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Drop by drop, you can save gallons of water

Ideas:  Divert AC drain to plants, assign drinking glasses, brush teeth in shower

By Kathy Van Mullekom, Daily Press (Newport News, VA)
Printed in The Charlotte Observer on August 11, 2007

The next time you brush your teeth, think about turning off the faucet until you need to rinse. That twist of your wrist saves as much as 3,000 gallons of water a year.

When you finally fix the leaky spigot outside your garage, the buckets add up – one drop a second equals 2,700 gallons a year.

Yes, the efficient 1.6-gallon-per-flush toilet in your house conserves water, but a newer 1.3-gallon model does it better – 4,000 gallons less annually per person.

Here are some ways to slow down your water meter – and reduce your water and sewer bills at the same time.


Catch AC water. Your air conditioning unit’s condensation drain yields as much as five gallons of water daily. Using plastic plumbing pipe, extend the line so it waters nearby plants or grass.

Meter it. Instead of guessing at how much water you apply on the lawn, invest in an inexpensive moisture meter to gauge it. You can get meters that attach to irrigation systems.

You can also use a screwdriver as a soil probe; if it goes in easily, don’t water. Plants and grass need an inch of water per week; more plants die from too much water than from lack of moisture.

Wash wheels wisely. Wash your car on the lawn and water the grass at the same time. If you wash your car on the driveway, use an adjustable hose nozzle to save as much as 100 gallons.

When you’re finished with the car, use a broom or leaf blower, not the hose, to clean the driveway and sidewalk.

Plan your plants. Group trees, shrubs and perennials according to their water needs. Local garden centers can advise you about plants that tolerate drought better than others once they are established.

Use roof water. Direct downspouts to areas of the yard or plants you want to water. Use rain barrels to catch water; place nontoxic Mosquito Dunks in the barrels to kill mosquito larvae.

Kitchen, laundry

Make sure it’s full. Running your washing machine and dishwasher only when they are full can save 1,000 gallons of water monthly. Buying a high-efficiency washer saves 10 to 20 gallons of water per load, depending on the brand and model.

Not down the drain. Rinse produce under the faucet, catching it in a bowl that you toss on the grass or use on plants.

Bathe the dog on the lawn or in a tub of water you can use outdoors.

Instead of filling the kitchen sink with soapy water, fill a basin that you can later pour on plants to smother bad bugs; this works especially well on roses if you use something like Ivory liquid soap.

Compost kitchen scraps instead of putting them down a disposal, which uses gallons of water.

Assign glasses. Reduce the time you have to run your dishwasher by assigning drinking glasses each day to family members. Keep cold water in the fridge so you don’t have to run tap water to get it cool.

Microwave more. Cooking vegetables in the microwave requires less water than steaming them on top of the stove. If you steam vegetables on the stove, combine several together such as potatoes, carrots and onions or broccoli, cauliflower and carrots.

Frozen stuff counts. Emptying your ice bin often is good for the fridge’s working parts; thaw that ice and use it on plants or throw the cubes in the grass.

It’s healthier and safer to thaw frozen foods in the fridge instead of under running water.


Combine chores. Brush your teeth, wash your hair and shave in the shower to conserve sink water. While waiting for shower water to warm, you can catch cool water in a bucket you use on houseplants.

Change showerhead. Older showerheads use five to 10 gallons of water per minute, while water-saving versions use about 2 gallons in the same timeframe.

It’s not a trashcan. Teach family members the toilet is not a place to throw trash, tissues or cigarette butts, all of which use extra water to flush and can cause plumbing problems in your septic tank or at the sewage plant.

Time showers. If members of your family linger in the shower, give them a timer to remind them to bathe and get out. Showering for five minutes or less saves up to 1,000 gallons a month.

Source:  Hampton Roads, VA, Water Efficiency Team at HRWet.org, Bartlett Tree Experts and the Environmental Protection Agency.

How Do You Compare?

Nationwide, average daily water consumption is about 100 gallons per person for everything from drinking to washing dishes.

Do you have a leak? Read your water meter before and after a two-hour period when no water is being used. If the meter does not read exactly the same, you probably have a leak.

Also, listen for water trickling through the toilet long after you’ve flushed; that is a sure sign of a common leak.

To check for a less obvious toilet leak, add several drops of food coloring to the toilet’s tank. Wait 10 minutes without flushing. If food coloring seeps into the bowl, you’ve got a leak.

When shopping for appliances that use water, look for products that bear the WaterSense label for the best efficiency.

Want to know more? Visit the American Water Works Association at www.awwa.org/waterwiser and the US Environmental Protection Agency at www.epa.gov/epahome/home.htm.

Lindsay Daniel provides residential design services to Charlotte, North Carolina and the surrounding communities.