I’ve survived off a leaky fire hydrant in Brooklyn, biked across the USA without turning on a tap, and lived off the grid using less than 5 gallons of water per day, all to draw attention to how much water we use in the United States. These adventures were all very challenging, even for me, but the good news is you don’t have to do any of them. You can simply just use water wisely and I’ve written this simple guide that will help you do that exactly.
This is a very simple and practical guide on how you can use way less water. But before I get into the tips on how to reduce your water here’s a bit of information about water usage and why you might want to use less of it.
Most of us use way more water than we realize because it comes out of our faucets whenever we want it to at the simple turn of a knob. We don’t have to think twice about it at all because it’s always there when we need it. The average American uses 80-100 gallons of water per day at home. To give you a little comparison, over in Europe they use 50 gallons of water per day and in Africa they use just 2-5 gallon of water per day.
When we use water we use a lot more than just water. We also use the electricity that was used to get it to us, the fossil fuels used to create that energy, and all the chemicals used to treat the water both before and after it flows through our faucets. For example according to the EPA letting a faucet run for five minutes uses about as much energy as letting a 60-watt light bulb run for 22 hours. So when we overuse water we also overuse electricity and fossil fuels, causing pollution. Water of course costs money too so wasting water can be a huge waste of money as well.
It’s actually quite simple to reduce your water usage. There really is nothing complicated about it and we can all do it. It’s just as simple as being conscious with all of your actions and using less water. If as an American you reduced your usage just to what the average European uses you’d save 18,000 gallons per year. That’s a lot of water. And if they can do it in Europe, we can certainly do it here while still living very satisfactory lives.
Now, that 80-100 gallons of water that the average American uses at home does not include any of the things we do outside our home. It does not include the food we purchase, and that is actually the way in which we use the most water. For example, about 600 gallons of water goes into the production of one industrially produced hamburger. Of all the things you may eat, industrially produced meat and animal products take the most water to produce, so the greatest step you can take in reducing your true water usage is to avoid all factory farmed and industrially produced meat, eggs and dairy. You don’t have to go all the way to make a huge difference. You can reduce your meat, dairy and egg intake to a reasonable amount.
Now here’s how you can reduce your water usage at home:
Laundry. Wash clothes less often and in full loads. Most clothes don’t need to be washed every time you wear them. If you don’t have a full load you can combine loads with a family member or roommate.
Toilet. The toilet is often our biggest user of water inside our homes. With every flush you use 1.6 gallons of water. That’s equivalent to a three-day supply of drinking water. One of the simplest ways to use less water here is to just flush the toilet less. If it’s yellow let it mellow. If it’s brown flush it down. You can also put a bottle of sand or rocks in the toilet tank. The space that bottle takes up will displace water, meaning with each flush you will save that volume of water. If you really want to cut back you can install a compost toilet in your home or outside.
Showers and baths. Simply take shorter and less showers. You don’t need a shower every day to have excellent hygiene. When you do shower, every minute you shave off will save about two gallons of water. One smart way to cut your water usage is to shut off the water after getting yourself wet, then scrubbing down while the shower is off. Then turn on the shower to rinse off. In this way you can save over ten gallons of water per shower!
Washing dishes. It turns out that an efficient dishwasher uses less water than most people would use doing dishes by hand. If you are using a dishwasher make sure you are doing full loads. However, if you want to keep things simple like me and can be really conscious with your usage then dish washing by hand can be the most efficient. Rather than running the water on each dish, fill up a washbasin and a rinse basin so that you can use the same water over and over again. You can also reduce water usage by just having a lot less dishes and using the same ones over and over. I actually lick my plate clean so that I only have to use a tiny bit of water but I’m sure this is a tip only the most excited people will adapt!
The faucet. Just turn off the faucet when you’re not using it. This is as simple as being conscious and only using what you really need at the faucet. You can use as little as a few ounces of water by just wetting your brush and then turning off the faucet while you’re brushing. This can actually save up to five gallons of water every time you brush.
Install water efficient appliances, shower heads, faucets, and toilets. When you do this you cut back on your water usage without having to make any changes to your daily actions. Low flow faucet aerators can reduce the flow from 2.2 gallons per minutes to .5 gallons per minute. This means every minute the faucet is on you are using 1.7 less gallons of water. These aerators cost around $3 and take a few minutes to put on. Talk about an easy way to save water!
Fix leaks. Drips can waste far more water than you might imagine. A leaky toilet for example can waste 200gallons of water per day. Make sure any leaks are fixed whether it’s your sink, toilet, hose, or anywhere else inside or outside the house.
Grow food, not lawns. Lawns can be an incredible waste of water and take a lot of maintenance. If you want to drastically cut back on your water usage and use water wisely then I highly suggest you ditch the lawn and replace it with gardens where you can grow some of your own food.
Plant natives. Rather than growing plants that are not adapted to your climate and may need a lot of extra water, grow plants that are adapted to your climate. In this manner you may not even need to water them at all as they will get by happily on just the rain. Turn your grassy lawn into a native prairie or a beautiful scene of wildflowers for the bees.
Harvest rainwater. Rather than watering your garden with the hose simply harvest the rainwater and use it for all of your outdoor needs. If you have gutters on your house then most of the work is done already. You can simply set big basins below the downspout to collect the water or if you want, you can build something a little more intricate. Even in drought stricken Southern California the average sized house can collect 10,000 gallons of water per year.
Install greywater. This can be as simple as disconnecting the P-trap on your sink and putting a five-gallon bucket underneath it. You can then use that water to water your plants. Otherwise, you can actually have a plumber (or yourself) install a greywater system so that instead of your water going into the sewer it can go directly into your outdoor plants.
Washing stuff. Try to not use water to wash anything like your car, your driveway, or your house. A dry towel or a broom will often get the job done depending on what it is. Avoid using power washers.
Those are my tips. Of course this does not cover all the ways that we use water, but if you apply all of these tips you could easily cut your usage in half or more. These days I use less than five gallons of water per day and am sure that you could be happy using just ten to twenty. Not only does it save you money but it’s also extremely rewarding to know that you are doing your part for the environment and for humanity!
I suggest you choose just one of those things to start with today, make it a habit and then next week start another one. Start with the easier tasks and then move onto the more challenging ones. One step at a time you’ll feel more empowered and even the more difficult tasks will become easier.
Thirsty for more? Check out this video and see how not a single gallon of water goes to waste at my off the grid tiny house!