Updated on 08.26.14

5 Simple Water Conservation Methods

Trent Hamm

Do They Save Real Money?

Water from a Tap by gocarts on Flickr!One of the most common frugality tactics is to find ways to reduce your water bill. There are many, many ways to do this in your average home, but several tactics seem to pop up time and time again.

The question is: do these tactics really save significant money? Is it enough to make the move worth the hassle? Let’s dig into five of these methods and find out.

In order to do some of the calculations below, I had to make a few basic assumptions.

First, I’m using a cost of $0.0015 per gallon for the water. I obtained this estimate from offline research materials provided by the American Water Works Association. This means that 1,000 gallons of tap water will cost you about $1.50.

Second, I did usage counts in our own home in order to make calculations. I basically assumed that my own family is the “average American family,” in other words.

Ways to Save

Putting a plastic bottle in your toilet tank.

The average home toilet tank uses roughly a gallon and a half of water per flush, though older toilets often use substantially more. When you flush, this water goes straight down the bowl, costing you roughly two-tenths of a cent.

However, for almost all flushes, one does not need nearly that much water to expel the contents of the bowl. The solution often prescribed for this unnecessary water usage is to take a plastic soda bottle, fill it with water (and perhaps a few pebbles to weight it down), then put that bottle into your tank. This reduces the amount of water in the tank at all times and thus reduces the total amount of water your toilet uses.

How much does this actually save? Let’s say you put in a 20 ounce soda bottle into your tank, which is 0.16 gallons. This would reduce your average flush from 1.5 gallons down to 1.34 gallons of water used.

How many times do you flush? I did a count at our home and counted a total of sixteen flushes over a day-long period at our home (two adults, two children).

Using that metric, putting a bottle in our tank would save us 2.56 gallons of water per day. Over the course of a full year, that’s 934.4 gallons saved. In dollars and cents, that bottle would save us $1.40 a year.

Is it worth doing? Considering it’s something you can do in a minute and that it lasts for years and years, it’s probably worth the time. There’s no real downside to it, either – for virtually all flushes, the small fraction of water saved will make no difference at all. For us, it was a no brainer – we did it.

Installing a low-flow shower head.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission reports that a normal shower uses 8.5 gallons of water per minute. In comparison, a low-flow showerhead uses (depending on the model) 1 to 3 gallons of water per minute. Our home currently has a mix of normal flow and low flow heads.

I asked around for a recommendation for a low-flow shower head and a friend pointed me toward an Alsons 657CBX – which allows you to switch between 1.85 and 2.5 gallons per minute. The plumber liked this model because, as he put it, some people don’t like the low flow setting but enjoy the higher flow one. The model costs $25 via Amazon and is easy to install.

So, what do real-world showering times look like? Over the course of a week, I estimated that there were thirteen showers taken in our home, averaging twelve minutes in length per shower, a figure that my wife concurred was “reasonable.” This adds up to 156 minutes of showering in a week and, thus, over the course of a week, the shower head above will save us 1037.4 gallons of water (assuming we are replacing a high-flow showerhead). That adds up to a savings of about $81 per year!

However, there are some drawbacks here.

Replacing the shower head in your home might not save you that much water.

If your initial shower head is reasonably efficient, your savings won’t be that tremendous.

Second, low flow showers can be unappealing to some bathers.

I don’t mind them (except for washing my hair, which takes a bit longer), but others can be frustrated by them.

Don’t get an ultra low flow showerhead.

It can be worthwhile to get a lower flow showerhead – and it can save you significant money, indeed – but don’t jump on board the lowest flow head you can find or it may seriously degrade the quality of your showers.

Taking “on the clock” showers.

For a long while, I got in the habit of taking very brief showers. I used a timer and established a routine of taking five minute showers, shaving seven minutes from my shower time. Now, I don’t worry about it quite as much – I take quick showers if I need the time, but quite often I take showers around ten minutes in length.

So, let’s say you’re able to shave two minutes off of your daily shower and your shower head is an average one – 8.5 gallons per minute. That means in an average week, you can save 119 gallons of water – saving you about $9.31 per year.

What I found is that shaving a small amount of time from your shower doesn’t make a noticeable difference and can easily become the norm without any quality reduction. However, if you shave a lot of time, it can really cut into your ability to adequately get clean.

My Suggestion: Try shaving just a minute or two off your shower.

One good way to do it is to just consciously keep moving while showering – scrubbing away instead of just standing there.

Washing only full loads of clothes.

My wife and I tend to naturally run full loads with every load we run, so this tip didn’t particularly impact us. Of course, I know of at least one person who refuses to run a load much larger than half a basin, claiming that it doesn’t get clothes adequately clean.

So, let’s say an average load actually fills up three quarters of a bin and you do two loads of laundry per week – 104 loads per year. Filling up the bin each time would thus save 26 loads per year. Using the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission numbers, a load in a top-loading washer uses 60 gallons, which would thus save 1,560 gallons a year – $2.30.

My take? It’s not enough of a cost savings to drastically change how you wash your clothes

Especially if the strict cleanliness of your clothes is something of personal concern to you. The more direct change you can make is simply to add an item or two to your loads without overloading your washer.

Shaving with a basin rather than a running tap.

The city of Tampa reports that an average tap dispenses three gallons of water per minute. When I shave at the sink, I usually spend about four minutes shaving, meaning that a running tap wastes twelve gallons of water.

Alternately, I could run a gallon of water into the basin, turn off the tap, and simply use the water in the basin, saving eleven gallons of water per shave. If you shave every day, that simple change would save 4,015 gallons of water per year – $6.03.

This is a simple change that you can use with many common tasks. Fill the basin instead of running the tap when you brush your teeth, wash your face, shave, do dishes by hand, and so on.

What’s the general conclusion here? One time fixes and minor behavioral changes when it comes to your water use are usually worth it – but only over the long haul.

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  1. Johanna says:

    A lot of these suggestions – the showering ones, especially – save you not just water, but *hot* water. So are you saving on your energy costs as well? How does that factor into the equation?

