Column: What can I do to conserve water at home?
Water is vital to the survival of everything on our planet; it is a life-giving and -sustaining resource, and there is no alternative for water. The reservoir lakes, rivers and aquifers in Arizona have been shrinking for the past 20 years, and we are a long way from the goal of Safe-yield: Balance between the amount of water withdrawn from and recharged into the aquifer each year. Prescott has an average indoor water use of 98 gallons per person per day; this is twice what it could be with simple conservation.
Water conservation is the easiest, cheapest, and fastest way to control water use. Currently, water conservation efforts by local governments are embryonic at best, and all can do much better. On the other hand, the cities keep pushing for more and more industrial and residential growth, allocating large amounts of water that doesn’t exist.
The good news is that by using a little “water sense” we can all save water, energy, and money. WaterSense, a program supported by the Environmental Protection Agency, offers people a simple way to use less water with water-efficient products and conserving behaviors. According to the EPA, if Prescott residents were to implement “WaterSense” conservation practices and reduce water consumption by 30, percent it would save 1.1 billion gallons of water a year.
New homes are now required to use these water-efficient products, and in many cases, these are the only products available today. The big question is what about the thousands of homes that were built before WaterSense products?
Studies have shown that the average home wastes more than 3,650 gallons of water per year just waiting for hot water to arrive at the faucet from the tank. New homes now have a recirculating system to conserve and provide instant hot water. Older pre-existing homes do not, and installing a recirculating system can be complex. However, using a recirculating valve at the farthest point from the tank will do the same job. It can be installed in minutes and cost less than $200, including a circulating pump. You may need a plumber to install the pump at the tank. You can also use multiple valves if you have more than one long pipe run. You just saved 3,650 gallons of water a year and have instant hot water.
Showering accounts for nearly 17 percent of residential indoor water use, with the average family using nearly 50 gallons per day. Using a WaterSense showerhead would save another 3,650 gallons a year. Replacing old, inefficient faucets (taps) with WaterSense units that use a maximum flow of 1.5 gallons per minute can also reduce a sink’s water flow by 30 percent or more and save the average family over 700 gallons of water per year.
Toilets are by far the main source of water use in the home. Older, inefficient toilets can use as much as 6 gallons per flush; where new WaterSense units only use 1.28 gallons per flush, or 79 percent less water, and dual flush units use 1.6 gallons for a full flush and a gallon for the short flush. Both types still provide equal or superior performance than older units and save nearly 13,000 gallons of water per year.
Another water hog is clothes washing. According to the EPA the average family washes about 300 loads of laundry each year. An ENERGY STAR certified clothes washer uses 35 percent less water than regular washers; that’s 15 gallons of water per load, or 4,500 gallons per year.
Approximately 5 to 10 percent of American homes have water leaks that drip away 90 gallons a day or more! Many of these leaks reside in old fixtures such as leaky toilets and faucets. In fact, water lost by these leaky residences could be reduced by more than 30,000 gallons if new, efficient fixtures were installed.
In Arizona, a large part of domestic water use goes to outdoor irrigation, so methods and practices that target and reduce outdoor use can be very effective. If homeowners eliminate high-water-use landscapes (lawns), use drip irrigation systems and plants that come from a desert environment they could reduce irrigation water by at least 15 percent or about 9,000 gallons annually.
By using water efficient products and practices, consumers can save natural resources, reduce water consumption, and save money. If Prescott residents were to implement these water conservation products and practices and reduce water consumption by 30 percent, it would save 1.1 billion gallons (3,644-acre feet) of water a year. For existing homes, a much more realistic incentive program would make a lot of sense. The existing program can be found at http://www.cityofprescott.net/_d/cctitleiii1110.pdf Section 3-10-8 addresses the current water incentive programs that are very weak.
The tradeoff is, do we spend hundreds of millions of dollars installing pipelines from far away water sources, or do we spend much less money on a conservation program that achieves the same end? Over time we probably need both, but in the meantime local government needs to do better to conserve water at home!
Find Paul Scrivens at greenhomeenergyadvisors.com