This is an excerpt from Green Projects: Balancing People, Planet, and Profit by Lynn Grinnell
Most of us have read plenty about water being a critical resource. After all, only 4% of water on the earth is fresh water. I live in Florida, and we have strict water restrictions because the increase in Florida’s population has really strained the sources of fresh water. Fresh water in other areas in the US and the world are even more stressed. Even though population growth seems to be flattening as people become more educated and prosperous, it is still growing and every one of the additional persons needs water. It is therefore prudent to do what we can to save water. What’s more, if you pay for the amount of water you use, you can save hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars.
Water saving options are great because most of them are no cost or very low cost. Let’s take a look at some of those options.
What is possible at no cost?
Reduce use. Encourage people to turn off water when not in use. You can save up to six gallons of water if you turn off the bathroom faucet as you scrub your hands.  Get your hands wet, turn off the faucet, scrub, turn the water back on to rinse.
Free ways to reduce water use in toilets. As a sustainability teacher, I am always amazed at the solutions my students have found. Older toilets use a lot of water – almost twice as much as newer standard toilets (3 gallons per flush rather than 1.6 gallons per flush). My students have found a number of ways to reduce number of gallons of water per flush by using something to displace some of the water in the tank. This can be done with a brick, a durable plastic bag of sand, or a soft drink bottle with sand or liquid – anything that displaces a gallon or so of water in the tank. (Be sure to run a pilot test of this solution to make sure you don’t displace too much!)
Irrigation. Check irrigation to be sure it is set to work for the appropriate amount and time for the types of plants you have. It’s often better to water 2-3 times per day to allow the water to soak down to the roots and avoid runoff (possibly carrying off soil, mulch, or fertilizer). Make sure the irrigation is turned off or adjusted after a rain.
Mowing. Change the height of the lawn mower to allow turf to grow a little taller – this allows more rainwater to be captured and used by the grass.
How about low cost water saving options?
Aerators. The first and easiest thing you can do to reduce water use is to install aerators on every indoor faucet – in bathrooms, break rooms, and kitchens, if you have them. Aerators are only a few dollars apiece and don’t make a discernable difference to the force of the water for cleaning, while definitely cutting the actual amount of water used by a significant amount.
Dual-flush buttons. Next, you can try dual-flush retrofit kits for toilets. These allow you to choose the type of flush needed to do the job without having to replace the entire toilet. Try it on one toilet to make sure it does an adequate job for your needs.
Outdoors. Then, consider the outdoor uses of water. Add rain gauges and shut-off devices that turn off irrigation when it’s been raining. Use a soil aerator to make sure water gets to the roots. Look at drip irrigation for compact areas.
A bit more expensive, but could be a good idea…
By and large, you shouldn’t make larger improvements unless you are revamping anyway – buying replacements for fixtures, equipment, or systems that have reached their end-of-life or other major renovations. Remember, you don’t want to inadvertently increase your environmental impact in the interest of getting some cool innovation that doesn’t save more than the increase.
Faucets with water on-off sensors or push to turn on. After you have reduced water flow with aerators, you can do even more with new faucets with sensors that turn water on and off or faucets that turn water on and off with a lever. There are also some water-saving faucets to avoid: those that push on and provide water for a certain amount of time. These can actually waste water when only a small amount is needed and can be annoying as well.
Low-flow toilets and low-flow or waterless urinals. If you are in an older building with ancient toilets, you may be able to persuade the boss or bosses to replace them, especially if you have visitors using the bathrooms. Low-flow fixtures can save a lot of water over their long lifespan and are much more efficient at the job than they were when they first came out. Before you go to waterless urinals, do check with your stakeholders to see if they will be acceptable. Check for the WaterSense label on any plumbing fixture – these products are certified by 3rd parties that they meet certain EPA standards.
Point of use water heaters. If you need to run water for 30 seconds or more until it gets hot, you may want to consider a point-of-use heater. This can save a ton of water.
Solar hot water. (Also a water saving option if you have the same situation as mentioned above regarding point of use heaters.) Solar hot water panels are still a viable option for renewable energy but becoming less commonplace. With the cost for solar PV having come down as much as it has, PV technology has taken over the market from solar hot water systems. Solar PV can be wired to heat hot water (as well as the rest of the house) and is not as heavy on the roof. (More on solar options in another post.)
The bottom line is that you can save thousands of gallons of water with some of these simple solutions – and that can translate into lower bills, too. It’s always great when you can save money while saving the planet!
For many more ideas like these, take a look at the e-book Green Projects: Balancing People, Planet, and Profit.
For the best deal, take a look at the e-book Green Team Essentials, which has the full contents of this book and the book, How to Start a Green Team: Six Weeks of Positive Change.
- Davis, C. (2014). 6 Times You Can Turn Off the Tap to Save Water. Retrieved from: https://sustainability.ncsu.edu/blog/changeyourstate/6-times-you-should-turn-off-the-tap-to-save-water/
- Water Use it Wisely. Irrigation. Retrieved from: https://wateruseitwisely.com/100-ways-to-conserve/landscape-care/principles-of-xeriscape-design/efficient-irrigation/
- Saurini, D. (2019). Practical Approach to Sustainable Water-Use at Sunscape, Inc.
- ConservationMart (2011). Water Saving Aerators: A Mindless way to Save Money! Retrieved from: https://www.conservationmart.com/blog/index.php/water-saving-aerators-a-mindless-way-to-save-money/
- Water Saver (2016). Dual flush toilet kit – Easy to fit, start saving today. Retrieved from: https://www.water-saver.org/blog/dual-flush-toilet-kit/
- Improvenet. How much does a drip irrigation system cost? Retrieved from: https://www.improvenet.com/r/costs-and-prices/drip-irrigation-system
- Automatic Faucets for Water Conservation (2013). Retrieved from: https://sustainability-certification.com/automatic-faucets/
- GSA (2014). Indoor Water Use and Improving Performance. Retrieved from: https://www.gsa.gov/cdnstatic/Water_Indoor_Water_White_Paper_Knetwork_2012_11_26.pdf
- EnergyStar. Point of Use (POU) Water Heaters: Don’t Waste Heat between the Tank and the Tap. Retrieved from: https://www.energystar.gov/products/water_heaters/point_use_pou_water_heaters
- Interview with Bradyn Freeman, solar installer, and Rich Grinnell, MArch, instructor of college-level solar/green building courses.