  2. Robert says:

    Also, what about the energy costs to run the washing machine?

  3. Lucky says:

    Concerning shaving with a basin – before I grew my righteous beard and freed myself from the tyranny of the razor, I would simply rinse the razor quickly as needed and turn the faucet off when I didn’t need it. Same with brushing my teeth. This method avoids the dreaded ring of foamy whisker and tooth scum around the sink.

    It IS important to get out of the habit of leaving the tap running when one is not using the stream of water.

  4. Jessica says:

    I think that, all in all, these are useful strategies to use in one’s home no matter if it saves a lot of money or not–you’re still conserving a lot of water! We do some of these in our apartment, even though our water(and gas for heating said water) is free. Also, think of washing your non-dishwasher-safe dishes in a sink full of water instead of keeping it running.

  5. Susy says:

    Mr Chiot’s and I started turning off the water while scrubbing up in the shower. This effectively cuts several minutes of water usage off our shower time. And we often shower together saving even more. We also save water in a buck when warming up the shower water and use it for watering plants or flushing the toilet.

    Once could also keep a basin in the sink and save gray water to also use for flusing the toilet.

    We installed a Toto toilet in one of our bathrooms and it uses a very small amount of water to flush and flushes better than any toilet we’ve ever had. Since we got it we’ve shaved 200 gallons a month off our water bill just by buying a new toilet.

    We also installed a rain barrel system this summer to collect rain water off our garage roof for watering our garden. Our plants love it because it doesn’t have chlorine & chemicals in it and it saved us around 4000 gallons of water (we installed in at the end of July so it could save double that amount).

    Saving water shouldn’t just be about the amount of savings. Fresh water is a precious commodity in our world and there’s not use wasting it just because we can. We may regret 12 mintue showers when our children have to deal with water rationing.

  6. Johanna, I was thinking the same thing. Saving cold water isn’t all that cost-effective, but saving hot water is. So, cutting showers short will save more money than installing a low-flow toilet will.

  7. Ian P. says:

    I keep trying to convince my wife how much water we’ll save by showering together. However she’s just not buying it! ;)

  8. Craig says:

    @Ian: Wife! I think much bigger and try to convince every hot woman I see on the street to save money with me. Thus far my medical bills have really gone up due to their reactions.

  9. jdp says:

    Says something about the cost of water eh?

    Its not the pennies saved its the WATER saved. Might be more of an incentive if we actually had to pay more for our water.

  10. knabar says:

    Your savings estimates are pretty low – in my case 1000 gallons cost $6.83, including the sewer fee, so my savings would be more than four times as high.

  11. Adam says:

    I strongly second the ‘turn off the tap while shaving/toothbrushing’ suggestion. It takes so little effort to turn it on and off (especially with a lever-type tap) that I don’t understand why one would leave it running.

  12. leslie says:

    I agree with comment #8 – where water is concerned, for me it is not so much about the money as it is the conservation. Water is quite cheap really and most of my bill seems to be fees for various things (garbage/recycle pickup are on my water bill, for example). However, we had a severe drought here last year that we are just starting to come out of it. These conservation efforts don’t necessarily mean much in the wallet but they do mean a lot when there is a question about being able to even flush toilets due to drought. And, as there becomes more and more competition for water, the cost is likely to rise making conservation a bigger money saver down the road.

  13. Steve says:

    As Lucky said, I don’t run the tap while I’m shaving or brushing. I keep one hand clean enough to turn on and off the water. I certainly wouldn’t want to rinse my toothbrush in a water-filled-basin that was also used with shaving cream and hand soap (even at other times), yuck! Unless perhaps I washed it every time – but that would take more time and more water!

  14. Daniel says:

    Are there any adverse effects of leaving a plastic bottle in your toilet? The chlorine should as a sterilizer, but can the chlorine break down the bottle and send toxic byproducts into the sewer? What jpd said, the cost seems negligible – it’s more of an environmental statement. 934.4 gallons saved a year for absolutely no work seems very rewarding.

  15. Matt says:

    Wash dishes in a bowl not under running water, or use a dish washer – they usually are water efficient

  16. For me, it’s not so much the dollars saved, but the gallons saved. We have a septic system, so that water isn’t finding it’s way back to the treatment plant.

  17. T.Seract says:

    Someday, and that day is not that far off, we will rue the day when we could waste so much water shaving, flushing toilets and even showering. The Great Lakes will be the OPEC of the future. If we do not conserve now, we will damage our futures. What does the future look like? Navy showers only: water is so precious you turn the tap, wet yourself, then turn it off. Lather up. Turn on the tap again, rinse the water away. That’s it. What is a routine shower on-land is called a “Hollywood” shower and is given as a reward to a sailor. How far do think behavior would change when water is a $1 per gallon?

  18. Kelly says:

    We don’t want to spend money on a low-flow shower head, but instead just turned the water pressure down during our showers. I keep track of the water I save by plugging up the tub and seeing how full it gets by the end of my shower, I use about 1/2 as much water just by keeping the water pressure down. That doesn’t cost me anything. I also find that I can cut my shower time by using fewer products in the shower- combine my shampoo+conditioner, use my face cleanser later over the sink (not with running water).

  19. justin says:

    Hey Trent,

    This is off topic, but your wii is more energy efficient than a xbox 360 or PS3.


  20. Stephen Waits says:

    Stop watering the lawn.

  21. David says:

    What I like about the bottle-in-the-toilet trick and the low-flow shower head is that they demand very little change of behavior by my seven children. I harp on all the other strategies, but I can’t stand guard with a stopwatch at the shower or the sink. Saving water/ energy/ $$$ without their knowing it is worth it.

  22. Jim says:

    Hot water is indeed the most costly by far. It can easily cost 1-2¢ per gallon to heat water. So thats 10 times the cost of just plain cold water.

