Image by Joe Schlabotnik
While I wouldn't say that I'm completely unconcerned about conserving water, it hasn't been a large focus for me in my desire to simplify our home and practice better stewardship of the earth that God has given us dominion over. I had heard and read bits of information here and there about how to conserve water, but sometimes when you jump into making a lot of changes in life, some of them stick with you more, and others you just pass on by until you're ready to really go there.
I think that as North Americans we tend to expect clean water to always just be there when we want it. I say that because I often live that way myself. We forget that we are incredibly fortunate to live in a part of the world that does have fresh, clean water for us to use daily and we act as though that water will be there forever. Although we are usually advised to limit our water use each summer, I've never been in a situation where water shortage became a reality.
The issue became much more real to me a couple years ago when we considered a job opportunity for my husband in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. When we began to hear the news stories of the very real water shortage happening in Georgia later that same year, I was suddenly struck by the fact that water shortage is not only a possibility, but perhaps it is more imminent than I thought.
"Although water covers about 70% of our planet's surface, less than one percent of that is safe and available for human use. That one percent must be shared among countries and continents and between the many residential, agricultural, commercial, industrial and envrionmental needs we all have. In the United States alone we demand 26 billion gallons of water every single day. Thirteen percent of that is for residential use, with each person in the country averaging as much as a hundred gallons of water per day.
Because water consumption has increased threefold across the planet in the last fifty years, people everywhere are suddenly feeling the pinch. In the United States over the last five years, nearly every region of the country has experienced water shortages. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, at least thirty-six states are expected to experience local, regional, or statewide water shortages by the year 2013."
This quote is from the book Sara Snow's Fresh Living which I've been reading lately (and recommend). She touches on the topic of water conservation multiple times, as the book takes you on a tour of your home, discussing ways to weed out those things that are toxic to you and your family, or damaging to the environment. There are so many places in our homes where we use water in truly astounding amounts. Here are some of the examples that she mentions:
- In the shower- 4 to 7 gallons per minute, which means that your 5 min. shower uses 25 gallons of water on average. A 10 minute shower uses an incredible 50 gallons!
- In the toilet- Anywhere from 3.5 to 7 gallons per flush for a pre-1992 toilet. Newer, low-flow, energy efficient toilets are generally only 1.6 gallons-per-flush (gpf). We have an older home, so let's suppose our toilet uses 5 gpf and we use it maybe 20 times per day, that's 100 gallons a day just for the toilet!
- In the sink- The typical bathroom faucet uses anywhere from 2-6 gallons per minute.
- In the laundry- A washing machine can use as much as 30-35 gallons per load of wash! I do about 8-10 loads a week (a couple small, but most large loads). That's 300-400 gallons a week!
(I also found this nifty water-use calculator to try to figure out how much water your family uses. I'm not sure how accurate it is, but I think it's eye opening to try to estimate the amounts anyways!)
A friend of mine was babysitting her friend's son and was reprimanded by him when she flushed his pee-only potty use down. In his home, they practice the phrase "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down." He was quick to inform her (as his mom so often reminds him) that "God gave us that water!" Ouch! But that's a wise 3 year old (who happens to have a very wise and conscientious mommy)! Edit: Realized I need to explain that we don't necessarily use this practice in our home, but I think it's wonderful that a mom is purposefully teaching her children to carefully consider how they use the resources that have been entrusted to them. It looks different for all of us, of course.
I want to practice good stewardship in every area of my life, and now that I've been further educated, this area should be no exception. I intend to put some of these ideas into practice in the next few weeks and will include my children as I do it, teaching them about why the water that we use matters.
Ways to Lower Your Water Use:
- Only use the washing machine when you have a full load.
- If you're going to wash a smaller load, make sure to adjust the water settings to a lower level.
- Time your showers and once you've established your average shower time, begin to cut it back, one minute at a time until you can do it in 5 minutes or less.
- Bathe your kids in less water. They're small and the tub doesn't need to be more than half full to get those little bodies clean.
- Take showers and baths less often. My skin and hair have appreciated the fact that I've cut my showering down to every second day instead of every day. My kids take a bath twice a week at most. They don't stink too bad. :) (Just kidding!)
- Install a low flow shower head that will use less gallons per minute. (Look for the term "Water Sense" on bathroom appliances)
- Fix any leaky faucets.
- Install a "faucet aerator" on any faucet that is using a lot of water per minute. (You can also find "Water Sense" faucets)
- Purchase Energy Star appliances the next time you're replacing an appliance, especially for items like the washer or dishwasher, etc. If you're replacing a toilet, look for one that is low-flow or energy efficient. There are also new dual-flush toilets (yes, a little flush for #1 and a big flush for #2).
- If you're stuck with an older toilet, take a water bottle or small milk jug and fill it halfway with pebbles and the rest of the way with water then put the cap on. Open up the back tank on your toilet and put the container into the tank. This displaces the water so that less fills up the tank and less is used with each flush.
- Always turn the water off when brushing teeth, then just turn it back on for a quick rinse of your brush. Same goes for when you're washing your face, shaving, etc.
- Don't leave the water running while rinsing your dishes. Either use the stopper and put a bit of water in the second half of your sink and do your rinsing in that, or let a few clean dishes build up in the clean sink before you turn on the tap to give them all a quick rinse at one time.
- Never run your dishwasher when it's not full. Learn to organize it well so that you can use it as efficiently as possible. More on using your dishwasher well here.
- Carefully observe the lawn-watering restrictions in summertime and keep your watering minimal. Yes, green grass is nice but letting it dry out a bit isn't the end of the world. If you must water the lawn, be sure to do it in the morning before the day heats up, or later in the evening once it's cooled off again.
- If you garden, try putting buckets out to catch the rainfall and use these for watering your garden instead of the hose. Don't water except when it's absolutely necessary (for new seeds, or when the weather has been extremely hot and dry), and mulch to conserve water.
- Your suggestion here...
These are just some of my suggestions and some from Sara Snow's Fresh Living. How do you conserve water in your home? And are any of these suggestions something that you think would be feasible for you to do?