As if the skyrocketing cost of gas and food weren't bad enough, we must now deal with the rapidly rising price of water. In Ventura County, California, residential water and sewer fees in 2003 were about $15 a month. Today, the average homeowner pays $72 per month, and the price is expected to climb to $80 by next summer. The news isn't any better in North Arlington, New Jersey, where in 2006, homeowners paid a base service charge of $40 annually for water. In 2007, that jumped to $136, and this year it climbed again to $232.
Even renters are starting to feel the squeeze. According to one California newspaper, the , some apartment dwellers are now being charged monthly water fees of about $35 in addition to their rent. Truth be told, we all should be conserving water, regardless of its cost. Clean drinking water is our most precious resource, and natural and industrial forces constantly threaten it. Even if your home draws water from a ground well, not a municipal pipeline, saving water makes sense. After all, we all live downstream from someone and rely on our upstream neighbors to use water wisely.
Here are 15 painless ways to save water. They're good for both your wallet and the world.
1. Check for Leaks
Confirm that your home's water-supply system doesn't have any small, hidden leaks. Turn off all faucets, ice makers, and water softeners, and read the water meter. Don't use any water for two hours, then read the meter again. If the readings don't match, then you've got a leak somewhere. Call a licensed plumber to find and fix the problem. Here is some detailed information on .
2. Fix Drips
The drip, drip, drip from a faulty faucet is more than just annoying. A drip of just one drop per second wastes about 2,700 gallons of water per year! It's important to repair the faucet at the very first sign of a drip, because it will only get worse over time.
Most hardware stores and home centers sell faucet-repair kits. Just be sure to check the faucet's installation manual (or the manufacturer's Web site) to make sure you purchase the correct replacement parts.
3. Sweep Away Debris
There's something very rela (okay, lazy) about using a garden hose to rinse off driveways, sidewalks and patios. However, this practice is a huge water waster. Next time, use a wide push broom or rake to remove leaves, pine needles, grass clippings and other debris.
4. Add Air, Save Water
Aerators introduce air into a faucet's stream, reducing the amount of water by about half without lowering the pressure. Replace standard faucet aerators with aerators that are equipped with , which can decrease the flow from the standard 2.75 gallons per minute (gpm) down to about 1 gpm.
5. Insulate Hot-Water Pipes
Wrap all hot-water supply pipes with foam rubber insulation. The dense rubber will keep water that's trapped in the pipe hotter for longer, reducing the time you have to run cold water while you wait for it to heat up. As a bonus, you'll save on fuel to heat the water.
6. Wash Full Loads
It's most efficient to run only full loads in your washing machine. If you must wash a partial load, adjust the water level to match the size of the load. If you're buying a new machine, most Energy Star washers use 35 to 50 percent less water (and 50 percent less energy) per load.
7. Use Mulch
Spread a thick layer of bark mulch around flower beds, trees, shrubs and gardens. Mulch not only helps suppress weeds, it also retains moisture so you won't need to water so often.
8. Check the Loo for Leaks
A toilet tank can silently leak water for years without your ever knowing. That's because the water slowly leaks into the bowl, not onto the floor. Here's an easy way to detect toilet-tank leaks. First, remove the cover from the tank, and add a few drops of food coloring to the water. Wait about 30 minutes or so, then check the water in the toilet bowl. If the bowl takes on the color you've added, then the tank leaks. Repair or replace the flush mechanism inside the tank.
9. Sprinkler Tips
Always check the position of lawn sprinklers to ensure they're not spraying onto the street, driveway, sidewalk or patio. And if you've got an automatic sprinkler system, be sure to install a rain sensor that will shut down the system during a rainstorm. Drip irrigation systems, which are generally more precise and efficient, should be used whenever possible.
10. Limit Flushing
Don't use the toilet as a trash can. Dispose of tissues, cotton swabs and dental floss in the trashÃ'you'll save water and also prevent clogs. Consider replacing toilets with dual-flush models, which use less water depending on the contents being disposed. Another option is the , which allows you to retrofit your current toilet with a dual-flush system.
11. Shower Up
A full bath can run more than 20 gallons of water, whereas a quick shower gets you clean at around a dozen gallons. Replace standard 2.5-gallon-per-minute (gpm) showerheads with ultra-low-flow models, such as the , which uses 0.5 gpm. I recently bought one that has a shut-off valve built into the head for additional water savings. The tiny push-button valve allows me to stop the water flow while soaping up and shampooing. Then I just push open the valve to resume the water flow. As a result, I now use about half the amount of water as before.
12. Be Virtuous at the Vanity
Don't let the water run while shaving, brushing your teeth or washing your face. And if you like to shave in the shower, that's fine, just be sure to turn off the water while shaving. (Ladies, this goes for you, too.)
13. Use Your Dishwasher
A dishwasher uses less water than washing dishes by hand, especially in households with two or more people. National Geographic reports the machine uses 35 percent less; the University of Bonn, in Germany, found the dishwasher used one-sixth the amount versus washing by hand. To realize the most significant savings, you must run the dishwasher only when it's completely full and avoid prerinsing the dishes. New Energy Star-certified appliances consume about 30 percent less water (and 41 percent less energy).
14. Smart Car Cleaning
Instead of using a garden hose to wash your car, visit a car wash that recycles its water. Furthermore, parking outside during rainstorms will keep your vehicle relatively clean and greatly reduce the number of washings needed.
15. Water Landscaping Early or Late
Water lawns and gardens during the early morning hours, when temperatures are cooler. This timing will help reduce water evaporation from the sun. You can also maximize efficiency by watering in the evening, although this leaves some plants susceptible to fungus.