    Water cost varies quite a bit by city. I found one website that cited costs between $0.0017 to $0.0051 per gallon for a few cities. Oddly, given how much rain they get, Seattle paid the highest rates at $0.0051 per gallon. So if you live in Seattle you can multiply all Trents figures by 3.4.


  23. lilacorchid says:

    We upgraded to a low flow shower head and what we noticed the most was the number of consecutive showers increased. That alone was worth the extra money spent on the shower head; saving money on the water bill was a bonus.

    Money aside, not wasting water is just a really excellent idea.

    Also, I’ll second the Toto toilet. We bought one for our bathroom, and it uses 6L (just over a gallon) per flush. Unlike our old low-flush toliet (12L or 3 gallons), we don’t have to flush more than once. Ever. To quote the hubs, “It flushes like a DEMON.”

  24. Donna says:

    This is so much more important than just the bit of money saved–it’s more about the amount of water that we waste on a daily basis. Water is becoming a precious and rare commodity. Conserving it benefits everyone.

  25. susan says:

    Wow – 1 person in a 12 minute shower? All 3 of us in my house can shower in 12 minutes (separately). We try to not go over a 4-minute shower. Sometimes I can be done in 2 – that’s a good washing, shampoo & conditioner. Two minutes.

    My husband shaves his face in the basin, and I shave my legs in the basin as well (takes some balance but it can be done). We try to conserve – not just the $$ but the fresh water as well – the world is running out!

  26. Daniel says:

    We have an aerated low-flow shower head that has an adjustment switch (1.6 GPM or 2.5 GPM). We usually keep it at 1.6 gallons/minute. However, we also have a ‘pause’ valve just before the shower head. This allows us to stop the water, without turning off the valves. In the military it’s called a ‘sea shower’. This allows us to hop in, get wet, shampoo the hair, rinse the hair, pause the water, put in conditioner and lather up/shave, rinse…. and done. And, we’ve usually used only about 2 minutes (or less) worth of water – about 3.2 gallons, even though the shower may have taken a while.

  27. Jules says:

    It’s not about money, but about conservation.

    I fail to see why anybody would not do any of the things you listed if at all possible.

  28. Jason says:

    I agree with the conservation, but on the shaving in a basin vs. running tap…What about just turning the tap on when you need it? I guarantee I use less than a gallon for shaving.

    Oh, and the world is NOT running out of water. There will never be more or less water on this planet than there is right now.

  29. MikeinMass says:

    For those like us with a septic system, water conservation also reduces wear on that very-expensive-to-replace item.

  30. Susy says:

    We won’t run out of regular water but “drinkeable” water is a different story.

  31. Laurie Ryan says:

    I applaud the posters who commented on water usage also being an environmental concern. Here is Austin, TX we are in a very bad drought. Most of the people in my rural neighborhood are on wells and several have seen their wells go dry due to the drop in water levels in the aquifers. Cost to drill a new well or have water delivered? Over $20,000.

  32. B. Watts says:

    Living in a city that was experiencing a drought this summer, we had water restrictions, so we did find ways to conserve, and when I compared our water bill to our next door neighbors, same size family, we really did a good job of it. We had a plastic pail I had bought for using with a damp mop that is rectangular in shape that I put in the shower and aimed the shower head so that when we were running the water to get it warm, the water went into the bucket. I then used it to “flush” when extra water was needed. We do live in a new house with low flow toilets and shower heads, so couldn’t do much about those. We also installed rain barrels in back (2), which helps with flower beds and bushes. We now brush teeth without water running, shave with a bowl of water or in the shower, and when running water in the kitchen to get hot water, I automatically fill my two watering cans for front porch and household plant watering or use in the doggie bowl. I have always only run wash loads when I had enough for a full load, ditto the dishwasher. It’s a “no brainer” now we have done it long enough. And, now, when buying plant material, grass seed, etc. for the yard, we go with “drought tolerant” wherever possible. I just got my water bill, and they tell me that we used 74 gallons of water daily these past 2 months, and this was during a time period where we did reseed and so had to water daily, sometimes twice, to get the seed to germinate. During the drought we were down to 35 gallons of water per day. I say we did pretty good!

  33. G says:

    I agree with Jules, it’s all about the conservation and our duty as people.

  34. George says:

    Portland residents (and possibly Seattle) pay for water and sewer in one bill and they’re not itemized. The billing theory is that since water used has to go somewhere, most likely down the drain, then the sewer rate is determined by how much water you consume. A rate reduction is offered for people who disconnect their downspouts from the sewer system (which helps reduce sewage overflows into waterways when it rains).

  35. In my apartment, I have a double-sink. When I wash the dishes, I often leave the water running in the vacant sink so that I can rinse the dishes as they get cleaned. My roommate always yells about water conservation. I guess it’s never really concerned me. I take showers until I’m done cleaning, and I wash clothes as I see fit. I’ve never really tried to conserve anything, except maybe gas. I’ll take a serious look at it now that it’s been pointed out. And that’s for environmental reasons rather than economical. I don’t think the amount you save conserving water is a very strong argument.
    This all kinda reminds me of this book I read once “Our Iceberg is Melting”.

  36. Mia says:

    Wow! 8 gallons per minute shower heads considered ‘normal flow’. That would induce a heart attack when you got your first water bill if you were in Australia :). Here normal flow shower heads are 4-5 gallons a minute (15-20 litres), and efficient shower heads are the same as you indicated in the post – around 2 gallons, or 9 litres. A washing mashine that uses 60 gallons of water – OMG! that’s 250 litres a go!

    In Australia water usage rates are progressive – the more you use, the higher you pay – i.e. the first 440 litres a day will be AUD 1.01 per 1,000 litres, the next 440 litres will be AUD 1.19, and everything above 880 litres will be even more expensive. Our water is several times more expensive than yours, and the price is set to rise about 90% over the next couple of years as the state recoups the costs of building a desalination plant.

    But back to the point of whether saving water is worth it. YES, it is very much worth it.

