5 Easy Ways You Can Save Hundreds on Your Water Bill Each Year

Water is quickly becoming rare and expensive in much of the U.S., so try to get the most out of every drop.

Photo Credit: Lipskiy / Shutterstock

When it comes to conserving water, it’s amazing how small adjustments to your lifestyle can have a big impact. Water rates have surged across the nation in the past 15 years as communities deal with aquifer depletion, drought and water-utility privatization. Consumers in some 30 communities are paying double what they were in 2000, with the rates in Atlanta, San Diego and San Francisco tripling. As water continues to become a more precious commodity, finding better ways to save it becomes more important all the time.

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While there are hundreds of small ways we can all save water, here are five tips that can go a long way to help the local ecology, cut your water bill in half or more, and maybe make life around the house a little more enjoyable.

1. Install low-flow shower heads. If you take a five-minute shower each morning, you can save enough water to fill a 15-foot swimming pool each year by switching to a low-flow shower head. That’s 4,550 gallons per person. Not only are you saving water, you’re saving on heating, too, as your water heater only has to put out half the hot water it would otherwise.

If the 115 million households in the United States converted from a conventional shower head to a low-flow model, we would lower water consumption by 945 billion gallons. Yes, we checked the math...twice.

Low-flow shower heads typically cost $18-$50 and they’re easy to install. Look for shower heads that have a pause feature, which stops the flow of water while you’re soaping up. And when you resume, they’re designed so you don’t have to wait for the water to warm again.

2. Invest in dual-flush toilets. A dual-flush toilet is basically a more dignified approach to the old “if it’s mellow, let it yellow” toilet flushing practice common with household conservationists. This type of toilet uses two handles to flush different levels of water. One handle disposes of liquid waste quite well, using only about 0.75 gallons. Solid waste is flushed by another handle, which flushes down about 1.5 gallons. By comparison traditional toilets (before the advent of low-flush toilets a decade ago) use about 7 gallons and modern low-flush toilets use around 1.6 gallons for each flush.

Although dual-flush toilets use a gravity-assist flush system, there's very little water in the bowl and most of it cascades down from the tank through the bowl’s rim. However, they are considered plenty powerful overall compared to their conventional rivals.

When used properly, a dual-flush toilet should cut water usage by a third over low-flush toilets.

The top toilet brands (Koehler, American Standard and Gerber) now market dual-flush systems. At about $300, the typical dual-flush toilet costs nearly twice as much as a conventional toilet, but the households that switch to them can expect to save about $100 or more on water costs.

3. Make your lawn less thirsty. Are you planning on reseeding your lawn this spring? Think about choosing something other than rye or Kentucky bluegrass. Mix up your existing turf with other groundcover such as clover, alyssum, milo, English daisy, chamomile, fescue and yarrow. Together, these plants create a turf that grows slowly and requires little or no watering, even in drought conditions. While every type of seed might not take hold in your climate and soil, the resulting turf should still be vigorous and low maintenance. Clover is especially important to turf mixes as it brings nitrogen from the air back into the soil, helping to fertilize the other plants comprising your turf.

A healthy, sustainable lawn should only need a brief watering with a hose after more than a week without rain, if at all. If you have a quarter acre of turf and live in a temperate area, you should expect to save 500-1,000 gallons of water per month. Also, during downpours, these hearty lawn mixtures can help keep runoff into storm-drain systems to a minimum.

If you don’t want to hunt down a bag of each individual type of seed, gardening and big box stores often carry “meadow grass” and “eco-lawn” seed bags under many different brand names. A one-pound bag of seed should cost around $20 and cover about 3,000 square feet.

4. Attach rain barrels to your downspouts.Beyond being ecologically responsible, rain barrels are practical and economical. The ecological benefits are impressive: Rain barrels conserve water in the summer months, when demand is the highest. They also help keep water out of storm drains and combined sewer systems and protect our rivers, lakes and streams from runoff pollution, and help control moisture around the foundation of the home, which could make your home less humid and musty in the summer months.

You can expect to catch a lot of water in your rain barrels: For every inch of rain that falls on a roof catchment area of 1,000 square feet, you can expect to collect about 600 gallons of water. Depending on where you live that can add up to tens of thousands of gallons per year.

Rain barrels often come with standard spigots that can attach to water hoses, allowing you to water your garden with richly oxygenated and non-clorinated water.

Some rain barrel users join the water caught in the barrels into their home plumbing systems, using it for toilet flushing and clothes washing. The system can be set up as a do-it-yourself project and should eventually pay for itself.

Rainwater provides one unique benefit to laundry. Because rainwater is “soft,” meaning it has an extremely low mineral content, you’ll need to use less detergent to get your clothes clean than you would with well or municipal water.

You can buy rain barrels from hardware and big box stores for about $120 or construct your own for a lot less.

5. Fix your household leaks. The Environmental Protection Agency says the average household leaks about 10,000 gallons a year, which is the equivalent of 270 loads of laundry. Altogether, it’s estimated that the nation’s combined households waste more than 1 trillion gallons because of leaks. That's equal to the annual household water usage of more than 11 million homes.

Just because you can’t hear or see it, don’t assume you don’t have a leak. The average leak can go undetected for months or even years and waste about 10 gallons of water per day. Moreover, a barely audible slow-running toilet can waste as much as 50 gallons a day.

To determine if you have a leak, identify the leak indicatoron your water meter. Typically, they look like a blue paddle wheel, but there are many different designs. If the leak indicator spins while you're not using any water, you can assume you have a leak.

There are many do-it-yourself methods online for diagnosing the source of a leak, but if you’re not familiar with the intricacies of your home’s water system, this might be a job best left for a plumber. Toilets, however, are easy to check. Open your tank and squirt in a generous amount of food coloring and return in an hour. If you see coloring in your bowl, your toilet tank is leaking.

Cliff Weathers is a former senior editor of Alternet who also served as deputy editor of Consumer Reports. He was one of the first journalists to sound the alarm over the extreme dangers of fracking and expanded crude-by-rail transportation. His articles on technology, green cars, energy, water and sustainability have appeared in several publications, including Car and Driver, Playboy, Salon and Raw Story. Twitter: @cliffweathers.