Water conservation makes good cents

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Wasting water is like flushing money down the drain. So if you’re looking for ways to save some cash, one of the simplest solutions is to save some water.

Start by checking faucets and toilets for leaks. Those little drips coming from your tap can, according to Earth Easy, waste 20 gallons of water daily – that’s 140 gallons of water a week. And the Environmental Protection Agency says a leaking toilet is even worse, wasting up to 200 gallons in a single day!

While you’re checking for leaks, consider replacing older faucets, showerheads and toilets with a WaterSense model. According to the EPA, the switch could save a family of four more than 16,000 gallons per year.

Trimming just a few minutes from your shower can also be a big help, and turning off the tap during the time it takes to brush your teeth, lather up your hands, shave, or wash your hair will save many gallons in the long run.

Now take a look at your washing machine and dishwasher. You should run your dishwasher only if it’s full, and you should use the shortest cycle that’s feasible. Doing a partial load wastes water and electricity, as does using a heavier wash setting than is necessary.

The same rules apply for the washing machine. Make sure to use a setting that’s appropriate for the load of laundry at hand, and try to run the machine only when you have a full load.

If you have older models, consider upgrading to newer, more efficient machines. A high-efficiency, front-loading washing machine alone can use up to 50 percent less water and energy versus a top-loading model.

If you’re washing dishes by hand, use two wash buckets: one to wash, and one to rinse. This uses much less water than running the tap for each dish, and you can use the leftover water to give your outdoor plants a drink.

Speaking of the outdoors, let’s talk about sprinklers. Many farmers, businesses and individuals employ sprinkler systems to irrigate crops, gardens and lawns, but improper use wastes billions of gallons of water each year nationwide (this goes for other irrigation methods as well). Turning them on during the afternoon squanders a lot of H2O through evaporation. Using them at night or early in the morning makes more sense, but even then, a great deal of water is lost as runoff. It’s also often pointless to use them every day, as there may be sufficient water for the plants just below the surface. (A good rule of thumb for watering plants is to check the soil 2 inches down. If it feels moist, the roots have access to all the liquid they need.)

There are ways to tame your sprinklers, of course. Sprinkler heads should be aimed for maximum effect — spraying sidewalks, macadam or the side of your house isn’t going to help your plants. Timers can be programmed for more infrequent use, to run the sprinklers for shorter intervals, and to run them only at night or early in the morning. Rain sensors, which will keep the sprinklers off when they’re not needed, can be installed. Another nifty option, detailed in a recent Scientific American article, is a “smart” irrigation system that controls watering cycles based on satellite data and weather forecasts. According to the piece, a school district that used the system managed to slash its water consumption by a whopping 39% and its utility bills by $108,000.

Replacing turf with shrubs or groundcovers that have deeper roots than water-needy grass is also helpful. Make sure to use mulch around your plants; this will help retain moisture and eliminate the need for frequent watering. And consider installing rain barrels to catch runoff from your roof that can be used later on when your plants need a drink.

Finally, don’t forget to check your outdoor spigots, irrigation systems, pools and hot tubs for costly leaks. Install covers on hot tubs and, when feasible, pools, to reduce water loss via evaporation. And keep an eye on your water meter, because spikes in usage can signal an unseen leak.

Do you have tips for water conservation? We’d love to hear them. Post them in our comments section, and we’ll share them with our readers.