    We used to rent an apartment with old taps and shower heads, and had a crappy-ish washing machine that used about 90 litres per wash and didn’t wash things that well, so I quickly slipped into the habit of washing half-loads. We also had a crappy old dishwasher. Our water usage/sewage disposal bill was around $250 per quarter. Our water usage was shocking – we showed up on the comparison charts as a large family with a big garden, despite renting only a small one bedroom apartment.

    Once we moved into our own apartment, changed all taps and shower heads to ultra efficient ones, bought a top-of-the-range washing machine that uses only 50 litres per wash AND washes well a full load of laundry every time, as well as got a new dishwasher, our water usage/sewage disposal costs us around $100 a quarter.

    I should note that we haven’t changed our habits very much – we still take longish showers, with an occasional second shower on a hot day, I still run two loads of dishes in the dishwasher most days, etc. but the fact that we’re using low flow taps and water efficient appliances throughout our apartment has shaved $600 off our yearly water bill. So you see, Trent – plug slightly different numbers in your calculations and it’s definitely worth it.

  37. 60 in 3 says:

    I’m a bit disappointed Trent. For a father who loves his childran, you missed the most important reason of all to conserve water. That is, to give them a world just as good as the one we got.

    Water is a precious resource and one which many areas are running low on. Don’t conserve just because you’ll save a few pennies, conserve because it’s the right thing to do in order to save our environment.


  38. Deb says:

    These are all excellent tips. I would add one more – keep a gallon jug next to the sink and catch all of that cold water while you’re waiting for the hot to arrive. We use that water for the dog bowl, our many plants, the coffee maker, and any excess is dumped into one of our 4 rainbarrels that we’ve set up for our veggie garden. Every day we conserve at least 1-2 gallons of water, and that may sound small, but over a month or a year, it really adds up!

    In the spring through early fall, we keep a bucket in the shower and we catch the cold water while waiting for the hot. That generally gets added to the rainbarrels as well. All of these efforts have cut down on the water we need for irrigation.

    You’re paying for that water that’s just flowing down your drain, why not put it to good use!?

    We also sponge bath every other day instead of showering, unless we’ve had some strenuous activity and get dirty and stinky. Unless one is working up a sweat daily, one truly do not need to shower every single day. Soap and a hot wash rag can be just as effective!

  39. Great tips, but keep in mind that something like 2/3 of the water used on a typical bill is for lawns! What about tips for that? If I owned a house, I’d be seriously considering the new fake grass that doesn’t require watering and feels like real grass. (I don’t pay for water now, but my landlord says most of the money spent is on the lawn.)


  40. Something I’ve started doing is simply not turning the water up as high. If I wash my hands or do the dishes I don’t need the faucet turned to full blast. It’s as simple as turning it down.

    Another thing I did was take the drain off of my bathroom sink and put a five gallon bucket under it. I then use that to manually flush my toilet about every three or four flushes. I have a bucket in the shower for the same purpose.

  41. Jim says:

    George said: “Portland residents (and possibly Seattle) pay for water and sewer in one bill and they’re not itemized.”

    I was curious so I dug a little deeper about SEattle rates. The website has separate rates for water and sewage:

    The sewage rate is $7.45/7480 gal or about $0.01 /gallon
    THe water rates are $2.62 to $8.55 per 748 gallons depending on usage. Thats a range of $0.0035 to $0.011 per gallon

  42. Laura says:

    Does anyone know what tends to use more water: washing dishes by hand or an average dishwasher?

  43. harm says:

    Don’t flush at all if all you do is pee….

  44. jim says:

    More importantly, you save water… meaning the amount of potable water is reduced even less. :)

  45. Jillian says:

    A rainwater tank for the garden is a great idea if you live in a place where it rains a lot in winter. I don’t have one but I try to leave out some large buckets. Not only is sun-warmed rainwater much better for the plants, it’s also easier to dip a watering can in a bucket than it is to fill it from a tap.

    Showering though… hmmm… I love my shower, I think I probably fall asleep in there sometimes! Maybe I should set an alarm clock…

  46. moneyclip says:

    When washing dishes, (no dishwasher) I do a quick spot rinse. Then I scrub the dishes with sponge/dishcloth and then do a thorough but quick rinse of the soap and let the dishes drip dry on a tray. I have found that this saves quite a bit of water compared with running the tap or filling the sink basin.

    I further used the “Mr. Miyagi Shower Technique”. What is this you might be asking.

    “Shower on, shower off.”
    “Soap up.”
    “Shower on, shower off.”
    “Shower on, shower off.”

    It saves money, time and energy. I am not fighting the current of water while trying to soap up. I can get the shower finished in under 5 minutes, sometimes 10 if I let the shower on phase go too long.

    And my toilet actually has two settings. One for a little flush (urination) and one for a big flush (defecation). I find that getting a toilet like this, also saves money.

    (not affiliated with that site)

    (not affiliated with that site)

    Of course that system costs a lot to install. but it makes sense if you need a new one anyway.

  47. Susan says:

    It’s not about the money saved by using less water, it’s about wasting a precious resource. Yes, I understand that water on our planet is a closed system but that does not address the matter of increased demand, hence, water is a diminishing resource.

    With respect to watering lawns, consider native and adapted plants. How did this middle-class convention develop?

    Forget the metrics and short term thinking. Focus on being responsible.

  48. Valerie says:

    The world may not be “running out of water” but there are and will continue to be more and more people competing for it thus it is better to use less when possible.

  49. Laurie says:

    I am relieved to see that so many people – like me – feel this isn’t about money saved, but a precious resource saved. Water is the “gold” of the western states, and fresh water is becoming increasingly scarce. Wasting it is, well… selfish!

    My husband and I live in a “small space” (a motorhome) with no yard to care for. When necessary, we stretch 100 gallons to last for 5 to 8 days, including every-other-day showers and dishwashing (does not include clothes washing, of course). Your shower “budget” for water blew me away.

    Trent, I love your blog and recommend it frequently. On water usage, though, it is time to open your eyes, particularly for the sake of your children.

