are also an option, commonly used at sea.
Replacing a newer toilet with a composting toilet would save an individual nearly 3,000 gallons per year, enough water to battle a large house fire. Plus the compost for your garden, if you’re into that sort of thing…
Ok. We’ve made it past toilets. Shake it off. Moving right along…
In the Yard
We borrow Mother Nature’s yard, but we have plenty of life experience here. So let’s go ahead and tackle this area, too. I’m not estimating the gallons saved on this one, because yard size and season vary too dramatically.
Also, I’m really tired of trying to find equivalents for those estimates. Unless you are interested knowing how many gallons of water equal the weight of an adult T-rex. (1,700 gallons)
Only water as needed.
If you are lucky enough to have a sprinkler system, pay attention to the weather. Skip the next watering after rain. Not only are you wasting water, you might be damaging your grass by overwatering.
Choose the right plants.
Research grass seed and flowers native to your area. You will save money and time, while keeping a lush lawn and garden. This will also help prevent the spread of invasive species.
Go yard rogue.
Unless you belong to the 16th century European Aristocracy, you really have no need for a lawn. Even they weren’t silly enough to grow grass. Try replacing your grass lawn with hardy low-ground cover. The right selection will be nearly maintenance free, and you will have lovely flowers in the spring!
I’ve also seen some gorgeous “zero-scape” gardens using rock in drier climates or judicious use of hostas on steep terrain, not suited for mowing.
Put your yard to work for you.
Grow a garden and enjoy the freshest organic produce nature has to offer. Vegetable gardens can be just as lovely to look at as flower gardens. You can even mix the two! I was delighted to find that the previous owners of our last house had done this, as some of the flowering plants mixed into our standard beds began producing veggies in late summer/fall. You never would have known!
Bonus: The more of your yard covered by garden, the less there is to mow.
Many folks have taken the next step of front yard gardening for maximum output on a small plot. The only caveat is you must know your local laws and HOA by-laws. Most of America still clings to the outdated notion that a manicured grass lawn gives you some sort of status in the world. They don’t want your eco-friendly patch encroaching into their mono-culture golf-course-worthy paradise. The best way to avoid neighborly spats? Keep a well-tended plot and offer occasional gifts of homegrown goodness!
So there you have it… 20 sure fire ways to reduce your water bill and your environmental impact.
I challenge you to take your household one step further in water conservation! Pick one action from the options listed in this article. Don’t forget the sink and washer options from Part 1. Do your best to implement it for a full month. Let us know in the comments where you are today and what your next step will be. We will all be cheering you on!
This sounds suspiciously like a science project, if any of your kiddos has one coming up…
Be sure to send an update at the end of the month about your experience. Did you save money? Did you get the whole family engaged? Will you be trying another step next month? What are other ways to conserve water (easy or challenging)?
We look forward to hearing from you!