For us humans, fresh water is probably the most important single thing on the planet. Yet close to 900 million people worldwide don't have enough, and 36 U.S. states are currently facing a shortage. The good news is: every little bit helps, and it's pretty easy to cut back on your water usage. The even better news is this: the average household spends $400-600 on water-heating, which is in addition to about $300 on water bills. Cut back on hot water and you can kill two birds with one stone.
There is an oft-forgotten distinction to be drawn between water conservation and hot water conservation. Water heating is the second largest consumer of energy in the American household (averaging 13% of household energy consumption), second only to space heating and cooling (49% of household consumption). There are some easy ways to reduce your consumption without giving your hot water system a total overhaul, and without sacrificing modern conveniences.
II. The Basics
It's a great idea to minimize water usage overall as much as possible, but important to bear in mind that in the case of hot water, energy savings go hand in hand with water conservation. So if it's high utility bills you're concerned about, it's most economical to focus on reducing hot water consumption. That holds true even if savings in gallons might not be gargantuan, because, over time, the kilowatt-hours, dollars and cents you save will add up.
You can reduce hot water consumption by using a new, energy efficient dishwasher (which, according to a study at the University of Bonn in Germany, uses about 1/6 the water as washing dishes by hand), washing clothes on the "cold" setting in a front-load or efficient top-load washing machine, and by installing a low-flow shower head and aerators for your faucets. Some water-saving enthusiasts even recommend showering with a friend as a fun way to save water, a suggestion that we at EnergyCircle will let stand without comment. Another fun way to save water would be to upgrade to a new, high-quality low-flow shower head, which will leave you feeling satisfied physically, economically and morally.
That said, The average American uses about 100 gallons of water daily. At about 5 gallons per flush, 20 per shower, 5-10 per minute watering the lawn, 15 gallons used in bathroom and kitchen faucets per person per day, and maybe a half-gallon ingested, it all adds up pretty quickly.
Of that 100 gallons - per person, per day, remember - about 70% is used indoors.
Some of this water use can't be helped. You should, of course, drink plenty of water, and it's much more efficient to drink it out of the tap than from a bottle (it can take as much as 7 gallons of water to produce one bottle, and up to 2,000x the amount of energy to produce a bottle of water as the same amount of tap water). But 26.7% (about 19 gallons) of our indoor water - good, clean, drinking water - being flushed down toilets? Come, now.
III: Taking It On
So step one: if it's yellow let it mellow. Step two, make a couple of other pretty easy adjustments to reduce wasteful spending of water and energy. These could be anything from fixing a leaky toilet, to insulating your water heater and pipes, to making an upgrade to efficient appliances and fixtures - dual-flush toilets, an efficient clothes-washer and dishwasher, low-flow shower heads, aerators for your faucets.
Old toilets, for example, might use 4-5 gallons per flush, compared to 1.5-2 gallons for efficient new toilets. Efficient, front-load clothes washers use only about 23 gallons per load, compared to about 41 gallons for traditional washers. A shower with a traditional shower head might run at 4 gallons per minute or more, while the newest low-flow shower heads can use as little as 1.5.
Whatever steps you choose to take, be sure that minor adjustments can have a major impact on the global water supply, the health of our environment, and your wallet. Get started.