Water is essential to life and to our daily lives. We use it to cook, to clean, to keep our lawns and gardens green and growing, and for a dozen other uses everyday. And that adds up to a lot of water.
In fact, compared to Europeans, we use more than twice as much water.
Each of us uses about 335 litres of water each day. Of that, 30% is flushed down the toilet. Another 35% is used in showers and baths. Clothes washing takes about 20%. Another 10% is used in the kitchen for drinking, food preparation and dish washing. And, 5% goes for general cleaning around the house.
When summer rolls around, and it's time to water the lawn and wash the car, household water use can increase by 50% or more!
Whenever we use water, there's a potential for water savings. This guide will illustrate where and how you can use water more wisely both inside and outside the home.
Following the three golden rules of water conservation – reduce, repair, and retrofit – we can easily cut our water use nearly in half.
It's surprising how much water gets wasted. We just let it run down the drain. Become conscious of the amount of water you're using and look for ways to use less whenever you can.
A leak of one drop per second wastes 10 000 litres of water a year. Most leaks are simple to find and easily fixed, at low or no cost.
Retrofit means adapting or replacing an older, less water efficient fixture or appliance with one of the many water saving devices now on the market.
There are many small steps you can take that add up to big water savings in the kitchen. These range from how you cook to how you clean up.
Water efficient faucet aerators are a good idea in the kitchen because they reduce water flow. They can, however, cause problems with some dishwashers that hook up to the faucet and require an unrestricted flow.
Home water treatment systems are a necessity in some parts of the country, but their water consumption can be considerable.
Water treatment/softening systems are designed to remove calcium and magnesium – the minerals that cause scaly deposits on faucets and shower heads, spots on dishes, and rings around the bathtub.
But, a mid-sized system can use about 350 litres of water every time it regenerates the softening agent. If this backflushing happens several times a months, it can add up to 10 000 litres of water flushed down the drain each year.
If you must use a water conditioning system, make sure it is the type that regenerates only when necessary, not a fixed time or water volume basis.
Home water filtration systems are designed to take impurities out of your water and make it safer to drink. They too, can waste a lot of water doing their job. Reverse osmosis systems, for example, return only 10% to 20% of the water that flows through them. The rest goes down the drain. Some filters cause more problems than they solve, increasing the bacteria count of the water that flows through them. Remember to change filters as recommended by the manufacturer.
Sink garbage disposal systems are water wasters as well. In order for them to work properly, you must run the tap. Depending on how often the unit is used, it may consume hundreds of litres of water each week. Consider composting your kitchen wastes instead.
The bathroom accounts for about 65% of the water used inside the home. Since we waste the most here, it's also the area where potential water savings are the greatest – and, the easiest to obtain.
A few water-wise habits will save you thousands of litres of water each year.
These are just a few examples. The more aware you become of your own water using habits, the more room you'll find for improvement.
To check if your plumbing system is leaking, locate your water meter and record the reading before going to bed, and again early in the morning, before any water use. Compare the two readings. If there is a difference, you've got a leak that needs to be fixed.
Leaking faucets can be deceptively large water wasters. A tap, leaking at a rate of only one drop per second, can waste more than 25 litres of water a day – that's about 10 000 litres a year. The larger the leak, the more water is lost. The problem is often a worn-out washer, which costs pennies to replace.
Depending on the faucet type and your skill with a few tools, you can probably fix the problem yourself. If you're a little hesitant, consult a do-it-yourself book. Kits sold in plumbing supply stores often contain all the information you need.
A leaking toilet can do even more damage to your water conservation efforts. A toilet that continues to run after flushing can waste 200 000 litres of water in a single year – enough water to fill a large inground swimming pool!
If the leak in your toilet is bad enough, you can usually hear the water running. That isn't the case with a small leak. Try this. Put some food colouring in the holding tank and wait about fifteen minutes. If the colour shows up in the bowl without the aid of a flush, you've got a leak. A silent leak like this can waste up to 45 litres of water per hour.
Toilet run-on usually means that the flush or flapper valve isn't sitting properly in the valve seat at the bottom of the tank. It may be that the valve needs replacing. This is an inexpensive item to replace. First, turn off the water inlet tap under the tank by turning it clockwise as far as it will go. Hold the flush lever down until the tank empties. Remove the valve assembly and take it to the store to ensure you get an exact match.
If the flapper is still serviceable, it may be that the valve seat has corroded or that there is an accumulation of mineral deposits on the seat. If that's the case, dry the valve seat with a cloth, and sand it smooth again with a piece of emery paper.
Kinked flapper lift chains can also allow toilet run-on. When they kink, they prevent the flapper from closing properly on the valve seat. Replace them with the ball-type link chain which is less prone to kinking. Pay careful attention to the way the old chain is installed as you remove it and install the new one in the same manner, following the same route.
A leak at the base of the toilet? Call a professional.
Toilets: If your toilet is more than ten years old, it's probably a water-waster, using about 18 litres or more of water per flush. Over the course of a year, that means each of us uses about 30 000 litres of fresh, pure water to dispose of only 650 litres of body waste – assuming 4.5 flushes per person per day.
There are many products that you can install in the tank of an existing toilet to reduce the amount of water used in a flush cycle. These devices fall into three generic categories:
See your local plumbing supply or hardware store to find out which type will work best for your toilet. Toilet dams are popular, because they are easy to install. They need to be checked periodically to ensure they have not slipped out of place. You'll save about 5 litres per flush using a set of two.
