5 Ways to Save Water, Energy, Money, and the World in One Afternoon

By G.E. Miller on 22 February 2010 (Updated 6 July 2012) 16 comments
Photo: faungg

Ambitious title for sure, but not that far off when you look at the facts surrounding freshwater. According to water.org, 884 million people (one in eight in the world) lack access to a safe water supply. Less than 1% of the world's fresh water (or about 0.007% of all water on earth) is readily accessible for direct human use. Furthermore, an American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the typical person living in a developing country slum uses in a whole day.

All environmental guilt issues aside, saving water is not only good for the planet, it can be a highly efficient way to cut your water and energy bills (energy to heat the water). Here are the top 5 ways that you can cut your water use today. (See also: 7 Ways to Lower Water Heater Costs)

1. Install a Low Flow Showerhead

If you take anything at all from this post, let it be this: get a low flow shower head TODAY. One 10-minute shower with an older shower head uses 55 gallons (5.5 gallons per minute) on average. Most shower heads made before 1992 have a 5.5 gpm flow. The newer, high efficiency Energy Star models use less than half that (2.5 gpm).

Energy star showerheads will run you about $35, on average. It only takes two minutes to take off an old showerhead and put a new one. That two minutes and $35 investment would save a family of four 27,500 gallons of water and about $260 in energy costs per year (not to mention the water costs).

That's right, a $35 investment would net you $225 in year one and $260 every year thereafter. That's a 640% return on investment within just one year! Plus the residual effect of feeling better about yourself for saving water.

2. Reconsider Hand Dish Washing

If you've switched to hand dish washing from a dishwasher, you may be doing more harm than good. Today's energy efficient dishwashers can do the job on just a few gallons of water. An energy efficient dishwasher can save you at least $30 per year on energy alone (vs. heated dish water) and roughly the same in water costs.

There are actually 11 dishwashers on the market right now that use less than 2 gallons per cycle! How many of us use more than that hand washing dishes? I'm guilty. Bosch has the most efficient dishwashers. Check out the Energy Star dishwasher site to sort by water and energy usage per cycle.

3. Fix that Leaky Faucet

A leaky faucet can waste 2,500 gallons of water per year. If it's hot water, this could cost you $39 annually. Even if it's not hot water, 2,500 gallons is a whole lot of wasted water to have on your conscience. Here's an eHow video on how to fix a leaky faucet.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

4. Dig Out the Grass

I live in Michigan, which has a humid and moderate climate, and my grass is green for about 2 months out of the year unless it is watered constantly. In more arid climates, the efficiency is likely worse. That's why when we re-landscaped last year, we ripped out two-thirds of the grass in our front yard and put in a garden.

It takes a ton of water to keep your grass green, not to mention the inevitable sidewalk and driveway runoff that keeps nothing green. The irony is that constantly watering your grass can do it more harm than good. Grass goes brown in hot weather for a reason — it is going dormant to protect itself from the sun.

There are plenty of ground coverings that look great without requiring much, if any, water. Depending on your climate, take a serious look at sedum, pachysandra, myrtle, creeping lily turf, or good ole' wood chips, rocks, and ornamental grasses. They tend to look much better than dormant, dead, or weed-ridden grass.

5. Fix Your Leaky Toilet and Make Sure It Has a 1.6 gpf

Your toilet might be leaking, and you don't even know it. If you hear any noises when not in use or have to jiggle the handle, you most likely have a leak. Not sure? Put dye tablets in your tank and wait an hour. If you see any dye in the bowl, you have a silent leak on your hands. It's usually an easy fix to take care of.

Better yet, why not replace your old toilet? It can be done for about $100. Back in 1994, the U.S. government mandated that toilets use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf) vs. the standard 7 gpf. That's a huge difference!

The average person flushes a toilet 2,500 times per year. That equals 17,500 gallons of water with a pre-1994 toilet, but only 4,000 with a low-flow toilet. That's a savings of about $60 annually. If you have a remnant pre-1994 toilet that is anything above 1.6 gpf, you are flushing your money down the crapper.

Interested in More?

Check out G.E.'s Green Matters category on 20somethingfinance.com, where he discusses the economics of a motor scooter vs. a car, electric vehicles, energy savings, and how to fund your retirement through commuting.

This is a guest post by G.E. Miller. G.E. is the creator of 20 Something Finance, a personal finance blog that focuses on lifestyle, career, investing, and other money topics geared towards young professionals.

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Guest's picture
Johnny Boy

Great detective work and number crunching in this one! Really helpful to see the exact return on investment that you can get from doing each of the things listed. Love your blog, glad to see you on Wisebread!

Guest's picture
kenyantykoon

I do the hand dish washing sometimes out of necessity(i dont have a dish washer). but the beauty of it is that i get some alone time to work out problems because with a part of my mind being occupied with a mundane task, the rest is freed up to work out pressing problems.

Guest's picture
vga

I'm not jumping on the low flow showerhead bandwagon until I actually take a shower with one that doesn't feel like it's just dripping water on my head.

Guest's picture
Olivia

These are great suggestions and I also enjoyed the dollar estimates. However, some of these suggestions might not be worth their possible savings. For example, I highly dislike low-flow shower heads and if it weren't for the constant watering of my lawn, it would be brown year-round. A pretty lawn is important enough to me to sacrifice the savings.

