20. Save some water: Simple ideas to reduce your water use and bills

Introduction – Water, The Precious Commodity

Although water is a precious commodity we mostly take it for granted.  Did you know that 35 million Americans get sick each year due to drinking contaminated water? Water conservation is also an economic issue because clean air and clean water makes us healthier which means more productivity from employees on job sites. Today we look at how we can use water a little more wisely. Fortunately, there are lots of ways that you can help conserve water and protect our watersheds without much effort or cost on your part—and they’ll save you money too.

Water footprint is less appreciated than carbon footprint

Using less water is a simple way to save money and improve the environment. I’m going to look at three simple tips you can use to save some water. But first up, we’re going to take a look at where the world’s freshwater goes. Unlike most other commodities, the consumption of water isn’t always dominated by richer countries, which you can see clearly in this global water footprint map. This is because agriculture dominates water use. It’s responsible for around 70 percent of freshwater extraction and over 90 percent of final consumption of fresh water.

Global water footprint

If you’re looking at the bigger picture, saving water isn’t just about how you use water in and around your home— it’s also about the food that you eat, and the food that you waste. The chart below shows the relative contributions of consumption between production in agriculture, domestic use, and use by industry that’s not agriculture. All three are quite large with agriculture dominating!

Here are three tips

1. Eat Less Water

The amount of water that’s used to produce the food that you eat and waste is colossal. The easiest way to reduce the water print of the food that you eat is to waste less food, and to eat fewer animal products. Most animal products need over three tons of water just to produce a single kilogram of food. So stock up on plant-based foods, which typically need just a few hundred kilograms.

Water footprint of food production

2. Save Water Indoors

The average American home uses a little less than half of its water indoors. But if you don’t have a garden, then indoors is where you’re going to make your water savings. The big uses of water in the typical home are the toilets, washing machines, showers, faucets, and leaks. When I was preparing this video series, I crowd-sourced some suggestions from our email subscribers, and these were the favorite five: fixing leaks around the house, using the economy setting on your toilet flush, making sure you always fill the washing machine, taking shorter showers, and my personal favorite, the old school brick in the toilet system. In more detail:

Brushing teeth – turning off the faucet when you brush your teeth can save about 5 gallons of water per day. It takes about 3 seconds to turn off the faucet, so it’s easy to get into a routine and remember to do it every day.

Showering – although many people believe that showering is a necessity, it’s not. You can save up to 20 gallons of water per week by cutting your shower time in half. You don’t need to be in the shower for more than 5 minutes.

Low-flow showerhead – Related to showering, did you know that the average showerhead uses about 17 gallons of water per minute? That’s a lot of wasted water, especially if you’re not taking long showers. Install a low-flow showerhead and you’ll cut down on the amount of water used during your daily ablutions. Low-flow showerheads have been around since the ’80s, but they are still not common enough to make up for all those wasteful faucets. According to the EPA, “low flow” means one gallon per minute or less—so in reality, it doesn’t take much time savings at all! Plus, they cost less than $10 each. Installation takes only minutes and can be done by anyone who’s handy with a screwdriver; most models simply snap onto existing plumbing! And while they’re good for reducing energy bills as well as water usage (a recent study found that such devices reduced energy use by up to 37%) it seems like we could do even better by installing them ourselves instead of waiting until we start feeling guilty about wasting so much precious liquid every day…

Leak faucets – you can find the leak and fix it, or you can have a plumber do it for you. In any case, fixing a leak can save up to 10,000 gallons of water per year. This means that if you have one toilet that’s leaking and draining 3/4 gallon per flush, fixing that leak would save about $100 each year.

Outdoor vs indoor water-use with further breakdown

3. Save Water Outdoors

There are lots of clever ways to save water in your garden, but I’m just going to cover three ideas that I think are really simple and effective.

The first tip is to not water when it’s really hot. If you water during hot weather, you can lose up to 50 percent of the water to evaporation. So if you’re going to water your garden, do it later in the day when it’s cooler.

The second tip is to collect rainwater. If you have a downspout coming from your roof, you can buy a water bucket or rain barrel to collect the water.

