How do you cut your water use?

merj13August 24, 2002

As many of us are looking towards a drought that is not projected to end for several years, I thought it'd be interesting to see what your ideas are for saving water. Don't limit yourself to the garden!

A group I belong to is collecting ideas and passing them on to our city government, so along with all the Gardenweb readers, YOUR ideas could be useful to many!

Some thoughts I have are

1) use hand sanitizer instead of water and soap (great if you have little ones)

2) put a 2-liter drink bottle full of water in your toilet tank, especially if it is an older toilet

3) collect shower water while it is heating up; use it in the toilet for extra flushes (if it's not already designated for a parched plant!)

4) consolidate uses: wash your face and shave in the shower so that water doesn't have to warm up twice

5) share a bath--okay, this works best for the 6 and under crowd

6) use a timer when you shower. We've had a little contest to see who can get clean the quickest.

7) use paper plates to eliminate dish washing (use this idea only if you don't have landfill problems!)

I'm just getting started, but there are so many ways we can help each other out...what are your thoughts!


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I bought a front loading washing machine last year - it uses about 1/3 the water of a top loader.

Wash all my dishes on the "light" wash cycle - cleans just as well as the normal cycle.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2002 at 1:13PM
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Slop buckets. An old farm technology that has a real use in today's situation. All water, except cess(black) water, goes into a basin, bucket or barrel. They can be hand carried or rigged together with pvc pipe, Every plate that gets rinsed, or hand washed, or tooth brushed, that water goes into the slop bucket. Light gray water such as you will get from baths and showers and washing clothes can go directly on ornamentals. The stuff from the kitchen should go on the compost pile. All meat scraps and grease go in the dry garbage - not down the disposal. In fact, during drought times you shouldn't be using your disposal -- people in high rise apartments are hereby granted exception. Laundry DETERGENT without bleach, softners, additives etc will not hurt your ornamentals. Note: if you are washing diapers or clothing that is heavily soiled with human fluids, that water should go down the cess.
Then ... at the risk of being gross .. so be forewarned ... there is the old camp saying that was so often posted in the shower rooms and latrines:
If its yellow let it mellow
Brown goes down.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2002 at 4:20PM
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glycera(z7a VA)

I keep a small bucket in every sink, emptying it into a large bucket in the kitchen when it gets full. The large bucket gets dumped on whatever part of the garden that needs it most, same as the slop bucket idea posted above.

No one's mentioned what I consider to be my main garden saver, and that's rain barrels. It's amazing how much water even a shower dumps on the roof, and it's a shame to waste it! I grow almost all of my own vegetables, and use drip irrigation with a heavy mulch over the soil.

One hint on using gray bathtub water: try to get hold of a large, square plastic jug, for example the kind some laundry detergents come in. If you cut the top off at an angle, you have a flat-bottomed scoop that helps get almost all the water out of the tub.

All these efforts require an amazing amount of time! It's as bad as coping with a prolonged power outage, and reminds one of how little time our ancestors had for entertainment.

Barb9491 --- I love the latrine sign!


    Bookmark   August 25, 2002 at 7:19AM
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hollyk(5A or 5B)

I second the motion for rain barrels! They're expensive, but you can make your own cheaper. We just got 2 large capacity (about 55 gallon) garbage containers from Home Depot and put one under one downspout yesterday in advance of much-needed rain. We didn't have time to install the faucet and overflow on it before the rain came down. But... it FILLED the container. Just an inch of rain from one downspout. If we had one on all 3 downspouts, we'd have 165 gallons of water right now, waiting to be used!

Some other tips...
- don't use your dishwasher. Even on a light cycle, I think you can save much more water by washing by hand.
- put a bucket under your a/c (either central air, or window units. You can capture 5-15 gallons a day from what I've read, depending on how humid your climate is (this won't work well in dry Arizona!).

    Bookmark   August 25, 2002 at 9:16AM
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Kim_in_ky(z6 KY)

My tip for getting the very last drops of bathtub gray water: use a carwash sponge to get the last'd be surprised how much a big sponge can absorb!

    Bookmark   August 25, 2002 at 11:20AM
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We been doing all of the above along with navy showers. Many shower heads now have a shutoff, which makes it easy. Get wet, turn the shutoff, lather, turn the shutoff back on and rinse. Done! Of course we plug the drain to save the water. Two showers, approx 7 gallons of water.

1 Like    Bookmark   August 26, 2002 at 9:23AM
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eduarda(Z10 - Portugal)

I like to rinse the dishes before putting them in the washing machine. If I do this using a plastic container filled with water, instead of using running water from the tap, I can collect the equivalent of about 4 liters of water per wash. x 3 meals a day = 12 liters. I can use this water for some of my thirstiest plants. As this water is paid for anyway, I also get to use it twice for the same price - not only ecologically correct, but good on your wallet as well.


