Saving Water is an Easy Green Practice

There’s lots of chatter these days in green circles about saving water. Candidly, United States water-consumption statistics are astounding. Even though just 4 percent of the nation’s water (15 billion gal./day) is delivered in drinkable form to homes and businesses, a typical American family of four uses around 400 gal. of water each day.

All totaled, that’s 408 billion gal. of water each day. About 120 gal. of that (30 percent) is used outdoors (landscaping, pools, washing cars). In aggregate, that’s 7 billion gal. each day.

Moreover, it’s energy-intensive to access and treat water. Treating water consumes enough electricity to power more than 5 million homes for an entire year. If you let a faucet run for five minutes, it uses as much energy as a 60-watt light bulb left on for 14 hours.

What’s more amazing is the increased rate at which we consume water. Though the population in the United States doubled between 1950 and 2000, the demand for water rose 300 percent. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 36 states are anticipating local, regional or statewide water shortages by 2013.

Shortages aren’t the only reason to save water. It costs money to buy water, and most United States households spent around $500 per year on water and sewer bills. By installing simple water-saving devices, that bill would drop to $330/household.

Across the United States, those devices would save 3 trillion gal. of water and $18 billion dollars every year. The power saved would be the 100 million kWh of electricity per year; 80,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions would not be produced, and that’s the equivalent of taking 15,000 automobiles/year off the road. If just 1 percent of households replaced high-flush toilets with products approved by the EPA WaterSense program, the nation would save 38 million kWh of electricity per years.

Water-Saving Devices

Here are some product-specific water-saving statistics for products that you can easily spec and install on your jobs today. Also note that the performance concerns for low-flow toilets has been alleviated (in part due to standardized testing), and you can purchase leading brands with confidence.

High-efficiency toilets (HETs). A toilet that achieves this rating uses 1.28 gal. (or less) per flush. Old-fashioned toilets use around 3.5 gal. per flush. When sourcing these toilets, look for Maximum Performance (MaP) test compliance or EPA WaterSense rated units. (If a traditional high-flush toilet is in place, and you are not going to change it out, a “toilet displacement device” — i.e., a brick — can be placed in a toilet tank to reduce the amount of water used per flush.

Low-flow aerators. To achieve low-flow sinks, aerators can reduce the flow to 1.5 gpm, yet give the feel of a full stream of water. (Typical faucet flow rates are 3 to 5 gpm.) Aerators are a very low-cost fix.

Low-flow shower heads. A shower head is considered low-flow if it reduces flow to 2.0 gpm or less. By replacing standard 4.5-gpm shower heads with 2-gpm heads, a family of four can save around 25,000 gal. of water per year.

Where Does the Water Go?

Just 4 percent of the nation’s water (15 billion gal./day) is delivered in drinkable form to homes and businesses. So, who uses the rest?

  • Agriculture: Irrigation for crops, livestock, dairies and fish farms use 142 billion gal. of fresh water per day. By some estimates, 50 percent of irrigation water is wasted due to evaporation, wind, poor system design, and overwatering.
  • Industry and Mining: Water used for cooling in factories, and washing or rinsing manufactured items (mining, steel, paper, etc.), accounts for 20 billion gal. of fresh water per day.
  • Power Generation: Power plants use 136 billion gal. of fresh water per day, mostly for cooling purposes.
    Source: EPA

A New EPA Program

It’s like Energy Star, but for water-consumption products.

WaterSense is a new partnership program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the same agency that gave us Energy Star. According to the EPA, WaterSense “makes it easy for Americans to save water and protect the environment.”

WaterSense-approved products are generally 20 percent more water-efficient than similar products in the marketplace. More info: