The Power of Less
Discover 16 easy ways to lower your consumption.
Smart ways to reduce your water usage
MANY OF US HAVE ACCESS TO PLENTY OF FRESH WATER, but that might change within three decades. More than 5.5 billion people worldwide could face water scarcity by 2050, owing largely to global warming, according to a 2018 United Nations World Water Development Report. Half the freshwater basins in the U.S. may not meet our demands for clean water by 2071—a year our children and grandchildren will likely experience. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the average American uses approximately 80 to 100 gallons of water a day. Some of the biggest culprits? Flushing the toilet, bathing, and needlessly running faucets. These quick hacks will dramatically reduce your water usage.
In the Kitchen
SKIP THE PRERINSE Handwashing dishes uses almost five times as much water as an energy-efficient dishwasher (20 gallons versus 41/2). Don’t rinse them spotless before loading. “That’s your dishwasher’s job. Many newer models have powerful sensors that check the progress of your dishes throughout the cycle and adjust the spray accordingly,” says Jill Notini, vice president of communications at the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. If you’re washing by hand, simply fill your sink with hot, soapy water, let your dishes soak, and then rinse them, says Ed Osann, director of national water-use efficiency at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
BOIL STRATEGICALLY Boil food in as little water as possible—just enough to submerge your pasta or veggies. (Bonus: With less water, you retain more flavor.) And instead of rinsing food under cold water to cool it, try tossing it with a few ice cubes in a bowl and then draining it after the ice melts, suggests Jackie Newgent, RDN, a nutritionist in New York City and the author of The Clean & Simple Diabetes Cookbook.
RINSE AND DEFROST RIGHTEOUSLY
Place fruits and most veggies (not greens or anything gritty) in a large bowl of water and scrub them with a veggie brush, then rinse. If you need to defrost items like frozen meat quickly, use the microwave.
In the Bathroom
DON’T RUSH TO FLUSH Toilets account for about 30 percent of your home’s indoor water consumption, according to the EPA. You can halve that amount by flushing after every other use, says Glenn Gallas, vice president of operations for Mr. Rooter Plumbing, a national plumbing company. If you’re replacing your toilet, consider a two-flush model, which does a light flush (about one gallon) for pee and a complete flush (about 1.6 gallons) for poop. Prices start at around $200.
CHECK YOUR TOILET FLAPPER An undetected toilet leak could waste up to 30 gallons of water a day, Gallas says. Try this easy check: Put a drop of food coloring in your toilet’s tank and wait 10 minutes. If the dye shows up in the bowl, you have a leak (oh hello, Encyclopedia Brown!). It can likely be fixed by installing a new toilet flapper, which you can get at a hardware store for under $10, Gallas says.
REPLACE YOUR SHOWERHEAD Standard models use 21/2 gallons of water per minute, according to the EPA. Try one that carries the EPA’s WaterSense label, which trims that by about 20 percent. The EPA has tested these products with consumers, to weed out ones with weak sprays and poor spray patterns.
SCRUB AND SHAVE SMARTER The average American shower uses about 16 gallons of water, according to the Alliance for Water Efficiency. Turn the water off while you lather up and shave, Osann says, and you’ll save about two gallons every minute. A showerhead with an on-off switch (available at hardware stores for about $30) lets you pause and resume the flow without readjusting the temperature.
BUCKET UP Save another gallon per shower: While you wait for the water to get hot, collect the cooler water in a bucket. “You can use it for pets or plants,” Osann says.
DON A SHOWER CAP Speed up your shower by skipping your hair routine. If quarantimes have taught us anything, it’s that most hair
types can go up to three days without being washed. If you feel greasy, use dry shampoo, says Antoinette Beenders, senior vice president at Aveda.
WASH HANDS HANDILY We’re all scrubbing our hands nonstop lately, but if you shut off the faucet while you do that 20-second rub, you’ll save at least seven gallons a day. Turn off the water while you brush your teeth to save another eight gallons daily. That adds up to 450 gallons a month—the equivalent of about nine full bathtubs.
In the Yard GIVE YOUR LAWN A TRIM, NOT A SHAVE
The longer your grass, the less water it needs, says Lisa Stryker, vice president of communications and marketing at the National Association of Landscape Professionals. While two inches is considered the standard length, you can let grass grow more in the hotter months of July and August. Research shows that a height of 2 to 33/4 inches is best for grass health: Shorter than that can weaken grass and promote weed growth. Adjust your mower’s cutting height by placing it on a sidewalk or your driveway and using a ruler to measure from the ground to the edge of the cutting blade. If it’s under two inches, adjust each wheel to make it higher.
SAY GOODBYE TO SPRINKLERS The average American home uses about 30 percent of its water outdoors, mainly on grass. If you live somewhere that gets occasional rain, you don’t need a sprinkler system at all. “Most people don’t realize that their lawn only requires about an inch of water a week, especially if they don’t cut it too short,” Stryker says. If there are a few dry weeks, your lawn may turn brown temporarily, but it will bounce back, she adds.
INVEST IN SMARTER IRRIGATION
Plants in parched climates may need a sprinkler. Stryker recommends using a system with smart irrigation technology, which monitors weather and soil conditions to automatically adjust the watering schedule. Switching over from your existing system will cost between $500 and $1,000.
DON’T CURB YOUR COMPOST Instead of throwing your leftover food down the garbage disposal, put it to good use by composting it for the soil in your garden, advises Starr Brainard, owner of Saltless Sea Urban Farm in Duluth, Minnesota. “Compost provides a diverse and balanced array of nutrients that chemical fertilizer may not offer,” she explains. “It also acts as a sponge to hold water, so your garden will require less.” It doesn’t take much to see results. A 5 percent increase in compost, for example, quadruples soil’s water-retaining capacity, according to experts at the University of California Agriculture and National Resources. Most gardeners tend to underdo it—Brainard suggests placing a solid inch or two on top of the soil.
HOLD OFF ON THE HOSE The EPA recommends sweeping driveways, sidewalks, and steps rather than hosing them down. Need to wash your car? Many newer car washes recycle water—call yours to check.
Compost acts as a sponge to hold water, so your garden will require less.