    Bookmark   August 26, 2002 at 1:30PM
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janet_a(MD 6b)

as above: catch the run up water in the shower for the plants (and sinks if need be, but more often i just use cold for whatever i'm doing. brr!); water restrictors in the showerheads came with the house; dams in all the toilets; haven't washed the car in 6 months (and boy does it show :-) ; haven't had the hose out in 6 months; so tell me, how does one rat out one's neighbors without pissing them off? my neighbor's son has a white pickup truck that he washes EVERY WEEK. now to his credit, he uses very little water, but STILL---!

summer before last when we had a water violation hot line i had a ball ratting out the local golf courses. >:)

    Bookmark   August 26, 2002 at 2:39PM
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I'm using as much greywater as possible, and even shower with plants.

I keep a pitcher of water in the fridge to avoid running it to get cold.

I catch drain water from pots, and let it water something else (I notice my arms getting stronger from holding some big pots in the air until they're drained, too!).

I provide water for birds in several dishes throughout the garden (and use collected rain when I can get it!), and after 2 days, empty it under a nearby plant.

I collect about 75 gallons from downspouts from an average rain.

I'm growing everything in as much shade as will be tolerated to redude water needs--and use mulch even for pots.

Lastly, and this only helps my well, I try to drink most of my water intake at work, which also saves me flushes at home!

    Bookmark   August 26, 2002 at 5:33PM
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anita(z5 UT)

My husband and I try to do many of the things that have been mentioned, but we ARE lazy and sometimes let things slide. One thing we do pretty religiously is to let water run into a bucket while waiting for it to warm up.

I saw something years ago where a family, when doing laundry, would pump the rinse water out into a barrel, then back in to wash the next load. Sounds labor intensive, and my husband would surely object, but it sounds like a great idea! I DO do this on a smaller scale when washing dishes; when the wash water gets too nasty, and has to be changed, I replace it with the used rinse water and add soap.

I also remember a little rhyme I read on one of these forums, I think the person was from the Bahamas, that went something like this:

In this land of sun and fun
we never flush for number one

My husband and I try to do this as often as we can, but, of course, never if we think someone might drop in!

    Bookmark   August 27, 2002 at 1:59PM
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maybe we could save some flushes if we hang a urinal out back on a tree.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2002 at 4:03AM
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MelissaCO(5 CO)

If you don't have a low water toilet, get one. Most of them use just 1.6 gallon per flush. A lot less than the traditional toilet.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2002 at 12:26PM
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xenozoon(z10 San Diego)

I bought a little shower shut-off valve, like the one mentioned by webegardnr a few messages back, for just 5 bucks. I am not well-versed in home plumbing, but I installed it myself without any problem. Now I can get wet, turn off the shower with one quick twist, soap down, turn it back on and rinse off without having to adjust the temperature again, and I save a lot of water. Just had to point out, for those who don't have those shower shut-off valves already installed, they're easy and cheap to put in.

I also figure that a toilet is good for multiple urinations per flush. Hey, that's several gallons/day!

I would hazard a guess that with these two simple measures I save about 25-50% as much water as I put on the garden.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2002 at 10:58PM
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All are great ideas, but most important is to be training your children now.....because they will inherit the increasing population and limited water.

One thing not mentioned may be obscene is getting a hottub/spa. We used to use the shower as a way to relax. Now showers are Navy showers and the reused spa water is our hot water relaxation. The spa is emptied and cleaned twice a year...that's less than 900 gallons per year (yes the water is sent to the garden) far less than what our family would use in "long hot showers."

    Bookmark   September 25, 2002 at 2:01PM
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Crumpet, I agree about training our children, and also any one else in the family who needs to be educated. I do the following:
1. wipe dishes with a minimum number of paper towels before putting into dishwasher.
2. put maximum number of dishes in dishwasher before turning on,
3. limit showering time to next to nothing, keep water volume at lowest possible level, turn water off when soaping, shampooing or conditioning
4. do laundry only with a full load, wash at the lowest setting, rinse at full

Also, chastise anyone in the family who is not doing any of the above

    Bookmark   September 25, 2002 at 4:22PM
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greenrr(5a S. Ontario)

If its yellow let it mellow
Brown goes down.

What if it's "red"???????


    Bookmark   September 26, 2002 at 9:29AM
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Why has no one mentioned ...

FIX the plumbing! A tiny leak can silently consume gallons and gallons of water a day.

If you have a water meter, shut off all the water-using devices in your house and go look at the meter. If it's slowly twitching around, you have a pretty bad leak or forgot to turn off something. Check everything and try again.

