The One Hour Project: Conserve Water

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This post is part of The One Hour Project, in which you can spend just one hour to put your finances in a better place without a big lifestyle change, through frugality or other financial choices.

One of the most frustrating expenses in our home is the water bill. Even though our rate for water is about $0.0006 per liter, it adds up very quickly. This means that for every 16 liters we use, it costs us a cent. On the surface, that seems cheap, but it adds up very quickly. A single shower, for instance, uses about two gallons per minute, which over a ten minute shower adds up to 20 gallons. Every normal shower costs a nickel in water usage – and that’s just for starters. An average toilet flush eats 3 gallons – almost a cent. Once you start looking at the water use in your house from that perspective, it really adds up.

Thankfully, there are a lot of very easy ways to reduce your water usage by doing one-time tasks. Here are some things you can tackle in an hour that will cut down on your home water usage – and thus reduce your water bill every single month.

Fix (or have fixed) your leaky faucets. Do you have any leaky faucets in your house? Even at a rate of just a few drops a minute, gallons of water are pouring down your drain each month – and that becomes significant money wasted over time. Take a bit of time and see if you can fix the faucet – and if not, consider the possibility of replacing it.

Check for hidden leaks. Look underneath every toilet and sink in your house. Is there a leak anywhere? Leaks under here are just as wasteful as the ones from faucets – you should get them fixed, not just for the water loss, but for the health of the boards in your home.

Install a low-flow shower head in your most heavily used shower. A low flow shower head drastically reduces the water use during each shower. If your primary shower is used twice a day and it saves ten gallons per shower, that’s 7,300 gallons a year in savings – about $15 on our bill. A low-flow shower head pays for itself in about two years and then is just profit after that.

Fill a 20 or 32 ounce soda bottle with water, screw the cap on tight, and put it in your toilet tank. That makes the toilet use a bit less water for each flush. If you flush a toilet three times a day, over a year this simple move can save more than a dollar on your water bill – and our toilet certainly gets flushed more often than that.

Take quicker showers. A nice long soak is luxurious sometimes, but most of the time we can all take quicker showers. Start timing them and set goals to make your shower shorter and shorter. Not only does it save serious money on water over time, but it frees up more time for you to do other things. Try timing two showers for a trial run and see how it goes.

Water your lawn more efficiently. Do it in the early morning or late evening, and deep soak the lawn when you do it (put a tuna can out in the yard where you’re watering – when the can is full, you’ve watered enough). This will drastically reduce the amount of watering you have to do, saving time and water.

Do these things and watch your water bill fall through the floor.

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34 thoughts on “The One Hour Project: Conserve Water

  1. Nice practical tips! Taking a shower is an act we enjoy. It helps us relax. We will never cut down on that. In life one has to learn balance and relaxation. Else we will become frugal automatons!

  2. One caution with putting something in the toilet tank is to make sure it doesn’t interfere with the flapper that closes after flushing. Also make sure there’s no way for bottle to move. I don’t remember what somebody I know put in but it moved and the flapper got stuck open for several hours. I’m pretty sure they lost more water from that then they saved in a couple years. I’ve also heard of using a brick or rock which I think would be less likely to move.

  3. You could also install some type or aerator or flow reducer on your bathroom sinks. For outside a rain barrel under a downspout will collect free water that can be used on the vegetable garden or other landscaping. Just be sure to cover the top so ‘skeeters won’t breed in it.

  4. Or you can not take showers everyday or take showers in your gym/school etc. This cost-saving thing is really getting ridiculous by pinching pennies. Also, if an improvement (buying an expensive shower head) takes 2 years to realize its cost in savings, doesn’t that say something about not buying it?

  5. A caution about the bottle in the tank:

    My fiancee has a toilet in her basement that has never flushed ‘enough’. Even going #1 meant you had to flush it twice. It turns out what was causing this was that there wasn’t enough water in the rear tank. I adjusted the floater to allow more water in the tank, and now it works the first time every time. Reducing the amount of water in the tank can lower the performance of the flush; two flushes certainly use more water than one!

