5 low-cost products that pay for themselves on your water bill
Water, water, everywhere, yet it's a shame to waste a drop. Homeowners pay for every gallon brought into the house, and even many apartment dwellers deal with water bills averaged among other tenants. In addition to the water itself, there are costs associated with heating it for the desired use and disposing of soiled water into municipal sewer lines or septic tanks that require occasional maintenance.
Everyone has heard the drill about taking shorter, cooler showers; washing the car less often and flushing only when solid waste is involved. Yet there's only so much change that behavioral modifications can effect. Sometimes to reach greater efficiency, we must invest a couple of nickels.
Below are some of my favorite handy-dandy accessories for pinching the water penny.
The fastest way to reduce our water bills is simply to use less by making small investments in products certified to be more efficient than what we may be used to. At the same time, lowering our consumption also benefits communities by reducing the load on our supply and waste systems.
What to look for
WaterSense is an EPA partnership with manufacturers and utilities designed to transform the marketplace for products and services that use water, and promote water efficiency to conserve water and reduce infrastructure costs. Products with the WaterSense label are certified to use at least 20-percent less water while saving energy and performing at least as well as ordinary products.
Older toilets can use up to 6 gallons per flush, versus the current federal standard of 1.6 gallons and many newer toilets at 1.28. If every old, inefficient toilet in the United States were replaced with WaterSense units we could save as much water each year as goes over Niagara Falls every 12 days (about 520 billion gallons).
If you’re not in the market for new toilets you can still conserve water in other ways. An adjustable flapper (the part your toilet handle lifts when you push down) can save a significant amount of water every flush. Aging flappers are prone to leaks anyway, so you might be losing water both per flush and per hour (check by putting 10 drops of food coloring into the tank and wait about fifteen minutes to see if the color appears in the bowl). If a flapper passes the leak test but continues to run after the flapper seats itself a new fill valve is in order.
Another low-cost way to reduce consumption is a toilet tank bank. The idea is to take up space in the tank so less water is needed to raise the float to where it will shut off the incoming supply. Some people have had good results with filling a bottle with sand and/or water and putting it in the tank, but an inexpensive toilet tank bank clips onto the side out of the way of moving parts. However, you reduce tank capacity, be sure to maintain a level that will flush effectively because every time you have to flush twice you lose your savings!
According to an EPA finding, lower utility bills and reduced water heater usage achieved with low-flow WaterSense showerheads combine for potential household savings of nearly 3,000 gallons and enough electricity to power a house for 11 days. For Seinfeld fans, note these shower heads aren’t the low power, low satisfaction units that had Kramer and Newman searching for a “real” shower head. Aerating showerheads mix air into the stream of water for even pressure, while water flow through non-aerating units pulse a bit with rapid variations in pressure, similar to a shower massage.
We can also simply get out sooner! People tend to relax in a nice warm morning shower, thinking about what the day is going to be like, just daydreaming or belting out one more verse of Yankee Doodle Dandy. A waterproof shower timer will remind us that the rest of the day is waiting.
Faucets and aerators
WaterSense faucets and accessories that use a maximum of 1.5 gallons per minute use 30 percent less water than standard faucets. Homeowners can also retrofit older faucets with more efficient low-flow aerators. Replacing a standard 2.2 gallon per minute aerator with one using 0.5 GPM is a 77-percent reduction, or more than 18,000 gallons of water annually for an average household.
Waiting for hot water? Insulate!
If you have to wait too long for hot water to arrive, insulate hot water lines in crawl spaces or other accessible areas. Pre-slit foam pipe insulation is easy to snap in place, even bending around elbows and joints. Don’t forget to close sections and the slit with tape once installed.
… and outdoors?
If you’re a gardener, capture water now spilling out from a downspout in a rain barrel. Connect a hose to the outlet at the bottom and if you have enough slope to the garden you’ll save on watering. If not on a slope, consider using an inexpensive pump to move your free water.
Jeff Campbell, a veteran homebuilderandenvironmental health and safety journalist, is the products and media editor for ProudGreenHome.com.