If your toilet was manufactured after 1985, it could be a water-conserving type which used about 13 litres per flush. These type usually have an insulated foam liner in the tank. If you have a toilet tank like this, try one toilet dam at one end of the tank first. Installing both dams in a set may cut water use too much and prevent the flush cycle from clearing the bowl – leading to double flushing.
Don't put rocks or bricks in your tank because they can break down over time and cause damage.
If you do have an old toilet, it may be time to replace it with one of the many water efficient models that are now commercially available. Plumbing codes are changing and, in may parts of Canada, 6 litre ultra low flush toilets are already becoming standard in new construction and renovations.
Ultra low flush toilets generally use a smaller water reservoir or tank and a specially designed bowl to give you the same flush power but with a lot less water. A model using 6 litres per flush is your best choice if you really want to save water. For example, a 6-litre flush means nearly a 70% reduction in water use over the standard toilet.
Showers: There's nothing like a long hot shower – which is why the shower is the second heaviest water user in the house, averaging flow rates of 15 to 20 litres per minute.
Your best bet is to install a low-flow shower head for which a 9.5 litres per minute flow rate is becoming the standard. This means a typical household could save up to 1000 litres of water each week – not to mention extra savings on the energy bill. Again, plumbing codes are changing and, in many parts of Canada, these efficient showerheads will likely be the only type you will be able to buy within the next few years.
There are two types of low-flow shower heads: aerated and non-aerated . Aerated shower heads reduce the amount of water in the flow, but maintain pressure by mixing in air. It feels like a standard shower, complete with steady spray. With the non-aerated shower head, the water is "pulsed". If you're partial to massage showers, this one's for you.
Some low-flow shower heads have a built-in shut-off button. This allows you to stop the flow of water while you lather up or shampoo, and then resume at the same flow rate and temperature. Most CSA-approved showerheads and faucets will have their flow rates stamped on them, in either litres per minute or gallons per minute.
Faucets: Low-flow aerators can be attached to faucets as well. These can reduce the flow rate by 25-50%. They aren't recommended in utility rooms where large volumes of water are needed over a relatively short period of time.
Don't confuse low-flow aerators with standard screen aerators, which do not reduce the flow rate. Ask the store clerk if you're unsure.
Cutting back on the amount of water you use for clothes washing will take a little forethought. You'll find, however, that your efforts will be doubly rewarded. Not only will you reduce water consumption but you'll be saving on energy costs as well .
Reduce and Retrofit
An automatic clothes washer can use from 150 to 250 litres of water for each cycle. That's about 20% of total indoor water use.
Many washers allow you to adjust the amount of water according to the size of the wash load. If yours doesn't, let the laundry build up until you have a full load before setting the machine in motion.
If you're investing in a washing machine, consider one of the new water efficient machines. Choose a washer that allows you to practice conservation by using features such as load size selector and variable water control.
Up to 90% of the energy used for washing clothes goes to heat the water. Washing in warm water not only cuts back on your energy bills, it's easier on your clothes.
When it comes to the hot water tank itself, a few simple measures will save you water, and cut back on your water heating bills. A family of four may spend as much as $600.00 per year to heat water. Depending on the type of tank, some of that energy is wasted as stand-by losses – heat lost through the walls of the tank – and, in the case of gas or oil units, as heat lost through the exhaust stack.
By setting the thermostat back to 50°C, and insulating the tank and the hot water pipes, you can reduce water heating costs by about 25% for an investment of under fifty dollars. And you'll save water at the same time. Because the insulation keeps the water hotter longer, less water is wasted running the tap to get the desired temperature.
You can construct a heat trap for under $25 and it will pay back in less than two years. Heat traps are easy to install; some can be snapped into place with plastic fasteners.
Tankless or point-of-use water heaters are another option. Tankless water heaters don't store hot water. They switch on after you turn on the tap and a heat exchanger heats the water as it travels to the spout. This eliminates both stand-by losses and heat lost through the hot water pipes. They are, however, an expensive option, and do not perform well in large households with large hot water demands. They are a good choice at the cottage.
How much water your household can save will depend on the number of water using appliances and fixtures in your home and, most importantly, how you use them.
According to the most recent Statistics Canada figures (1996), the typical Canadian household comprises 3.1 people. Assuming a per capita consumption rate of 326 litres per day, the typical Canadian household would use about 7100 litres per week, just for indoor use. Add another 2000 litres per week averaged over the year for lawn and garden watering and car washing. The total is about 472 000 litres per year!
In the bathrooms, converting to 6 litre per flush toilets and 9.5 litre per minute showerheads (and modifying a few water using habits) could achieve an impressive 2000 litres per week savings.
Using the washing machine and the dishwasher more efficiently could cut water use by 100 litres per week.
In the outdoors, following the steps outlined in this guide could result in savings of about 1000 litres per week.
Altogether, that's a savings of about 3100 litres per week, or about 160 000 litres (160 cubic metres) per year – just over a 35% reduction!
Another point to remember is that you can add the savings from reduced water heating costs to these savings. And, as prices rise, so will the savings.
You get high water marks – by saving water, energy and money, and protecting the environment – if you follow the steps outlined in this guide. By starting right away, you're on the road to making water conservation in the home a comfortable, familiar and reassuring habit.
The bottom line? Water conservation is both painless, in terms of its impacts on our lifestyles and pocketbooks, and priceless, in terms of its environmental benefits for ourselves and future generations.
Based on 1996 rates for metered users (combining a water and sewer charge), what would this 160 cubic metre reduction in yearly household water use represent in dollars in selected cities across Canada? Let's look at: Victoria, British Columbia; Edmonton, Alberta; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Toronto, Ontario; Sherbrooke, Quebec; and Halifax, Nova Scotia:
Source: Environment Canada