  6. My favorite water saving tip is to lobby your city or homeowner’s association to give incentives for xeriscaping, do away with mandatory “green” lawns, and assess fines for landscape watering during the middle of the day or during rainstorms, or when such watering creates street runoff. My landscape is 100% native except for a fig tree, which I water weekly with a soaker hose when the days are 100+ degrees.

    For landscape graywater/rainwater collection, try seeding your collection barrels with some guppies or feeder goldfish (the ugly ones they sell as live food for other fish). They’ll eat the mosquito larvae. I’ve been lucky the past several years to have large dragonflies visit my property — dragonfly larvae are even more effective at mosquito control.

  7. You did not address a big water user, the clother washer. A top loading washer can use 40 gallons per load and a front loading washer as little as 12. However, if someone does not need a new washer, they could still be sure to match wash load to water level. My husband was notorious for washing one shirt and a pair of pants at the full water level when we had a top loading washer. Ouch!

  8. Fig trees are actually pretty drought-tolerant. I wouldn’t _not_ water it, the way you would with an established paloverde or mesquite, but I used to deep-water mine (very, very slowly) every two weeks when the thermometer went over 100. It thrived.

    The low-flow showerhead and the nonflushing toilet are gimmicks whose utility escapes me. If you have to stand in the shower three times as long to get the soap out of your hair, how are you saving water? I guess you could shave your hair off, but you won’t attract many boyfriends. And if you have to flush the toilet three times to get the stuff down, how does that save water? One of these darn things in my house doesn’t even flush urine effectively, so unless you stand there and flush it twice, when you wander off, use the other head routinely, and then come back a couple days later, the bathroom stinks to high heaven. Then you have to scour out and disinfect the terlet, causing you to have to flush three more times and adding an otherwise unnecessary dose of toxic chemicals to the water table. This saves water?

  9. My favorite water saving tip is to turn off the flow of water in the shower when you are soaping up or shampooing your hair. If your hot water takes a long time to heat up (and you would therefore get blasted with cold water when you turned the faucet back on) then get one of those devices on your faucet that interrupts the flow, but keeps the temp constant. These are great!

    Along the same lines – don’t leave the water running while you are brushing your teeth. I’m always amazed at how many people do this.

  10. I love longer showers, but I try to take quick ones during the week and then save the long ones for the weekend. That also gives me more time in the morning.

    I’ve also found that two-person showering can be quite efficient. If you take turns and don’t get distracted. One person is soaping something while the other person is rinsing something.

  11. I’m doing the gray water thing of using bath water to water outdoor plants. (Check local regulations for what kind of home water re-use is permissible.) It takes a while to load bucketsfull of water outdoors, but it’s not too bad. I count it as a little bit of exercise.

    I’m curious whether hand-washing dishes uses more or less water than running the dishwasher. Clearly there’s no electricity involved in hand-washing. I only run the dishwasher maybe once every 2 months.

  12. I agree with the turning off the water while soaping up — but be careful — soapy feet and soapy tubs are slippery. What I do is let the tub fill while the water heats up. Yeah — I step into cooler water, but I don’t fall when I turn off the water to soap up.

    Also — the BEST low flow shower head we ever bought was the CHEAPEST. When we had our bathroom redone, the low flow pretty one that matched was showering in a trickle — horrible. We took off the pretty one and back went on the hard pounding, push button stop cheap one.

    I like the idea of showering double too — but hubby has this thing for HOT showers and my poor skin can’t take it.

  13. If you use the bottle-in-tank idea, it helps to funnel an inch or two of marbles (or pebbles, etc) into the bottle before filling to keep it from shifting around. And needless to say, don’t try this with a low-flow toilet! The “brick trick” is right out – if the brick crumbles it can clog your toilet so that the bowl has to be replaced, and bye-bye savings.

    vh, something is seriously wrong with your low-flow shower head if you have to stand in the shower three times as long to get the soap out of your hair. Ours rinses just as well as the old one. Ditto with your toilet – we haven’t had to double-flush any of our low-flow toilets in 4+ years. I think you must have a badly-designed model or something.

