US News & World Report Cover Story
By Matthew Shulman
Most of us have probably been told to turn off the faucet while brushing our teeth or to take shorter showers to conserve water. But new technologies take water efficiency to unprecedented levels, allowing households to save both water and money. John Koeller, technical adviser at the California Urban Water Conservation Council and the Alliance for Water Efficiency, gave Matthew Shulman of U.S. News some tips on how to conserve.
What new technologies are available to conserve water in the bathroom?
Toilet fixtures ... can yield significant water reduction through new high-efficiency toilets that flush with 1.3 gallons or less. The current standard in the U.S. is 1.6 gallons maximum. If you cannot afford to replace the toilet, at least replace internal parts to get rid of leaks.
Bathroom faucets need aerators that [limit the flow to] a gallon per minute or less. It's still sufficient to shave and wash your hands, but you really don't need the kind of flows that existed maybe 15 or 20 years ago in older homes.
Install a low-flow shower head. Whereas the trend these days in the luxury homes seems to be high-flow shower systems with multiple heads, generally speaking, the trend on the efficient side is to come down to 2 to 2.5 gallons a minute on the shower head.
Let's move to the kitchen.
People are using their dishwashers less and less and less. Why is that? Because people are eating out more and more and more. Dishwashers that used to be used almost once a day are now cycling only 215 times a year. There are many machines out there that now function with less than 6 gallons. In the old days, it was perhaps as much as three times that much water.
How about the laundry room?
Now we have clothes washers that are so efficient that when it comes time to replace your old one, you ought to purchase an Energy Star washer. Energy use generally correlates with water use. So if you look for an Energy Star machine, you're going to see both energy and water use reduction.
What are ways to conserve water outdoors?
First, repair the system—busted sprinkler heads, leaking pipes. Then put a good controller on. There are weather-based controllers—otherwise known as smart controllers—that operate off of either historic or current weather patterns, as opposed to a clock [for watering the lawn]. They adjust themselves to actual weather patterns and to actual plants you're watering by downloading a signal from a satellite every day.
The carwash industry is probably more efficient at washing cars than you are at home with a hose. So, go to a carwash.
What will make people change their water-use habits?
We're seeing more drought conditions and water quality problems, in states you'd never dreamed have water problems. People are thinking: What can I do to help? Water utilities [that] are aggressive are providing financial incentives for customers to change products and hopefully change their habits, too. More...