Next time you turn on the tap, think of the water pouring out as liquid gold going down the drain. It's that precious. While water makes up more than 70 percent of Earth's surface, only 2.5 percent of it is fresh water, and less than 1 percent of that is fit for human consumption. According to UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 1 in every 8 people across the globe can't access safe drinking water. Even by doing something seemingly conservative, such as taking a five-minute shower, you may be using more water than an impoverished person in a developing country gets access to in an entire day.
There are several ways you can cut back on water usage, protect one of our planet's most vital resources, and maybe even save some cash in the process. Read on to find out how to get started.
Your first line of defense should be to survey your house or apartment for leaks. An occasional or slow drip might not seem like a big deal, but it can add up to 10,000 gallons of water wasted every year, according to the EPA. You should check kitchen and bathroom faucets, toilets and pipes, and one way to do that is by reviewing your water meter readings. Here's a simple test that we've found useful: Create a two-hour period where no water is used. Note the meter reading before and after: If you see any changes at all, leaks are likely at hand. If you're unsure of how to pinpoint the source of a leak or do the repair yourself, enlist the help of a professional to avoid making the problem even worse.
Strange as it may sound, you can actually help conserve water by collecting and reusing it through a couple of different methods. Harvesting is the process of capturing rain water, which you can then use to hydrate lawns and gardens. There are a number of different types of water harvesting systems available, including those that you can install on your roof or stand-alone units that you can place in your yard. You can also create your own indoor water harvesting system: Just place a bowl in the sink underneath your hands while you're washing vegetables. Then, reuse the water that's collected in the bowl to water your houseplants.
Revamp Outdoor Areas
If you have a yard, there are a number of water conservation tactics you can -- and should -- put to use. After all, lawns are usually what consume the most water across an entire household. Try adjusting your watering schedule to a monthly routine (though during the summertime, you may need to increase the frequency a bit). Also, consider using more efficient methods of watering. Drip systems, for example, work by applying the water slowly and directly to the soil. According to the EPA, drip irrigation uses between 20 to 50 percent less water than in-ground sprinklers.
Adding a thick layer of mulch -- about 3 inches -- around trees can also decrease the need for excess watering, since mulch acts as insulation and helps to slow the evaporation of moisture. Additionally, you can try replacing some of your lawn space with shrubs and plants that require less watering, such as the longleaf pine or the blue grama. Of course, the best types of plants to use in your particular yard can vary depending on where you live.
Fix-up the Fixtures and Appliances
Another way to save water without a lot of hassle is by making some simple fixture upgrades. For example, try installing low-flow showerheads in every bathroom and faucet aerators at all of the sinks. You should be able to find a number of quality fixtures available in the $10 to $20 range, and according to the U.S. Department of Energy, they can help you net a water savings of anywhere from 25 to 60 percent. Look for those that offer a gallon per minute rate of 2.5 or less.
Also, consider replacing your old appliances, such as dishwashers and washing machines, with high-efficiency versions marked with an ENERGY STAR® logo. Swapping out your toilets with new ones that carry the EPA's WaterSense label may help, too. Though these fixes typically require a larger financial investment up front, the long-term savings could make up for it. For example, the EPA says a WaterSense toilet can save about 4,000 gallons of water per year.
Change Your Habits
You can also conserve water without spending a dime, just by adjusting your own usage habits. For example, don't leave the faucet running while you brush your teeth -- the EPA estimates you'll save up to 8 gallons of water a day by turning it off instead. Apply the same approach when washing dishes or rinsing vegetables, as well. While you're at it, here are a few other water-conserving best practices to try:
- Take short showers instead of baths. Unwinding in the tub can use up to 70 gallons of water.
- Don't use the toilet as a wastebasket. It adds unnecessary flushes to the cycle.
- Only run your dishwasher and laundry machines when they're full.
Making these changes to your own routine, as well as to your home, will help not only your bank account, it can keep our planet water-rich for years to come. That's a result worth saving up for.
There are items we consciously recycle and items we toss without a second thought. Here are 10 things you should never throw away at HowStuffWorks.
- Environmental Protection Agency. "Water Sense." July 26, 2010. (July 29, 2010)http://www.epa.gov/watersense/water_efficiency/what_you_can_do.html
- Geisel, Pamela M. and Carolyn L. Unruh. "Water Conservation Tips for the Home Lawn and Garden." University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. 2001. (July 29, 2010)http://news.ucanr.org/mediakits/Drought/homeandgarden.pdf
- Meredith, Paul and Mary. "Master Naturalisits: There are many variations of rainwater harvesting."
- Victoria Advocate. July 7, 2010. (July 29, 2010)http://www.victoriaadvocate.com/news/2010/jul/07/hg_paul_mary_meredith_070810_102636/?features&home-garden
- United States Department of Agriculture National Resources Conservation Service. "Water Conservation." (July 29, 2010)http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/feature/backyard/watercon.html
- United States Department of Energy. "Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy: Your Home." Feb. 24, 2009. (July 29, 2010)http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/water_heating/index.cfm/mytopic=13050
- University of Michigan Global Change Program. "Human Appropriation of the World's Fresh Water Supply." 01/04/2006. 2000. (July 29, 2010)http://www.globalchange.umich.edu/globalchange2/current/lectures/freshwater_supply/freshwater.html
- Water.org. "Water Facts." 2010. (July 29, 2010)http://water.org/learn-about-the-water-crisis/facts/