    Marsha, handwashing ordinarily beats dishwasher, as long as you wash once a day and have two sinks or dishpans (so you can wash in one and rinse in the other) but not if you wash 3-4 times a day, and let the water run and run and run while rinsing.

  14. What a bad suggestion taking shorter showers…I feel so much more refreshed when I take longer shorters and it definitely pays off. Just take the extra time and you will feel alot better for the job/tasks you have and I’m sure the small amount of $ you spend water is worth the extra when you start an easily start a small business/blog. It’s just a good use of time to wake up/relax and prepare for your endeavors. I’m sorry you couldn’t manage your time and feel you’re in debt, but this is a horrible suggestion. Too simple a dollar this time, Trent. Oh well, bet you’re stressed out with the baby care you’re up to.

  15. I’ve taken to shutting the water off during the part of my shower when I use the loofah and body wash. This saves gallons.

  16. We pay approximately 9/10 of a cent per gallon for water, so have learned to use water efficiently. I have made 4 rain barrels from 55-gallon food quality plastic drums–2 at no cost through our local extension office, the other 2 for approximately $30 each. They are placed under our 4 rain gutter downspouts and used for watering our outdoor, newly planted native landscape. Information on building your own is readily available online. My future project is to attach additional barrels to catch overflow. I also collect the air conditioner water and will eventually flow that into a rain barrel as well. A friend is using a pump in the rain barrel to water his orchids.

  17. At my theater we had a toilet that ran constantly. As things tend to go in an all-volunteer, “for fun” organization, it didn’t get dealt with until we renovated our bathrooms. Even though we went from one (leaky) toilet to six (non-leaky) ones in the women’s room, our treasurer told me that our water bill dropped $300/month (!) once we got rid of the one that ran constantly.

    Re: dishwashers, I recently heard that Energy Saver models use less water than even someone who is very frugal with water uses by hand washing. I find this hard to believe, and I can’t put my finger on any hard data. Someone I work with heard it on this show: http://www.livingwithed.net/eguide.asp?CID=12&xepisode=Season%202. I guess Ed Begley, Jr. is quite the conservationist (he rides an exercise bike to power his toaster: http://www.livingwithed.net/energy.asp?target=33).

  18. check for toilet leaks via a few drops of food coloring in the tank – if you see color in the bowl, you’ve got a leak

  19. Re: the bottle/brick in the tank suggestion–I believe most efficient toilet tanks don’t need this, but you could always experiment to see the effects they have. If you do try the brick, I would suggest you place the brick in a quality plastic zip lock bag to prevent it from corroding and damaging your tank.

    When I lived in the country and water was very scarce, I used to place a 5 gallon bucket in my shower and used it to flush the toilet with. Between the several showers taken a day, the bucket took care of most of the flushing. Of course this wasn’t about saving money, but conserving what little water we had in our well and systern.

  20. The cost of making an energy/water saving improvement should be weighed against the savings. If you plan to live in a home long enough that the savings should more than pay for the expense of doing it, I would consider it.

    Paying a landscaper to redo your yard so it is xeriscaped is probably going to be very expensive. Though I may not live in my house long enough for the savings to make sense long term, I’m considering this because I might have a decrease in income in the future.

  21. ****** Disclaimer: Stupid Question ********

    Could someone explain the bucket-in-the-shower logistics to me, or point me to a diagram?

    I’ve tried Google, and haven’t had any luck. I can’t picture where I stand (one leg in the bucket?) to get the rinse water to stay in the bucket rather than running down me and into the drain.

    It seems like a good use of water when my neighborhood is under a watering ban.