  50. SAB says:

    I lose track of time in the shower, but I think I’ll try putting a clock in the bathroom or in the shower, so I can keep myself oriented.

  51. DaveOR says:

    Agree with #24 – For many cities the cost of the sewer bill, based on your water consupmtion, is higher than the cost of water. Think about it many watersheds and aquifers are fairly clean, so waste water treatment is a higher cost than clean water processing. So the total cost of your “water” may be a couple of times the water rate. Also your water meter doesn’t distinguish between water on the garden or the toilet – you get charged the sewer rate on all of it.

  52. Rog says:

    Take a navy shower:

    1. Get in, get wet, get your washcloth wet.
    2. Turn the water off. Scrub up, take as long as you like.
    3. Turn the water on and rinse off.

    You’ll save at least %50 off your hot water. Leave the plug in to check your usage, or when it’s cold, to keep your tootsies warm.

    Running the water all the way through is known as a “Hollywood Shower”.

  53. tiphaine says:

    About toilet water:
    – I tried once the bottle in the toilet tank. But the bottle moved and prevented the trap from completely closing, so there was a “leak” for a few days before I noticed it.
    I removed the bottle, my new philosophy is :
    “if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down”. (amis de la poesie, bonjour!)
    – More interesting I heard about a system where the water coming out of your shower or sink is recycled to refill the toilet tank. So you don’t flush excrements with drinkable water anymore. It’s a saving because you already used that water for something else.

    One last thing I do:
    when I mop the floors, I reuse the water to clean the stairs outside or the sidewalk (big city street).
    I personally don’t pay for the water, it comes with the rent, so this doesn’t save me a cent. But I care about drinkable water, and I want to keep the habit of not wasting it.

  54. Jade says:

    Forget how much the water costs, we have droughts every 10-15 years here in California. Mandatory water rationing, higher water bills if you use more than your allocation, maybe even a flow regulator if you really use a lot of water, all that good stuff. The water bill for my dad’s rental property is insane, partly because our allocation is based on our last 3 years use. Problem is, the building was half vacant for the last 3 years, and now that it’s fully rented, our water usage has doubled and we’re getting nasty letters from the water company and sky high bills because we’re going over our allocation there.

    At my house, our lawn is brown, I take shorter showers and refuse to run anything less than a full load in the clothes or dish washers. And during our last drought, I was just a kid and learning to brush my teeth, so I learned to always turn the water off while brushing my teeth.

    Forget the cost of the water, how about the cost of food because there isn’t enough water for the farmers in the Central Valley?

  55. Griffin says:

    I started taking “on the clock” showers and found that it saves a lot of water and also time.

    I am usually still very sleepy when I get in and it’s hard to keep track of how much time I’m taking in there. So my showers used to vary between 5 and 60 minutes (most time spent relaxing in the “rinse cycle”). Quite a range! :D

    I have a $1 digital timer and I’ve hot-glued a loop onto it so it can hang in the back of the shower away from the water. I set it to ten minutes and now I just hit “start” when I get in and “stop” when I get out. Takes almost no time.

    I’ve taken 5-11 minute showers since then, as the alarm “wakes” me up when I go over 10 minutes so I just have to rinse off usually. I take less time to get ready, use way less water overall ($$), sleep longer, get to school on time faster and don’t have to stress about taking too long. :)

    So for me it’s a bonus to time, reputation, sleep, stress and money.


  56. Gwen says:

    Instead of a plastic bottle that might float, put in a few bricks or fill up the bottle and weight it down first ;)

  57. Steve says:

    I try to have things work for me somehow – just like other people like to have me work for them. So, if water is just flowing out without doing some work before it goes its way, I feel like I have lost something. Better turn off the faucet and turn it back on when it will clean on the way out.
    I am an efficiency freak… so, why should water be different? Why should 10 gallons of water do the way of 2 gallons of water? Better to use the 2 and if I ever need the other 8, I will use them then.
    Last but not least, I cannot look myself in the mirror when I take long showers or waste water and I see stories of drought in other parts of the world. Well, it is not really a personal finance issue I guess.

  58. Water is wasted so much because it is such a great bargain. Its true value versus its monetary value are worlds apart.

  59. Dave M says:

    I heart my Toto “Drake” toilet. I bought one because a happy customer said on a plumbing web site that it “could suck a pig through a straw.”

  60. Captain WTF says:

    We are a family of four with grass and plants front and back. Our water appears to be metered in cubic feet and the typical month is over a thousand. The sewer charge is slightly more than double the water charge. I never water the grass but Mrs. Captain does, especially when it turns brown. We changed to reduced flow shower heads but then showers got longer, probably because the hot water lasts longer. The commodes use about a gallon and a half per flush, and are very effective due to an air pressure boost. Not Toto.

    I wish we could do something with the gray water. Both the laundry machine and the dishwasher produce lots of it, and that would be fine for flushing the commode (if we had the old low-tech ones), and probably for watering the grass as well. Another big consumer of fresh water is the water softener. That thing seems to use 50 gallons every time is recharges!

  61. Lurker Carl says:

    Unless you fill the tub to the brim, you’ll use less water taking a bath than running a 10 minute shower.

  62. MLJ says:

    When I wash pots and pans it takes a minute of running the water for it to come out hot. So instead of letting that water go down the drain, I fill up a bucket and use it to water plants.

  63. Sharon says:

    Don’t use bricks! Bricks can break down and damage the plumbing.

  64. Laurie A says:

    Shower every other day.

  65. LauraH says:

    If it’s not a money issue, one might suggest cutting back on beef. Even though it is undeniably delicious and a good source of protein, the production of one pound of beef uses 2,500 gallons of water, as opposed to about seventy gallons/ lb. for the “thirstier” vegetable crops. Even cutting out one Big Mac a week can make a dent.

  66. LauraH says:

    Also, I find if one keeps a pitcher by the shower and filling it up while you shower for the purpose of rinsing hair, it’s quite a bit faster and less frustrating.