Guest's picture

I don't like the low flow shower head neither. I'd rather take a shower for less time , but with more power. But, I agree that you have to fix your leaky toilet, because that's a big problem in many household and people just don't pay attention to it.

Guest's picture

Great ideas. Not quite sure what all the fuss is about the low flow shower head from your other readers.

I have used one for years. My kids don't even know what a "high" flow shower is.

Most of us have over consumed the last 10 years ... and a simpler life saves you money, and the environment at the same time.

Then you can invest your money, time and resources on things that are more important.

Guest's picture
anonymous

Yeah, there's low flow and no-flow. When I first moved into an apartment, I was nearly late for work the next day, because I had to go to the kitchen sink to rinse my hair. It was a no-flow showerhead. It misted - and I've had plant misters that got things wetter faster. Hit a hardware store and got one of those heads with dial-a-shower-type deals - including low-flow and pause. Works a lot better. Hell, I could wash myself and my hair - and even better yet, rinse off in the shower, instead of traipsing out to the kitchen.....

Guest's picture

Didn't realize the low flow showerhead would be such a sore spot for people. =)
I use the Alsons low flow showerhead, and it's absolutely fantastic. Feels BETTER than a high flow, and is adjustable. I'm perfectly happy on the 1.8 gpm setting, but you can bring it up to 2.5 gpm if you'd like. Wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.

Guest's picture
Guest

I'd like to add another way of reducing expenses that you may not have thought of. I've not seen this mentioned in any of the money saving sites I've read and thought I'd pass it along.

I recently called my local trash collection service to inquire about "renting" a smaller sized container for garbage and thereby reduce my monthly rental cost. I was told that I was already renting the smallest size they offered (32 gal), but, the representative suggested I reduce the number of "garbage" pick ups per month. My original service included weekly "garbage" pickup and biweekly "recycle" pick. I don't pay for yard waste pickup as I don't really have much to justify the cost.

But, since it's just me living in this house and the fact that most of my waste goes into the recycle bin I can easily get by with filling just one garbage bin per month.

I reduced my monthly garbage pick up to once a month and in the process I cut my yearly waste bill by $120.00! I still have the option of putting the garbage out any week I feel I need to, they'll just add the extra pickup fee for that week onto the bimonthly bill.

This may not be feasible for families of three or more, but for those of us with only one or two in the house it may be an option.

Guest's picture
andyzarkovich

It is interesting that in many subdivisions throughout middle/upper class america. You are actually fined if your grass died and yard tuned brown. I once lived in a place that had sprinkler systems installed and ran in the spring when it rained everyday. I unplugged my sprinkler system since it was raining and i got a call from the subdivision board to turn it back on because it doesnt cost that much since i have a well and that i needed to give the ground a good soaking before the summer dry months!

Guest's picture

Monitor your water bill for unusually high use. Your bill and water meter are tools that can help you discover leaks.

Water your lawn and garden in the morning or evening when temperatures are cooler to minimize evaporation.

Wash your fruits and vegetables in a pan of water instead of running water from the tap.

Spreading a layer of organic mulch around plants retains moisture and saves water, time and money.

Use a broom instead of a hose to clean your driveway and sidewalk and save water every time.

If your shower fills a one-gallon bucket in less than 20 seconds, replace the showerhead with a water-efficient model.

Collect the water you use for rinsing fruits and vegetables, then reuse it to water houseplants.

If water runs off your lawn easily, split your watering time into shorter periods to allow for better absorption.

We're more likely to notice leaks indoors, but don't forget to check outdoor faucets, sprinklers and hoses for leaks.

Guest's picture

Some other ways to save some water:

- Water early in the morning or later in the evening when the temperature is a little bit colder.

- Water deeply but less frequently to create healthier and stronger landscapes.

- By adding aerators to existing office faucets, you can cut faucet water consumption in half.

- Turn water off when brushing teeth or shaving.

- Do not use toilet as a garbage can.

I hope that helps.

Guest's picture

There are many different ways to save water.

- When boiling vegetables or eggs, let the water cool down and then use it to water your plants.

- If you have to use a dishwasher, try to use it only when full. Otherwise, try to wash dishes by hand.

- Reuse your dehumidifier water.

- Know the water footprint of your food.

Guest's picture
Water boy

In the 21st century we just don´t pay attention to our nature and overusing pretty much everything including water as well. There are many ways to save water, but we actually have to do it in order to protect our planet. Any change is always in the doing not in the talking. Great article. Thanks for sharing.

Guest's picture
Guest

Saving water also saves power - and not just on your water heating bill. Most people don't realize that it takes a tremendous amount of electricity to treat and pump potable water and collect and treat wastewater. I've worked for two water utilities, and electricity was always one of the biggest items in the budget. So, by saving water, you're being "greener" than you may realize.

Guest's picture
Ruth

I installed a dual flusher for my toilet. #1 only uses a 1/2 flush. cost me $20 at Home Depot (but you can do some research online too). I don' t know how much it has saved me but I like the idea of using less water to flush liquid. My boyfriend's fraternity has since installed them in all 4 bathrooms.