  22. Amy K., assuming your question was serious:

    We set a couple of buckets under the spray while the hot water is warming up and scoot them into the far corners of the shower stall to keep them out of the way while we’re showering. No need for a leg in the bucket – or a diagram.

  23. Thanks!

    I always assumed the bucket was to catch water while you were in the shower as well, and didn’t see how it could be useful. I was thinking about it more as I hopped in the shower this morning. I think, if I were going this route, I’d pop a bucket under the spray while the cold water is being flushed out of the pipes, then hit the pause button and take the bucket out of the shower before I hopped in.

    No need to scoot the bucket into the corner, or worry about kicking it over.

  24. Thanks! It was a serious question, I just knew it was a stupid (or at least, should-have been obvious) question.

    I always assumed the bucket was to catch water while you were in the shower as well, and didn’t see how it could be useful. I was thinking about it more as I hopped in the shower this morning. I think, if I were going this route, I’d pop a bucket under the spray while the cold water is being flushed out of the pipes, then hit the pause button and take the bucket out of the shower before I hopped in.

    No need to scoot the bucket into the corner, or worry about kicking it over. I already take “navy showers” so it wouldn’t be a big change.

  25. Well, I was very excited to try the water bottle in the toilet tank, both for saving money and for conserving water (we’re in a drought).

    However, I experienced the problem that UltraRob warned about. I came back to the bathroom a few minutes later and found that the bottle had opened the drain valve and water was constantly running out. :( It probably wasted more water than I could have saved, so I promptly took it out.

    What did I do wrong?

  26. holli jo, you have to weight the water bottle by filling it partway with something like gravel or marbles – that will keep it from shifting out of the corner of the tank.

  27. My water softener uses a lot of water in the recharge cycle. The stuff coming out of there is (presumably) heavy in calcium carbonate. How can I use this water if I capture it?

  28. Depends on your water supply. I own a house, and most of my bill is charges for hookup even if I don’t use a drop, sewer and other fees. When I bought the house both toilets were leaking badly. I’ve cut my usage to 5% of the previous owners’ but it only saves me about $5-10 per quarter.

    I’m not saying people shouldn’t conserve, but actual water usage is often only 10-30% of the total bill. Gas and electric usage is much better to focus on for starters.

    ThinkGeek and other places have a unit you can plug in to see how much power things draw – it can be very revealing and surprising.

  29. If you really want to save, try using a humanure system and get rid of those water costs for good! No flushing, no water usage and in my experience and his (below) it doesn’t smell. If you live in the SouthWest USA you should really consider it. You will probably need to in the medium term future.

    cf: Jenkins, The Humanure Bible

  30. Check your water bill from your utility comapany closely for a meter charge. We found out we were paying 8.75 per month for a 1″ meter, when a 1/2 ” meter was provided at no charge. Yes, we noticed a slight drop in pressure, but 8.75 per month. Come on.

  31. I think a lot of folks got turned off by early model ultra low-flush toilets. I believe ours was by Eljer, and you had to hold the handle down for awhile to flush. These were definitely works in progress. We’ve had a basic inexpensive Kohler for several years now, and can’t tell the difference from a conventional toilet, except that it uses less water. Would definitely recommend.
    Showering together is our absolute favorite conservation tip. We’ve been doing this for years. It takes longer than for one of us showering alone, but less time than two separate showers. Plus it’s friendlier, and we have cleaner backs!
    We have a low-flow shower head that is wonderful. We first ran into it at a favorite hotel, and I searched for one for years, because it didn’t have a brand name stamped on it. One day in Home Depot, my husband spied a “navy- style” water saving shower head that looked like what we were after, and it only cost about $7.00, so we decided to try it. That was it! It actually seems to increase the water flow impact, and gives you the best shower ever. You can turn off the flow when you soap up, but I would never resort to such spartan measures. (To our dismay, favorite hotel has switched to prettier shower heads that don’t give nearly as good of a flow, but hey, we take a lot more showers at home!)

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