  67. Bee says:

    I usually find a lot of value in your articles however this one seems to totally miss the point. Many countries around the world are in severe drought. It appears clear the only reason you’ll consider change is to save money. I realise this is a finance blog and you have to write about something. But you are arguing that if the monetary savings don’t justify the action, you won’t “do it”. If everyone had the same idea the world would be in a worse state than it already is, and quite franky it’s not looking good. Good ideas, badly executed.

  68. JE says:

    Just another voice of agreement that conserving water is about more than monetary savings. Even if it only saves you a rough $100 a year to do every single tip you listed, it would save 66,642.2 gallons of water (using your numbers). How many people in this world would feel rich with that much potable water?

  69. Bill in NC says:

    There’s no reason to fret over taking a shower or running a dishwasher – residential is a tiny fraction of commercial/agricultural water use (imagine the evaporation loss from open irrigation ditches alone)

    There are some monumentally stupid wastes of water in agriculture – like growing rice in the desert.

    Taking a 12 minute instead of a 5 minute shower has no real impact compared to the above.

    I certainly agree lawns should not be watered (most is lost to evaporation, and they’ll come back when it rains)

    Now, as to saving money – minimize your use of _heated_ water.

    Wash your clothes in cold water, turn down your water heater to 120 degrees F and you’ve saved a huge amount of (usually) non-renewable energy.

  70. kathryn says:

    Our city recently offered a service where we can see exactly how much water we are using each day. I went in to see if there was a pattern…more on laundry days? More when we all shower at home instead of at the gym. The real eye opener was that none of that made much of a dent, BUT the days I watered the lawn stuck out…by a magnitude of almost 10…ten time more water on the on the lawn that went into all of our household use. Wow. That’s where the savings are. Our front yard will be changing over the next couple of years as we move to trees and ground cover, with maybe a small patch of grass in the back for gatherings and kids.

  71. Carolyn says:

    I didn’t read all the comments in their entirety, but something else that was left out of your equation is the cost to ‘dispose’ of all that water. How is your sewer bill affected by the amount of water you use?

    We have a well and septic tank, so the ‘costs’ you calculated are useless for someone like me. However, when my husband takes 15 min showers instead of 25 (!!!yes, I know), our electric bill, for the change in use of the electric hot water tank, goes down about $20 a month.

    Trent, this topic deserves a follow-up post.

  72. Paul says:

    Well, I’m not going to read through 50 comments that have already been posted so maybe somebody already said this, but… What about the impact you are having on the environment as well? Just a thought.

  73. dave says:

    great ideas all around!

  74. Conrad says:

    When I lived in Melbourne, Australia just a little over a year ago, citizens were in terrible shape. There was (still is?) a devastating draught and certain water conservations were put into place.

    I learned to have quick showers, wash laundry only when needed (and hang-dry them!), turn the tap on only when needed, didn’t use a dishwasher, etc etc.

    Very good lessons to have learned. I’m extremely fortunate to live in a country that has an abundance of water. But it won’t last forever…

  75. steve says:

    Due to existing rainfall and aquifer trends, switching to a non-flushing toilet system, such as either a container (for inside) and composting system (outside) or a composting toilet will very likely be necessary for those in the US West, Southwest, and, probably, Midwest. It will require a major cultural shift in how we view (or prefer not to view) humanure.

    Toilet flushing (using drinkable water as a transport medium to transport excrement and urine is a useful system but it is very wasteful of water resources amongst other things.

    The Humanure Bible by Jenkins is a very good book about the subject from someone who actually KNOWS about it from practice, for those who might be interested.

  76. Kevin says:

    Wouldn’t a rain barrel that catches runoff from gutters and re-uses the water to irrigate lawns & plants do more than all these combined? You could probably even wash your car with that water – or at least the initial rinse.

  77. “Unless you fill the tub to the brim, you’ll use less water taking a bath than running a 10 minute shower.
    Lurker Carl @ 10:52 pm November 20th, 2008 (comment #42)”

    I’ve thought that before. I’ve put the plug in while showering to test this before: the depth after even a couple of minutes is startling. Where did this myth of showers saving water start? Maybe if you’re an Olympic speed or very spartan showerer… I don’t think I know anyone who is.

  78. Kerberos says:

    “Where did this myth of showers saving water start? Maybe if you’re an Olympic speed or very spartan showerer… I don’t think I know anyone who is.”

    The Navy. A Navy Shower is usually a quick wetdown, turn the water off, lather up and shampoo the hair, quick shower to get it off and you are done.

    A demonstration:

  79. Lurker Carl says:

    For ultimate conservation, save all that shower/bath water and use it to flush toilets. Better yet, use the old bath water for your wash – it shouldn’t be any dirtier than your clothes.

    How many folks recycle water from the final rinse in their washing machine for the initial fill of the next load? This water saving feature used to be standard on automatic washers, especially in areas without municipal sewers.

  80. Kevin says:

    From a financial point of view, conserving water doesn’t really make it onto my radar. My water/sewer bill is the smallest of all my bills, coming in at $20/month, tops. To me, having a lush, green lawn, and taking long, hot showers without fretting about the money is worth it to me.

    Isn’t all this talk of “saving the planet” for our children a little misguided? I mean, if you really cared about the environment, you’d know that the absolute WORST thing you can to this planet is have a baby. The last thing this planet needs is one more meat-eating, fossil-fuel consuming, waste-producing human, ravaging its natural resources for 80 years. If you insisted on reproducing, then shouldn’t YOU be the one worrying about saving the planet for your babies? Why should I be expected to lower my quality of life because YOU chose to reproduce? It’s not my problem. As far as I can tell, there’s more than enough water and oil to last my wife and I, so why should I care whether or not YOUR great-grandchildren have to recycle their urine? Frankly, it’s not my problem.

