How to Save Money on Water Bills

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Water may be the most necessary item on earth, but it doesn’t pay to use more than you need. In fact, it costs more – probably much more – than you may think.

Municipal water seems cheap, especially when compared with bottled water, but Americans are estimated to use from 80 to 100 gallons of water per person per day inside the home. That doesn’t account for outdoor use, which can be shockingly high.

Obviously, the more you use, the more you pay. The highest average monthly water bills are in West Virginia ($91), California ($77), Oregon ($76), Washington ($75) and New Jersey ($72). That’s an annual water bill of $864 to $1,092.

As part of a strategy to save on your utility bills, here are ways for you to save water.

1. Shorter Showers

It’s easy to enjoy a nice, long, hot shower. But when you realize that it’s not just water but money going down the drain, do something about the “long” part.

The average shower lasts eight minutes, and the average showerhead allows a flow of 2.1 gallons per minute, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s about 17 gallons per shower, and it costs electricity or gas to heat that water. Assuming you shower daily, that’s over 6,000 gallons per year.

If you cut that average shower time to five minutes, you’d reduce the amount of water used by more than 2,000 gallons. That’s a savings of $20 or more per person in water alone. If you really want to save, change your showering habits more: Get wet, turn the water off, lather up, then turn the water on to rinse.

2. Fix Leaks

This is a no-brainer. Unlike a too-long shower, leaks cost you money with no benefit. The EPA estimates leaks can waste up to 10,000 gallons of water per home in a year. The trick is finding out if you’ve got leaks and pinpointing their location.

To see if you’ve got leaks, check your water meter, which is often near the curb in your front yard or in your basement. Wait two hours without using any water and check the meter again. If the reading differs, you’ve probably got a leak. Check faucets, hoses, and connections.

Toilets are a common source of leaks. One way to spot a leaky toilet is to put five drops of food coloring in the toilet tank. If the water in the bowl changes color after 10 minutes, you’ve got a leak. It could be as easy as replacing a washer, applying pipe tape, or replacing a valve seal.

3. Efficient Appliances

So, your 25-year-old washing machine is still getting the clothes clean? Good for you. But it’s almost certainly wasting water, so when it comes time to replace it or your dishwasher, look for the most efficient appliances. Washing machines with the WaterSense and Energy Star seals use 35-50% less water and 50% less energy per load. Front-loaders use less water than top-loaders. The EPA says Energy Star-labeled dishwashers reduce water use up to 65% and energy use by over 10%. You also may be able to find rebates on these appliances.

4. Turn Off the Tap

Perhaps the most obvious way to save on water is to turn the tap off when you’re not actively using what’s coming out.

Once you’ve wet your toothbrush, turn the water off while you brush your teeth until you’re ready to rinse the brush. The same is true when you’re shampooing or conditioning your hair. When washing dishes, if you have a double sink, put soapy water in one to wash, then rinse dishes in the other sink. When washing your car, use a hose nozzle that shuts off the water while you’re scrubbing the exterior. Any time the water is running without serving a purpose, you’re wasting money.

5. Efficient Toilets & Faucets

Even if you’re careful to only have the water on when you’re using it, and even when you’ve made sure your toilet doesn’t leak, you can still be wasting water. It’s time to get your fixtures working for you instead of against you.

Almost half of Americans’ home water use comes from the bathroom, and more than a quarter of that is used by toilets. Consider a more efficient toilet. High-efficiency toilets use less than a gallon and a half per flush, and that saves over time.

If you’re not ready to invest in a new toilet, you can make yours more efficient. Fill two plastic soft drink bottles with sand or pebbles and put them in your toilet tank, reducing the amount of water that gets used with each flush.

Modifying or replacing your faucets could be another water-saver. WaterSense-certified faucets are up to 30% more efficient than standard faucets, reducing flow without reducing performance. Installing water-efficient faucet aerators on existing faucets can have similar results at a fraction of the cost.

6. Outdoor Irrigation

Sure, a lush, green lawn is attractive. But don’t waste water to get it. Outdoor residential irrigation wastes about 4 billion gallons of water per day in America, according to the EPA. There are several ways to reduce water waste:

  • Irrigate less often. You may not need to water your lawn daily. Cut back to every 2-3 days and see how the lawn handles it.
  • Water before sunrise or after sunset so the soil absorbs the water before the sun evaporates it.
  • Adjust your lawn mower to a height of two inches. Taller grass shades roots and holds soil moisture better than shorter grass, so you’ll need less water to keep the grass green.
  • Make sure your sprinklers are watering the landscape instead of the driveway or sidewalk.
  • Use drip irrigation or low-flow sprinkler heads.
  • Smart irrigation controllers allow you to adjust timing, set watering zones and automatically adjust watering based on weather.
  • If you have a pool, cover it when not in use to reduce evaporation.

7. Drought-Tolerant Landscaping

Rethinking your landscaping could be another water-saver. Consider drought-tolerant grasses, shrubs, trees, and flowers. Native plants usually require less care and watering than non-native varieties. Known as Xeriscaping, this practice can greatly reduce water use. It’s especially popular in Western states that receive little rainfall and having a lush lawn requires tremendous amounts of irrigation. You can even use rocks, gravel, wood chips or other materials that require no water.

8. Collect Rainwater

Your municipality makes you pay for its water, but God doesn’t. By collecting rainwater so you can use it to water outdoor plants, you save money you would have spent. Connecting a rain barrel to your home’s downspout is an effective way to capture roof runoff. You can buy ready-made rain barrels or make your own from plastic garbage cans.

First, however, check your local laws. Some counties and cities ban rainwater collection.

9. Composting

Garbage disposals can be a nice convenience, but it takes a lot of water to operate them. But there’s a way to deal with food scraps that not only will help your garden grow but saves money. Start a compost pile and add those scraps to it. It lessens the chance of clogged pipes. It also eliminates garbage disposal problems like jams, odors, leaks, and the cost of replacement.

More Ways To Save Money on Utilities

To save on all your utilities, electric and gas bills are the first place to look, and there are many ways to use less energy, from more efficient appliances, better insulation, use of solar energy and more. Those who live in colder regions may want to consider lowering their thermostats, making sure doors and windows aren’t letting in cold air and wearing warmer clothes.

But don’t overlook water. Drip by drip, it’s costing you money.

» Learn More: Winter Energy Saving Tips

About The Author

George Morris

In his 40-plus-year newspaper career, George Morris has written about just about everything -- Super Bowls, evangelists, World War II veterans and ordinary people with extraordinary tales. His work has received multiple honors from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press and the Louisiana Press Association. He avoids debt when he can and pays it off quickly when he can't, and he's only too happy to suggest how you might do the same.


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