Using Water Wisely: Why Not Start Right Now?

Tara Wesely
Do It Green! Magazine

We love to slurp it, splash it, spill it. The wet stuff flows from our faucets with such ease we can’t help but forget that our supply is not, in fact, infinite. Less than 3% of the water on Earth is fresh (and much of that 3% is frozen or deep underground). I’ve heard it said, “Water will soon be more precious than oil,” and it isn’t because our supply is dwindling. The amount of water on Earth has not changed in three billion years. But our demands on water continue to grow with every new baby born, every new subdivision built and each new appliance purchased. I’m no economics whiz, but when the demand for water grows and the supply doesn’t, the outcome can’t be good. I’ve also heard it said that the next world war will be fought over water rights. In the land of 10,000 lakes, water wars seem a little far-fetched. Still, the larger point remains: our supply of water is finite. At some point, we will need to entirely rethink our use of water.

No one likes to think about giving up his or her long, warm shower, but to use water more efficiently does not require major sacrifice. Rather, practicing water efficiency means using improved technologies and behaviors to serve the same functions with less waste. Practicing water efficiency can offer some nice pocketbook perks, too.

Aside from the “water is finite thus we should practice water efficiency” argument, there are a number of other reasons to think about using water more efficiently. Surface water withdrawals can lead to degradation of habitat and destruction of wetlands. Increased waste water treatment needs also extol significant energy demands. Thus, using water wisely helps protect plant and animal habitats, decreases the demand on our current water systems and saves money. Listed below are some simple ways to use water more efficiently in your home.


  • Don’t use the toilet as a garbage can, and avoid flushing it unnecessarily since each flush wastes water. Dispose of tissues, insects and like waste in the trash rather than the toilet. Every cigarette or tissue you flush wastes as many as six gallons per flush.
  • Install an ultra low-flow toilet that conserves up to four gallons per flush. Toilets alone account for 30% of total indoor water usage.


  • Repair dripping faucets by replacing washers. If your faucet is dripping at the rate of one drop per second, you can expect to waste 2,700 gallons per year, which adds to the cost of water and sewer utilities or strain your septic system.
  • Turning off water while you brush your teeth or shave can save up to 10 gallons of water a day. Keep drinking water in the refrigerator instead of letting the faucet run until the water is cool.


  • Older showerheads use five to 10 gallons of water a minute. A quality water-saver showerhead provides a luxurious shower, yet uses no more than 2.5 gallons per minute. Ask your hardware retailer for advice.

Washing Machine

  • Wash your clothes with cold water and cold-water detergents whenever possible. Some 80 to 85% of the energy used for washing clothes is used to heat the water.
  • Wait until you have a full load of laundry before running the machine to save both water and energy. If you can’t wait for a full load, use the right water level to match the size of the load.


  • Run only full dishwashers. A full dishwasher is more water efficient than washing the same load by hand. Use the minimum cycle needed to do the job.
  • Consider water-efficient machines when purchasing a new appliance.

Water Heater

  • Insulate hot water pipes and the water heater. Insulation will reduce the amount of time it takes for hot water to reach the tap, saving water and energy. Lowering the water heater’s temperature from 140 °F to 120 °F will substantially reduce energy use.

There are ways to save water for our children and grandchildren to slurp, spill and splash without making enormous sacrifices. Practicing water efficiency is about encouraging behavior that is mindful of our limited water resources while making the most of existing and new water-saving technology.

How Much Water Is Used?

In Gallons:

  • To brush your teeth: 1-2
  • To flush a toiled: 5-7
  • To run a dishwasher: 9-12
  • To shave (water running): 10-15
  • To wash dishes by hand: 20
  • To take a shower: 15-30
  • By an average person daily: 123


In the average residence during a year: 100,000

From: Home Wisdom, The Old Farmers Almanac Home Library, 1997.

What You Can Do

Test for household water leaks
Toilets are the most likely culprit of leak-related high water bills. Dripping faucets are visible (and often annoying) while most leaking toilets are overlooked. A leaky toilet can waste 200 gallons of water per day. To test for water leaks in your home, read your water meter. Wait two hours; don’t let anyone use any water. Read the meter again. If the meter reading is not exactly the same, you probably have a leak.

Obvious signs of a leaking toilet:

* Need to jiggle handle to stop toilet from running.
* Need to hold handle down to allow tank to empty.
* Water trickling down sides of toilet bowl long after flushing.
* Sounds of any sort from a toilet not in use.

How to test for a less-obviously leaking toilet:

  1. Remove the toilet tank cover.
  2. Remove any in-tank bowl cleaners that color the water. It is important to begin the test with clear water.
  3. Color the clear water with one of the following: food coloring, instant coffee, powdered fruit drink mix. Use enough to give the water a deep color.
  4. Wait 30 minutes. Don’t let anyone use the toilet.
  5. If any of the colored water is in the toilet bowl in 30 minutes, your toilet is leaking.
  6. Check the toilet for worn out, corroded or bent parts. Most replacement parts are easily installed, readily available and inexpensive.
  7. Flush immediately after determining leakage to avoid staining the tank.


Using Water Wisely

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