    There’s no water shortage. There’s a human surplus. There are too many people for the planet to support, so the solution isn’t “reduce our lifestyles to the lowest common denominator”. It’s “have fewer kids.” Think of much water your child will use during his lifetime. Think of how many cows and chickens will have to be produced and slaughtered for his consumption (not to mention the grain and water consumed by those same cows and chickens, and the waste produced by them). Think of how much oil will need to be burned moving him around and heating his home. How much rainforest will be destroyed for the wood for his hardwood floors. How much garbage will be added to the landfills because of your little bundle of joy. No amount of water-saving tricks could ever conserve as much water as if little Junior had never existed at all. But hey – Mommy really, REALLY wanted another baby, so I guess the rest of us will just have to accommodate her, right?

    Don’t ask me to take shorter showers just because you were too weak to put the needs of the planet above your own selfish desire to propagate your seed. I don’t have kids and never will. So I’ll go ahead and consume all the water, oil, fish, exotic rainforest wood, and meat I feel like, and let YOUR offspring worry about the scarcity problems that only exist because THEY do.

    If you really, truly want to “save the planet,” then don’t have kids.

  81. steve says:

    @lurker carl:

    nobody does any of those in this country, but I believe in Japan it is fairly standard practice. Doing both of these is on my “list of things to do” when I get around to getting a pump to pump the water out of my tub after a shower. They are simple to do with some basic changes to housing internal piping, or you could do it manually if you have a simple water pump and vessel to pump the water out of the shower (showering the the drain closed) and into a container for reuse.

    In the cold weather months you can pump the water into a container and leave it there until it cools rather than wasting the heat down the drain.

    there are safety issues around this with toddlers (drowning in the container if it doesn’t have a secured top) but really once you discover what the proper precuations are (research on other countries would be useful) it is a great, sensible idea.

  82. heather says:

    In my college, the shower heads had a switch you could twist to turn the flow off without altering your “heat settings.” This way you could turn the flow off while lathering up… I would love such a tap. Not sure if it makes financial sense but I like the idea of saving the environment without having to get blasted with cold water!

  83. Avic says:

    Think Far Reaching and long term.

    It’s already been said that you saving water helps save the environment, but this is a finance blog, so let’s look at the money.

    More water for Dishes/Laundry/Showers is more HOT Water, so there’s heating cost there.

    More water used is more money down the drain. For Cities, this will mean higher taxes to pay for:
    *Septic and Sewer lines
    *Maintenance and Repair
    *Adding new drains and pipes
    *Cost of materials
    *Pay for the Workers
    *Workers Equipment
    *Workers Vehicles and Gasoline.

    Even in the country, you’ll be paying more for maintenance and repair of your septic tank, plus maybe taxes for local Levees and Dams to help control the extra water that’s going back into the ground via the drain fields.

    Not to mention the fact that there is wear and tear on your pipes, too. Plumbing, like anything else, wears with use. More water through your pipes means sooner damage and repair costs, however infrequent.

    And nowadays, a lot of state and local manipulates will offer some kind of tax break and/or sewer bill reduction for water-saving improvements around the house.

    Maybe not directly, but saving water = saving money.

  84. Jennifer says:

    Those shower head switches are dirt cheap and easy to install. They go on just before the shower head. I think my husband got ours at Home Depot or perhaps the plumbing supply store.

    Lurker Carl, how is recycling the rinse water done? You can’t spin the clothes because that drains the water. Is there an extra tank or something? I suppose if you found an old mangle, you could set that up above the washer and feed the clothes through.

    The thing is, many of these more “extreme” tactics seem like a lot of mess and trouble now. I’m imagining myself saving tub water and carrying it down the hall 4 gallons at a time to the washing machine. But if we were in a severe drought they’d seem so cheap and easy. And we pay too, too, too little for our water. We pay so little where I live that the smallest increment on my bill is 7 gallons. I can’t even see the results of changes with that.

  85. Lurker Carl says:

    Jennifer, you need a large double laundry tub with one side stoppered and the other side open. The washing machine has extra hoses for draining and refilling water from the final rinse. It dumps the final rinse into the stoppered half of the tub and pulls that water back into the machine when you start the next load. The other side of the tub has an open drain for the soapy wash water.

    If you don’t have running water in your house, it becomes a precious commodity for cooking and drinking rather than sanitation. Even if it’s free for the taking, you discover how difficult water is to transport in any significant volume. That’s when folks figure out extreme tactics for water conservation. Like outhouses. Weekly baths. Dirtier clothes. Sticky floors.

  86. steve says:

    Put the bricks in a Ziplock bag. Then if they break down it stays in the bag.

  87. Kirsty says:

    Down under the popular washing machine is a top loader. My biggest recommendation to all Aussies is to get a front loader – loads of water savings. And recycling the rinse water is easy here – get a longer outlet hose and instead of dropping it down the hole in the laundry, as is normally done, run it out to your garden. Too easy.

  88. Lisa Wilson says:

    Hi! I don’t quite see some people’s ideas that it would not be worthwhile financially to cut back on the water.We are a family of 3 and our water/sewer bill is around $49.65 a month. We only use water for flushing toilets, doing dishes by hand and taking baths. We used 3 thousand gallons last month or so they say. When we moved in here 5 years ago , our bill was $22 for a month & we don’t use any more water than then & it hasn’t gone up.I know something is messed up in this apt.The bad part is the dishes don’t always get washed up every day & I don’t always get a bath every day.We only flush the toilet when we do #2, so that eliminates( no pun intended), a lot of flushes! The monthly service charge that is always the same is $3.50, the sewer part is $8.50 & the water part is $3.50.This is in a small town of 2,500. A town near here has a basic rate of $160 a month , no matter what you use. I think ours is bad enough. lisa

  89. George says:

    Reality check on the 50 gallon rain barrel in the downspout – it’s not enough water for more than a few plants and it’s a “drop in the bucket” compared to how much water falls on the roof.

