Good Guide to Reducing Your Water Use, Part 1: Bathroom
1A: A (Clean) Toilet Hack
Potential water savings: Up to 18 gallons per day, per person.
How to easily reduce the water wasted by every flush.
Toilets waste tons of water every year. When you flush, that's about five or six gallons right there if you have a conventional toilet, and on average we each flush six times a day. Thankfully, there are now all sorts of products to lessen gallons per flush. There are low-cost add-ons like the Toilet Tummy or the British-made Hippo the Water Saver. You can also purchase a dual-flush toilet, which can save up to five gallons per flush by offering one kind of flush for each bodily function. But the lower-tech and less-well-heeled among us might want to try this easy and free hack.
1. Remove the lid from your toilet.
2. Observe the black floating ball. This thing determines the water level in your toilet.
3. Reach into the toilet tank and grab the thin metal rod attached to the black floating ball.
4. Bend the rod downward just a little. It won't break easily, but be ginger, yeah?
5. Be an optimist. Your tank is now half full.
Put a brick or two-or other heavy, noncorrosive objects-in the tank. That will let the toilet think it has more water in it than it does, and reduce the water used per flush.
1B: A (Dirty) Toilet Hack
Potential water savings: Up to 36 gallons per day, per person.
How to forgo water altogether, without a flush.
Most of the readers of the Urban Homestead blog, a guide to self-reliant city living, buy in to the lifestyle strategies of authors Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen. Except one: composting your own feces. "It horrifies most people," Knutzen admits. For Knutzen, an adherent of "humanure" guru Joseph Jenkins, the practice makes perfect sense. "Nitrogen makes plants grow," he says. "You flush it down the toilet and create pollution in our riverways. So you are taking two valuable things and making trash." Instead, Knutzen suggests following these five steps to composting your own solids.
1. Get a five-gallon bucket and line the bottom with sawdust. Attach a lidded toilet seat.
2. Do your business and cover it with sawdust. Repeat. Empty once or twice a week into a 55-gallon composter out back.
3. After each waste dump, add leaf litter, coconut husks, or finely shredded newspaper over the waste into the container. "You're basically making crap lasagna," says Knutzen.
4. Keep it as moist as a wrung-out mop. You want it to get hot-120 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal, monitored with a long thermometer. Adding earth worms are good, too.
5. Let it age for a year. Fertilize plants.
1C: How To Bathe
Potential water savings: up to 134 gallons per day, per household
Settling the shower versus bath debate.
You've probably heard that showers use less water than baths. This is true-or can be-but it depends on a few things. Most conventional bathtubs hold 60 gallons of water. The average shower head spews between 2.5 and 4 gallons per minute, depending on whether it was made before or after 1992. Even if you have a higher-flow shower head, you have to shower for 15 minutes before you're at bath levels-24 minutes if your head is newer. The average American shower length is under eight minutes. Of course, if you fill your tub halfway and shave in there without water running, you could theoretically be using less water than showering, so it's not cut and dried, but the evidence seems to heavily favor showering. Also, for $40, you can get a one-gallon-per-minute shower head by Bricor, and for $10 you can get a 1.2-gallons-per minute Real Goods shower head-with a pause button to use while lathering. At those rates, you might feel justified in taking the occasional half-hour shower.
Other DIY Bathroom Options
Let It Mellow
Everyone's been to someone's hippie parents' country house where you're instructed to let it mellow if it's yellow. It's an unpleasant concept, but by now you know that unless you have a fancy new low-flow or dual-flush toilet, the toilet is your home's biggest water suck-it accounts for almost 30 percent of your daily water use. Since the average person urinates six times a day, may we suggest you flush every other time?
Savings Upwards of 18 gallons a day
Keep a Bucket Handy
You can lose about four gallons per minute when you run the bath, so consider the loss that happens as you run the water to get it to the right temperature. Keep a bucket handy in the bathroom and collect the water as it falls for plant watering and an additional flush. When enough volume is poured into the toilet, it essentially flushes itself, as the water level in a toilet remains constant (in other words, a flush is just water being poured into the toilet from the tank; you'd be doing it with a bucket instead).
Savings Up to 10 gallons a day
As with most things imported from the military, it's simple: Get wet, turn the water off, soap up, rinse off. You're done in as little as three minutes, and you've only used a few gallons of water. Conserving water isn't always comfortable, but it's something you can get used to, like anything else. Think of our men in uniform.
Savings Up to 50 gallons over a regular 10-minute shower
Reuse Your Bathwater
Nearly 60 percent of Japanese people reuse their bath water. Some filter it and use it for other purposes that require clean water (washing dishes, etc.), others use it to water their plants. You know by now you shouldn't be taking baths (from a water-economy perspective, we mean), but if you do, make use of that water and don't take a shower after. If you do, you're using more than half a day's worth of total water for one bath.
Savings Up to 50 gallons per bath
Pee in the Shower
You can save one flush a day by urinating in the shower-two if you shower more than once a day. Sure it's gross, but unless you have an infection, your urine is sterile and nontoxic, and it washes down with your shampoo and soap anyway. An unscientific poll by Glamour magazine recently found that 75 percent of respondents do pee in the shower.
Savings Up to 6 gallons of water a day