Step 1: Fix plumbing leaks
If you’ve noticed that your water bill has been steadily climbing, it may be time to start thinking about ways to save and conserve water. However, buying appliances that are more water efficient is one of the last places to start cutting water usage. The No. 1 cause of a rising water/sewer bill is a leak somewhere in the house (10 percent of all homes have a leak of at least 90 gallons per day). And the No. 1 culprit is a running toilet. Toilet parts usually start leaking slowly and get worse over time. So by the time you notice it, months may have passed. When you consider that a leaking toilet can cost you almost $45 per month for water and sewer, it makes sense to fix any leaky toilets in your house before anything else.
Leaking flappers and deteriorated beveled washers are the most common failure points. The parts are cheap (less than $5), so the payback is enormous. Replace them all annually to eliminate a very real water-wasting potential leak.
Step 2: Replace the toilet
Even if your toilet isn’t leaking, it’s probably still wasting water. Consider these water-wasting facts: If your house was built before 1980, the original toilet is wasting $170 every year. If it’s newer (1980–1994), it’s wasting $99 a year. A new WaterSense–rated toilet costs as little as $100. So that’s the fixture to replace first because the payback is huge! Some utilities are even offering rebates to sweeten the deal. Visit http://epa.gov/watersense/rebate_finder_saving_money_water.html to find rebates in your area.
Step 3: Install water-saving showerheads
Next on the fast payback list is a water-saving showerhead. Many older (pre-1992) showerheads had a flow rate of as much as 5.5 gallons per minute. A WaterSense–rated head must use no more than 2.0 gpm. But you can buy super-efficient showerheads that provide a vigorous shower using only 1.5 gpm. The Oxygenics 630-XLF15 is one model (about $26 from ). The showerhead sucks in air from around the spray nozzle and uses it to pressurize the shower stream. The water and energy savings make this a one-month payback.
Step 4: Buy a front-loading clothes washer
I purposely left out new front-loading clothes washers, even though they use half the water of older top-loaders. They’re a great choice if you’re in the market for a new washer. But don’t buy a new efficient washer until you’ve replaced your toilets and showerheads. The payback on a front-loading washer is a lengthy 5.8 years.
Money-Saving Tip: Reduce Sewer Charges
Few know this, but you pay twice for water—once when it enters your house and again when it goes down the sewer. The water meter doesn’t know that the water you use for irrigating never goes down the sewer. Ask your water/sewer utility if it has a “deduct” program for lawn sprinkling. If so, you can track the amount of water you use for irrigation and deduct that volume from your sewer bill. You’ll still have to pay for the water. But since it doesn’t go down the drain, it can save you a bundle on the sewer portion of the bill. Of course, you’ll have to replumb your hose bibs and water sprinkler system through a separate meter to prove your deduction. Water meters are a bit of work to install, but they’re cheap (the meter shown, the WM75, costs about $77 at assuredautomation.com).