If your house was built before 1994 and you're still using the original plumbing fixtures, you're using 30 to 40 percent more water than a comparable new home.
Because water is cheap (about $1.50 for 1,000 gallons) and in most places always seems readily available, maybe you haven't worried about conserving it. But as clean water gets harder to come by—36 states will suffer some sort of shortage within the next decade—prices will rise. Add to that the cost of heating and sewer fees, and you can see how thousands of wasted gallons turns into hundreds of wasted dollars all going down your drain.
The good news is that you can turn down the tap without making a major ripple in your living habits. That's because water-wasting fixtures are easy to identify and replace. (Use Figure A to help find the major water wasters in your home.) Updating the thirstiest room of your house—your bathroom—with fixtures like the ones shown here will not only save water and money, but also give the room a fresh look.
Cost: $200 to $300
Water savings: Up to 23,000 gallons per year (for a four-person family)
Now's the time to replace that old commode. Using 3.5 to as much as 7 gallons per flush (gpf), old-style toilets are the biggest water wasters in your home. Admittedly, poor flush performance gave first-generation 1.6-gpf toilets a bad rap, but with reengineered bowls and trapways, the newest models flush more waste with less water. According to recent surveys, most homeowners are as satisfied with their 1.6-gpf toilets as they were with their older 3.5-gallon flushers.
To save even more water, check out high-efficiency toilets. These models use 20 percent less water than the 1.6-gpf competition. Dual-flush toilets, such as Sterling's Dual Force, are designed to let you choose either the half (0.8 gallon) or the full (1.6 gallon) flush option, saving you 6,000 gallons per year. Alternatively, pressure-assist toilets, such as Kohler's Pressure Lite (photo), employ an air cartridge that's charged by the water pressure from the supply line to push water from the tank using just 1.1 gallons of water.
Cost: $20 to $100
Water savings: 7,800 gallons per year
Hot water savings: $90 per year (electric), $38 per year (gas)
Showerheads are not only the second heaviest water user but also a major energy eater. That's because 70 percent of the water flowing through the head comes from your water heater. By reducing water consumption and water heating needs, a low-flow head saves money in two ways.
Saving water with an efficient showerhead no longer means settling for a drizzle instead of a downpour. Once, “low-flow” used to mean “not enough oomph to rinse out the shampoo.” That's because the showerheads were simply choked with flow restrictors to meet the government's 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) mandate. Removing the restrictor was an easy way to boost shower power, but doing so negated any water savings. (To check the flow of your existing showerhead, see how long it takes to fill a 1-gallon container. If you fill the jug in less than 24 seconds, your 2.5-gpm fixture is using more water than it should.) If you're using an older single or a newer multihead spa shower, an 8- to 10-minute shower can use more water than a 60-gallon whirlpool tub.
To provide a satisfying shower with less water, today's high-efficiency fixtures have gone high-tech. Delta's water-efficient showerheads (photo) change the shape and velocity of the water stream—even the size of the drops—to provide the high-flow feel using just 1.6 gpm.
Cost: $2 to $5
Water savings: Up to 1,400 gallons per year (per faucet)
How much water do you really need to wet your toothbrush or rinse a razor? If the aerator attached to the end of your bathroom faucet reads 2.2 gpm, you're wasting water every time you turn on that tap. Installing a 1.5-gpm aerator on the end of the spout is a quick and inexpensive way to cut lavatory water use by 30 percent.
Want Help Choosing Water-Efficient Fixtures?
Look for the logo WaterSense logo. Like the Energy Star label, the WaterSense tag is an easy way to identify efficient products. To earn this label, products must use at least 20 percent less water and still perform as well as or better than other products in that category. For more info, go to epa.gov/watersense.