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5 ways to save water, energy and money

Save the Earth as well, and do it all in one afternoon.

By Karen Datko Mar 31, 2010 10:27AM

This post comes from G.E. Miller at partner blog Wise Bread.


Ambitious title for a post for sure, but not that far off when you look at the facts surrounding freshwater.


According to, 884 million people (one in eight in the world) lack access to a safe water supply. Less than 1% of the world's freshwater (or about 0.007% of all water on earth) is readily accessible for direct human use. Furthermore, an American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the typical person living in a Third World slum uses in a whole day (learn how to take a shower in 60 seconds).


All environmental guilt issues aside, saving water is not only good for the planet, it can be a highly efficient way to cut your water and energy bills (energy to heat the water). Here are the top five ways that you can cut your water use today.


Install a low-flow showerhead. If you take anything at all from this post, let it be this: Get a low-flow showerhead TODAY. One 10-minute shower with an older showerhead uses 55 gallons (5.5 gallons per minute) on average. Most showerheads made before 1992 have a 5.5 gpm flow. The newer, high-efficiency Energy Star models use less than half that (2.5 gpm).


Energy Star showerheads will run you about $35, on average. It takes only two minutes to take off an old showerhead and install a new one. That two minutes and $35 investment would save a family of four at least 27,500 gallons of water and about $260 in energy costs per year (not to mention the water costs).


That's right: A $35 investment would net you $225 in Year One and $260 every year thereafter. That's a 640% return on investment within just one year -- plus the residual effect of feeling better about yourself for saving water.

Reconsider hand dish washing. If you've switched to hand dish washing from a dishwasher, you may be doing more harm than good. Today's energy-efficient dishwashers can do the job on just a few gallons of water. An energy-efficient dishwasher can save you at least $30 per year on energy alone (vs. heated dish water) and roughly the same in water costs.


There are actually 11 dishwashers on the market right now that use less than two gallons per cycle. How many of us use more than that washing dishes by hand? I'm guilty. Bosch has the most efficient dishwashers. Check out the Energy Star dishwasher site to sort by water and energy usage per cycle.


Fix that leaky faucet. A leaky faucet can waste 2,500 gallons of water per year. If it's hot water, this could cost you $39 annually. Even if it's not hot water, 2,500 gallons is a whole lot of wasted water to have on your conscience. Here's an eHow video on how to fix a leaky faucet.


Dig out the grass. I live in Michigan, which has a humid and moderate climate, and my grass is green for about two months out of the year unless it is watered regularly. In more arid climates, the efficiency is likely worse. That's why when we re-landscaped last year, we ripped out two-thirds of the grass in our front yard and put in a garden.

It takes a ton of water to keep your grass green, not to mention the inevitable sidewalk and driveway runoff that keeps nothing green. The irony is that constantly watering your grass can do it more harm than good. Grass goes brown in hot weather for a reason -- it is going dormant to protect itself from the sun.


There are plenty of ground coverings that look great without requiring much, if any, water. Depending on your climate, take a serious look at sedum, pachysandra, myrtle, creeping lily turf, or good ole wood chips, rocks, and ornamental grasses. They tend to look much better than dormant, dead, or weed-ridden grass.


Fix your leaky toilet and make sure it has 1.6 gpf. Your toilet might be leaking, and you don't even know it. If you hear any noises when it's not in use or have to jiggle the handle, you most likely have a leak. Not sure? Put dye tablets in your tank and wait an hour. If you see any dye in the bowl, you have a silent leak on your hands. It's usually an easy fix to take care of.


Better yet, why not replace your old toilet? It can be done for about $100. Back in 1994, the U.S. government mandated that toilets use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf) vs. the standard 7 gpf. That's a huge difference.


The average person flushes a toilet 2,500 times per year. That equals 17,500 gallons of water with a pre-1994 toilet, but only 4,000 with a low-flow toilet. That's a savings of about $60 annually. If you have a pre-1994 toilet that is anything above 1.6 gpf, you are flushing your money down the crapper.


Related reading from G.E. Miller and Wise Bread:

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