    For my 1500 sq ft veggie garden, I’m installing a 1200-1500 gallon tank to catch rainwater from a 1600 sq ft roof. The tank will fill up in a single rainy winter month (out of the 6 wet months we get), but is likely to only last 2-3 months during the dry period while watering the veggie garden.

  90. Larrisa says:

    Of course we all like saving money but with the case of potable water it’s more of a environmental and quality of life issue. So many people around the world do not have safe drinking water, droughts cause crop failure and more hunger worldwide. So it seems a humanitarian thing to do – conserve water and if we get a little spare change well it all adds up – either in our accounts or for a donation to a charity.

  91. Compadre says:

    #14, #27 Water on the lawn. I was on my volunteer Township water board for about 5 years in the early 90’s. Here in Minnesota, suburban residients used about 110 gallons per household per day in the winter, and about 450 gallons per day in the summer. It’s great to save on the shower and toilet, but stop watering the lawn!!

    #19, #56 12-minute showers vs. baths. I don’t get this one. I, too, tried showering with the drain closed, and the water barely covers my feet. What do you *do* for 10 or 12 minutes in there? (Don’t answer that.) I think it’s a generational thing. Those of us over 50 take 3-5 minute showers. We grew up in big families with septic systems and one bathroom. 30-year-olds take forever showers. We raised them in small families with municipal sewer systems and multiple bathrooms. At the gym, I can come into the locker room as a Gen-Y guy head into the shower. I change, shower, dry off, and start dressing, and he’s still in there. What gives?

  92. Compadre says:

    #36 It really does matter where you live. Here in the land of 10,000 lakes, we save water (if we do) because it seems like the right thing to do. In California, where water is scarce, they run Colorado River water across the Mojave Desert in an open channel. If you want some scary non-fiction reading, Google on western water rights.

    My advice: Don’t move past the Missouri River. If you already live there, move east or north.

  93. Lisa says:

    Hi! I posted a comment last night. I was wondering where it went.It’s not here. lisa

  94. John says:

    In Australia, every new toilet has a dual flush system… two buttons, one for a ‘light’ flush and one for a ‘heavy’ one. Aren’t these things available in the US?

  95. Griffin says:

    Putting 2-4 barrels to cover most of the spouts would probably do, especially if all you need to water is a lawn, decorative garden or small veggie patch.

    I also wish that front-loading washers were cheaper, because they save so much water AND they get your clothes dryer in the spin cycle. I can’t hang clothes outside, so I have to use the dryer.

  96. Fred says:

    About shaving with the tap running. I agree it’s wasteful. However, it seems your calculation is based upon shaving with the tap at “full speed”? If so, the amount of water most people use for shaving is probably significantly lower than you state, even if you do shave with the tap running.

  97. Kevin says:

    Hi, Lisa. I know how you feel. My comment has been “awaiting moderation” since Friday. I’ve pretty much just concluded that it’s veiled censorship.

  98. Sheri says:

    By keeping track via our water meter we have brought our water consumption down to a current average of just under 54 gallons per day. This is for a three-person household–one is a teen. We replaced our old toilets with low flush models(2.7 gal/flush) and our shower with a low flow head (1.75 gpm). We adhere to the “mellow yellow, brown flush it down” motto. I run about 3 full loads(43 gal/load) of laundry a week, run the dishwasher on lite wash(6.5 gal) about 3- 4 times. We take 5 minute showers (10 gal)during which we first capture the water in a pitcher while it heats up; we pour this into a big Brita container in the fridge and use it for all of our drinking water. Since some water does continue to run out of the tap while we shower, we rigged up a big (5 gal) cat litter container (Tidy Cats) with an attached lid, so that it captures the water that otherwise would have gone down the drain. I use this water to add to our washing machine as it fills up (saves 5-10 gals/load), or, if there is no laundry to do, I pour it into a plastic pan in the kitchen sink and use it to rinse dishes. (I got the laundry idea from the Japanese woman profiled in the book, “Women In The Material World.”) I post our daily usage/current average on a chart that I display on the fridge. Having a reminder like this motivates us to stick with it. Regardless if household usage compromises a relatively “small” percentage of total water usage, if ALL households used as comparatively (based on # of persons) little water as we do, it would go a long way toward conserving this crucial resource.

  99. Sheri says:

    P.S. I love your site, by the way. So many useful tips and inspiring stories!

  100. Bill says:

    Wow, I now feel ultra bad about taking a 25 minute shower every morning…

    Of course, I usually sleep through the first 10-15 minutes or so as the warm water rains down on me.

    On the plus side, here in Texas, my water bills are much cheaper than they were in Michigan.

  101. What a great blog. Thus is true, there are that many ways of conserving water. The less water we use, the more we give to the greater goods.

  102. The Man from Manila says:

    when it’s yellow let it mellow, when it’s brown flush it down.

  103. mutuelle says:

    Concerning shaving and washing faces,the leader in our home made a law:”use vase instead of tap”,all kids and adults ones follow it,and this way we save money every month,I hope it’s helping tip.

  104. Bob says:

    I’m not planning to have kids or grandkids, so I’m happy to use 3 times the amount of resources that the average person uses.

    Although the main centres of population growth are in undeveloped, Third World countries (excluding China, with their One Child policy). Maybe we should invade Africa to enforce a population reduction.

  105. Marco Gutierrez says:

    I’m very concern about water water conservation and I review my water bill every month it is expensive but my idea is buy square plastic containers 1000 liter two or three to recover rain water but people said is will no more rain and the other option is recover soap water from the sower dish washer and laundry but I don’t know how to build a tank and gravel filter if somebody know how or what web page can I go please let me know
    I like cook and I use many dishes but when I wash those I’m suffer to see how many water is using, or my girl friend take shower on the bathtub just for 10 minutes it is a lot waist of water
    I grow up in Mexico City and I know how is living with out water and it is worse now I living here in US for 24 years and I seeing it will happen here putty soon
    I will appreciate if some body read and understand my writing and respond

  106. I’m not that much of a online reader to be honest but
    your blogs really nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your website to
    come back later. Cheers

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