Rural Home Technology

Water Conservation

Conserving water in our homes can have an impact on our water supplies, wastewater disposal, and the cost of heating water. While this may be quite obvious, it is seldom practiced in our modern culture.

Most of us are inclined to let the water run when we wash our face or brush our teeth. Many will use the toilet to flush down a used tissue, a dead bug, or even a cigarette butt. It is a bad habit that we've adopted because of our plentiful supply of water, especially here in the Northeastern US where water shortages have seldom been an issue. For many of us on our own wells, however, this winter's ice storm (January 1998) has served as a reminder just how precious our water supply is, and just how much we take it for granted. Melting snow for cooking, washing and flushing got old to many folks very quickly.

We shouldn't have to be pushed to this type of limit to be reminded to use water as the valuable resource it is. We should be conscious of just how much water we use in the course of a day and employ simple practices to reduce this demand. Awareness is a great starting place, remembering to turn off the tap when it is not necessary to let it run and flushing only the important stuff down the toilet.

Considering the obvious, anyone who has a limited water supply quickly learns to be careful with their use of water [see water well systems]. Reducing demand can often make it possible to get by with a poorly producing well. Installing water saving fixtures can also help reduce demand, regardless of the human factor. Modern toilets reduce the volume of water used per flush from 5 or 7 gallons (in the case of earlier toilets) down to 1.6 gallons. See Low Flow Toilets for a discussion of this new standard requiring all toilets to use a maximum of 1.6 gallons.

There is also the possibility of replacing the flush toilet with a waterless toilet as we did when we built our home 20 years ago. There have been many types of waterless composting toilets developed over the years for use where water is limited or sewage disposal is difficult. Some of these units work very well and many have proven less than wonderful. We have sold and serviced many makes and models of these composters and refer you to the following links for up-to-date product information: Composting toilets - Clivus Multrum and Tools for Low-Water and Waterless Living. There appears to be a resurgence of interest in waterless toilets because of the increasing pressure man is placing on his environment, especially in shoreline areas or areas of poor soils. See Interstate Water Quality Improvement for more information on the environmental side of wastewater management.

Water saving shower heads are a very low cost and easily installed appliance that can save both water and considerable energy that is used to heat it. Do they give a lousy shower? Not according to one college student we know who brings his own water saving shower head with him to replace the institutional shower head in his dorm each time because it improves the feel of the shower while using about half as much water. Modern dishwashers and washing machines have been developed to be far more efficient with less water and energy consumed, but cost considerably more than traditional appliances.

Simple practices such as only washing full loads of laundry or dishes, showering rather than taking baths and shutting the water off when it's not absolutely necessary can reduce water use. Careful planning when watering lawns and washing cars to use no more than just what's needed can make significant differences. Without a substantial investment, most homeowners can greatly reduce the amount of water they use, reducing demand on their wells or municipal water supplies, cutting down on the amount of water their septic systems have to return to the ground while at the same time saving money through reduced energy costs.

Water saving tip:

I recently discovered a new concept in toilets, the dual flush style that is mandatory in Australia, and installed one in our home. The toilet has two flush buttons, one for half flush (.8 gallons) and a second for full flush (1.6 gallons). I tell guests that the left button is for yellow and the right button for brown. Although there is much less water standing in the toilet and it flushes very differently, it looks good, is easy to clean, and works well. Check it out at