Each day, the average American uses more than 150 gallons of water, more than double the usage of Danish, French, and Austrian citizens. 1
Why does this matter? Water is essential to our lives, beyond our physiological hydration needs. It’s a critical resource for irrigation, sanitation, and industrial use. And while more than 70 percent of the Earth is covered in water, less than one percent of the planet’s water is drinkable and accessible by humans in lakes, aquifers, rivers, and reservoirs.2
Due to growing populations, reckless consumption, and industrial contamination, the demand for clean water has skyrocketed while the supply is dwindling. Today, about one-third of the population is living with a water shortage, and the U.S. is experiencing some of its worst droughts in recent memory.
Not only is water a valuable and limited natural resource, it’s also becoming an expensive public utility. Since 2010, the price of an average monthly water bill for a family of four has increased by a staggering 41%.3
So what can you do? Unless you own a farm or operate a large industrial plant, your most impactful water conservation changes will happen at home. About 70% of water usage happens inside the home in showers, toilets, faucets, and washing machines. And more than 13% of indoor water usage can be attributed to fixable leaks.4 Lucky for you, making changes to these parts of your home are quite easy.
This guide will walk you through how to make your home a water conservation zone— including plumbing considerations and product upgrade information, water-saving tips, and suggestions for how to find a great plumber. Once you’re finished upgrading the inside of your house using this guide, check out our guide to xeriscaping and water-friendly landscaping. Let’s get started!
DIY Plumbing and Water Conservation Techniques
While most people associate home improvement with expensive projects, there are dozens of easy fixes you can make around the house to help conserve water. Here are just a few examples.
Insulate your water heater: Just like insulating your windows, walls, or attic, insulating your water heater is a fast and easy way to save money on your energy bill. While this won't lower your total water consumption, you'll spend much less money heating your water. If you have an older water heater, you could save as much as $45 per year by installing a water heater jacket, a process that shouldn't take more than 2 hours.
Install low-flow showerheads: According to the EPA, the average family could save 2,900 gallons of water each year by switching to WaterSense showerheads.5 Most shower heads have a flow rate of 2.5 gallons per minute (GPM), but a low-flow showerhead is only 1.5 gpm, and offers the same amount of pressure and comfort, just with less water! And less water means less energy spent on hot water. WaterSense showerheads can also save you up to 370-kilowatt hours of electricity every year.
If every home in the US switched to low-flow showerheads, the country could conserve up to 260 billion gallons of water. And the best part about low-flow showerheads? They’re quite inexpensive. You can find them for as little as $10!
Invest in low-flow sink faucets: WaterSense sink faucets can save about 700 gallons of water per household each year. That’s the same amount of water used to take 40 showers.6 Sink faucets are slightly more difficult to replace on your own, but if you love to DIY, it’s a great task to tackle.
Use water-efficient toilets: Replacing inefficient toilets can reduce family water use by up to 13,000 gallons a year! 7 WaterSense certified toilets start at around $130, and installing one is a surprisingly simple DIY task if you’re handy. To oversimplify, you drain the water, remove the bolts, break the seal keeping the toilet sturdy on the ground, and put the new toilet in its place. Check out the video below for more detailed instructions on how to replace or install a toilet.
Maintain your pool responsibly: Owning a pool can be a wonderful amenity during the hot months, but likely goes unused at different times of the year due to colder weather. When our of use, there are many simple tricks to make maintenance easier and less water-intensive.
Decrease filter motor use during winter months: Less water filtration is required when the weather is cooler.
Keep your pool covered when not being used: Covering a pool when not in use can reduce pool-heating costs, which can translate into possible savings from 50% to 70%. This will also help minimize water evaporation, and keep dirt out of the water.
Turn off waterfalls and other pool features: Enlarging the surface area of the water also increases the speed water evaporates. Turning off moving water features can cut the amount of water you need to replace by 30% to 50%.
Many states and cities offer rebates to help you pay for the cost of upgrading your home to become more water-conscious. These rebates are used to encourage homeowners to make water-wise choices when it comes to plumbing and fixtures. You can use this EPA Rebate-Finder to search for conservation-related rebates offered in your community.
Professional Plumbing and Water Conservation Upgrades
To see significant, sustained savings on your water bills, you’ll need to do more than just shut off the faucet when you brush your teeth. If you hire a professional, you could see tremendous results and savings for years to come. Here are a few indoor plumbing projects that typically require the help of experts.
Install On-Demand Water Heaters
Also known as tankless water heaters, on-demand water heaters provide hot water only when needed. They don’t store warm water or use up valuable energy doing so. With a tankless heater, cold water runs into the unit and is heated by gas or electricity.
One downside to tankless water heaters is they usually cannot simultaneously support multiple water-use activities, such as showering and dishwashing, so some homes require more than one heater to be installed. However, for families who are already using less water than average, the savings with an on-demand system can be to 35%. 8 Tankless water heaters are more expensive to install than traditional water storage heaters, usually starting around $800, plus installation of new gas pipes, ventilation systems, and wiring. If you can afford the upfront investment, the system pays for itself in a few years.
Install Water Reuse Systems
Water reuse systems, also called Greywater reuse systems, encourage the use of runoff from showers, baths, sinks, and washing machines, which make up 30% of indoor water usage. 9 Licensed engineers help build systems to collect, treat, and transport the water for reuse in outdoor irrigation.
Gray Water laws and policies vary by state, so you’ll need to do some investigation to be sure you can install a system for your home.
A simpler version of water reuse system is rain harvesting. Rain barrels can be used to collect rainwater for irrigation and outdoor water use, but this is also dependent on your state’s local rainwater harvesting laws.
Small leaks can add up quickly. One drip per second adds up to five gallons per day, which can snowball into nearly two thousand gallons of wasted water each year. As soon as you notice a leak, contact a professional to determine the best way to fix the problem.
How to Hire a Plumber
When you’re ready to start some serious indoor water conservation projects, you’ll want to contact a professional plumber. Here are a few tips to make the process go smoothly.
Ask for proof of license: Most states require plumbers to obtain licenses. You can visit your state’s Board of Plumbing website to search the number and make sure the plumber you’re working with is fully licensed.
Make sure the business is insured: Be sure the plumbing company has workers’ compensation and liability insurance in case of an accident.
Get multiple estimates: Find out how much the job is going to cost you and whether you’re paying an hourly rate or a fixed project rate. Don’t forget to ask if parts are included in the service. If not, get an estimate that includes everything. It’s always better to have options, so we recommend you get at least 3 quotes before making any final hiring decision!
Compare your options: Comparison shopping is your best tool to get a great price for your plumbing project. You wouldn’t buy a new TV without comparing, and this shouldn’t be any different. Take some time to read online reviews and compare professional accreditations. However, all reviews should be taken with a grain of salt, as some customers enjoy over exaggerating their dissatisfaction.
Water conservation is more important than ever. As the population grows, temperatures rise, and the demand for water increases, we need to be responsible about how we treat this precious natural resource. By making small changes inside your home, you can make a big a difference. And when you don’t feel qualified to take on bigger conservation tasks, there are plenty of eco-friendly plumbers who can help make bigger water-wise upgrades. Remember, your individual choices and decisions have a great impact on the environment and how much water will be available for future generations!
Laurence has more than 30 years of experience as a licensed electrician and general contractor, focusing on building, lighting, and electrical services. He currently holds two California licenses, C10 - Electrical and B – General.
Over the course of his career, Laurence has worked on industrial, commercial, and residential projects in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego.