The Five Eco Principles – Water Efficiency

While in Chicago in April, I had a chance to visit the museum of science & industry.  The experience was great, and my friend and I thoroughly enjoyed the museum.  We were both intrigued enough to pay the extra ~$25 or so to see the smart house.  We were not disappointed, and left with some good ideas about things to re-use and things to purchase made from re-used items.  Recently, I thought it would be a good idea to share the principles with the readers, and figure out how you can best take advantage of them.  Today is the fourth one, focusing on Water Efficiency.

It looks like i’ve forgotten the Overview of the process, so ill give it to you here

I have written a bit about floodplains and conservation, but have yet to write about efficiency.  In the western US where I come from, water is always on everyone’s mind.  If you want to farm, feel free, but it’s going to be difficult if you dont have the water rights to your property.  (Drinking) Water is a limited and precious resource, and should be treated as such.

It is my feeling that our water is being mis-allocated and at times wasted every day.  Part of the problems is lies in ignoring the environment when designing our neighborhoods, homes and other appliances.

The first one that comes to my mind is the lawn.  Yes, I am well aware that everyone enjoys having a good looking, green front and back lawn. In some places that get plenty of rain, this isn’t a big deal.  Using rainwater supplemented by the occasional sprinkler system to keep the lawn green is fine, so long as most of the water comes from the rain.  This does not happen where I live.  There is ~12″ of rainfall per year.  An amount this small should not be wasted on making sure that everyone has a ‘nice looking’ lawn.  There are plenty of ways to keep your lawn nice looking without using scarce resources.  Xeriscaping is a great option, and can have great results.  Xeriscaping involves design with plants that are low on water, including flowers, bark, and other drought resistant grasses.  They can save water and be nice looking!

xeriscapeImage credit:

Also, if you’re still looking for some sort of ‘lawn’, you can plant grasses that are native to the area.  Grasses such as this have already adapted to conditions in your area, and are well suited to deal without water (in my case).

In addition to the lawn options outside the home, there are also many options for becoming more efficient with your water inside the home.   There is alot of “low hanging fruit” to harvest in regards to your water usage.  One of the first ones is to turn off the water while you are brushing your teeth and washing your hands. There is no reason to leave these on, literally throwing valuable water (and money) right down the drain.  It’s a simple step that can pay back big in water saved and money saved. If your city or water utility uses “stepped” billing, the savings could be large.  For instance, if your water utility charges you 5 cents per gallon for the first 1,000 gallons, and 8 cents per gallon for gallons 1,001 – 2,000, and removing the water waste from these habits (conducted in the home at least 2 times per day), that can add up over 30 days and can possibly move you easily under 1,000 gallons per month.  Money saved!

Another opportunity  is the toilet.  We all use them, and we all have them.  A ‘typical’ toilet uses 3.5 gallons per flush, while some of the more efficient models can use as little as 1 gallon per flush.  What really piqued my interest is the double flush toilets, and their potential for water savings.  Dual flush toilets are basically what they sound like, with the toilet having a button for ‘solids’ and a button for ‘liquids’.   According to how stuff works, the most modern dual flush toilets use less than 1 gallon per flush for liquids, and just over 1.5 gallons for flushing solids.  Over the lifetime of the toilet, this can represent a huge savings not to be ignored.  Stats from toilet abc’s show that you can use less than 1/3rd of the water of a traditional 3.5 gallon toilet.  As it says on the site, the government is looking to come up with an “energy star for toilets” rating, which will probably be a good thing, given the success of the energy star label.


Now that you’ve got plenty of ideas on how to save water, where do you start? I suggest starting with the things that provide the highest return.  For example, the cost of turning off your water while brushing your teeth and washing your hands is $0, and the benefits are enormous compared to the time invested.  You will be surprised at how quickly you can form this habit.  After that, I’d move to the toilet.  You can install a double flush mechanisim for ~30, or put in double flush toilets from the get go and save some money.

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4 thoughts on “The Five Eco Principles – Water Efficiency”

  1. Another good tip for older toilets – fill one or two one-liter water bottles with water and put them in your toilet tank. It will use that much less water to fill when you flush each time!

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