Collecting rainwater is a great way to save money on your water bill and reduce runoff. Rain barrels are easy to use, and you can use them for watering the garden. A recent study found that 93% of Americans want their water systems to be more sustainable, but most people don’t know where their water comes from or how it’s treated before it reaches their homes. By collecting rainwater in a barrel, you’re keeping it away from storm sewers which carry toxins like fertilizers and chemicals into nearby rivers and lakes. And by keeping those pollutants out of our waterways, we’re helping keep them clean!

These things are quite cheap and the payback can be a matter of months rather than years because it’s a really easy way to collect a significant amount of water. Use it around the garden all you need to do is make a simple cut in your downpipe and then attach the collector and your water butt. We’ll probably fill up each time it rains.

The third tip is to install drip irrigation. Take a look at our guide here on drip irrigation.

4. Upgrade Your Appliances

Another way to save water is to upgrade your appliances. Appliances that are energy efficient will use less water each time they are used, saving you money on your bill and helping the environment.

When you’re upgrading your appliances, look for the Energy Star logo or seal of approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These products meet strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the EPA, so they’ll be more water efficient than other options on store shelves.

For example, if you want to buy a new washer and dryer pair for your home, consider getting one with both an Energy Star rating and a high cubic foot capacity (the bigger the better). High-efficiency washers typically use less hot water than older models do—which can contribute significantly toward reducing overall household consumption in areas where hot water is scarce or expensive—and they also clean clothes just as well without wasting excess power while doing so!

In addition: You may also want to consider opting for front-loading washing machines instead of top-loaders when buying new appliances; although these types typically cost more initially than regular ones do because they require different parts inside them (for instance filters), over time they’ll pay off because they use less soap per load of laundry compared with conventional models

5. Recycling grey water

Finally, let’s talk about recycling. Recycling greywater is a great way to conserve water in your home. Greywater is defined as the water from your sink, shower or laundry machine that you would normally dump down the drain. This includes bathtub water and even toilet bowl water (if it does not contain urine).

The important thing to remember about greywater is that it’s not sewage — it’s actually clean enough to reuse for other purposes. In fact, many cities have used this strategy for years by directing used “grey” water into holding tanks before sending it into the sewer system – so if you live in an area where they do this already, then there isn’t much more of a learning curve than switching out one pipe for another!

If you don’t have access to municipal services*, then your best bet may be installing a whole house system that collects all kinds of wastewater including blackwater (toilets) as well as graywater (showers/laundry). The collected liquid could then either be sent into storage tanks underground or even used directly outdoors without being treated further because microorganisms will break down any contaminants before they reach the soil again via evapotranspiration from plants nearby.”


As you can see, saving water is not only about turning off the tap when you brush your teeth or keeping a lid on your toilet. It’s also about educating yourself about current conservation efforts in our area and what you can do to help conserve water. Is there a drought where you live? What is being done at the local level to combat it? How can you get involved?

If we all work together by making small changes in our daily lives, we will be able to conserve enough water for everyone to enjoy—and that’s something worth conserving!

1: Introducing the Shrink

2: Eat plants for a day
3: Shuffle your food
4: Start a vegetable garden
5: Build a compost heap
6: Make a seasonal meal 

7: Take a purposeless walk
8: Cycle somewhere new
9: Let someone else drive
10: Improve your fuel economy
11: Research your motor
12: Plan a flightless holiday

13: Turn off your gadgets
14: Change a light bulb
15: Seal an air leak 
16: Control your heating
17: Control your cooling
18: Research your intensity
19: Research solar power
20: Save some water

21: Declutter a room
22: Upcycle some junk
23: Choose a used product
24: Invest in good design
25: Recycle some waste

26: Pay a person
27: Buy a quality offset
28: Plant a tree that sucks
29: Plant flowers for bees 
30: Support broader change 

Lindsay Wilson
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I founded Shrink That Footprint in November 2012, after a long period of research. For many years I have calculated, studied and worked with carbon footprints, and Shrink That Footprint is that interest come to life.

I have an Economics degree from UCL, have previously worked as an energy efficiency analyst at BNEF and continue to work as a strategy consultant at Maneas.  I have consulted to numerous clients in energy and finance, as well as the World Economic Forum.

When I’m not crunching carbon footprints you’ll often find me helping my two year old son tend to the tomatoes, salad and peppers growing in our upcycled greenhouse.