By Rachel Bertsche
From Green Goes Simple
You've probably given some thought to your carbon footprint, but what about your water footprint? According to the EPA, the average family of four uses 400 gallons of water per day. That's the equivalent of using more than an entire swimming pool's worth of water every two months!
Wondering where those 100 gallons per person come from? Consider this: A bathroom faucet runs at about 2 gallons of water per minute. The shower uses about 4 gallons per minute. And a single toilet flush can use as much as 7 gallons.
"That 400 gallons is just direct water use," says Kai Olson-Sawyer, a water research and policy analyst who runs the online water conservation project H2O Conserve. "It doesn't even account for our indirect, or virtual, water use, like the water used by the production of food, electricity and more."
Curious how your water intake stacks up against the average American? Plug your info into H2O Conserve's Water Footprint Calculator, and then make these easy changes that will help you save some water -- and some money on your next water bill.
1. Fix all leaks, especially in the toilet. "Leaks are huge water wasters," says Olson-Sawyer. "If you notice any drips, take care of them immediately." Flushing the toilet is, on average, the largest use of household water, and a leaky toilet can waste up to 200 gallons per day. Olson-Sawyer recommends looking into a water audit for your home, which is when a professional comes into your home to identify sources of leaks and water waste. "You might spend a little bit of money to shore up your plumbing, but you'll stop leaks that will cost you in the long run," he says.
2. Turn off the water when you aren't using it. It sounds simple and obvious, but letting the water run while you brush your teeth, shave or wash dishes is a common mistake. "It speaks to the general mentality that we have an unlimited supply of water," says Olson-Sawyer. "But it's about being conscious of your actions and your water use." Turning off the faucet while shaving or brushing your teeth can save more than 200 gallons of water per month!
3. Make your water do double duty. If you look for them, you can find a number of ways to make your water work harder for you. "When you're waiting for the shower to heat up, put a bucket underneath the showerhead," suggests Olson-Sawyer. "Collect that water to use for the plants around the house. It's a great two-for-one." You can also try washing your pet on the lawn, which needs watering anyway. You'll get a great bang for your buck.
4. Fill up your dishwasher or laundry machine before running it. "People tend to throw a shirt or two in the laundry and not think about it; the same goes for people who don't like to wash dishes," says Olson-Sawyer. "But obviously, the fuller you load the machines, the more efficient your water use will be." Still, he points out that running the dishwasher -- even if it's only half full -- is always a more conservative use of water than washing the dishes by hand.
5. Water your plants when temperatures are cooler. Do your gardening in the morning or in the evening instead of in the midday sun. "Especially during the summer, when you're more likely to be gardening, you're going to lose a hefty percentage of water to evaporation. It makes the best sense to do the work when temperatures are lower," says Olson-Sawyer.
6. Invest in water-friendly appliances. When you can, use low-flow water fixtures (including toilets) and put aerators on your sinks. Both of these features use less water but don't affect water pressure. "Make these changes as toilets or faucets wear out," says Olson-Sawyer. "You don't have to go crazy replacing them all, but when you are renovating or switching things out, keep it in mind." Look for fixtures with the EPA WaterSense label, which means they are at least 20 percent more water-efficient than average products in that category.
Rachel Bertsche is a Web producer, blogger and journalist who lives in Chicago. She's written for O, The Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire, Every Day With Rachael Ray, Outside and Fitness. Her first book, MWF Seeking BFF, will be out next year.
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