Mark the position of the hands and go away for an hour. If they have moved, you have a slow leak somewhere. The toilet is the first suspect. Fix the flapper.

Other invisible suspects are a leaky sprinkler system, or an almost ready to make a fountain water supply line.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2002 at 11:27AM
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I am seeing comments about using paper towels and paper plates to cut water use. This will help in areas that have a severe water shortage, but long term they actually waste water. It takes water and trees to make those paper plates and such. We really need to look at more permanent ways to deal with the problems.

Lee AKA Fireraven9
Las cosas claras y el chocolate espeso. (Ideas should be clear and chocolate thick.)
--Spanish proverb

    Bookmark   September 26, 2002 at 1:12PM
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I have to agree with Fireraven...being environmentally responsible means not sacrificing one resource (paper) for another (water).

    Bookmark   September 26, 2002 at 3:07PM
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Let's use our shirts to wipe off the dishes, then grow more cotton to make more shirts, then we have to have more water to water the cotton, about we all eat over the kitchen sink!
sorry, it's been raining, holy H2o Batman!, and I'm giddy on water, not alcohol!

Did you see the radar for the NORTHEAST this afternoon !!!! In the words of Homer S. Wahoooooooo!

    Bookmark   September 26, 2002 at 4:49PM
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Always cover pots of water that are warming or that you want to boil. It costs extra electricity dollars and wasted evaporated water otherwise.

On washing cars. Leave your car out for a light rain. When the rain stops your car is rinsed and ready to be washed with your little bucket of soapy water. Or use rain barrel water for car washing. I use regular water for rinsing the soapy water off only.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2003 at 5:28PM
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Okanagan(5b BC)

IF it's red, read this thread:

Here is a link that might be useful: Not for the squirmish

    Bookmark   March 26, 2003 at 11:33PM
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greenrr(5a S. Ontario)

Loved the thread!!!!!!! That is something to try.


    Bookmark   April 4, 2003 at 3:08PM
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I use a root waterer when watering our trees. It eliminates run off.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2003 at 10:24PM
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mdryja(z7b WA)

dishwashers vs. handwashing: actually, dishwashers are far more frugal. Even the worst dishwasher only uses something like 10-15 gallons to completion. The average kitchen faucet spouts 1.6-2.5 gallons per minute, so unless you're a very fast dishwasher, load up the machine -- but don't turn it on until it's a full load.

carwashing: best approach if you have to wash is to go to a commercial wash. At least here in the state of Washington, they have to reclaim something like at least 90% of the water that they use -- they collect it, filter it, and reuse it. The only new water that is added is for the water that remains on the car after drying, and that evaporates.

letting the water go until it's hot: this was very annoying for us in the upstairs master bathroom, as it would take about 5-10 minutes in the winter! We installed one of these devices: Basically, what it does is push cold water from the hot water line to the cold water line, which due to water pressure variations, is forced into your water heater. It stops when there's hot water, so when you turn on the faucet, it's hot! I'm not explaining the concept very well, but basically it's an on-demand water recirculation pump that retrofits into existing plumbing (under the sink). Very easy to install, but you do need an electrical outlet under the sink. Check out the web site for the real explanation! We have one, and can vouch for it working!

Rain barrels: Sadly, these have not been very useful for us in Seattle, where it rains for 9 months, and is dry -- almost drough-like -- for three. We have one 85 gallon barrel. It's great right after spring time, but once we use up the water, we usually don't have enough rain to fill it back up until fall. I'm getting another 50 gallon barrel. What I really want is a rain cistern -- essentially a large rain barrel. I'm looking at putting a 200 gallon water tank under the deck. Does anyone know of any good sources? Best I've found so far is

clothes washing: best are the horizontal axis washers, they use the least water.

low flush toilets: some are really poor -- especially the contractor specials. Make sure you spend the money and get a good one, or otherwise you're going to be flushing 3-5 times to get "number two" down the drain. A good resource is He's Mr. Toilet. We went with his top recommendation, the Toto toilets, and have been pleased (actually had Terry himself install them, since fortuitiously we live in the area). Kohler even has some fancy dancy toilets that have two buttons -- one for "number one," and one for "number two," where the former uses significantly less water than the latter.

watering: of course, as everyone knows by now, water infrequently but deeply. End up using less water, and your plants get stronger. Also use soaker hoses, etc. If you have automatic sprinklers for the lawn, make sure that they don't go on when it rains (get a rain sensor, or just be vigilent), and water early in the morning or later at nite, to lessen evaporation.

cleaning off the driveway: Don't use the hose! Use a broom, or an electric blower.

In our two-person household, we've been able to limit water use to less than 100 gallons per day during non-watering months, and less than 175 gpd during water months (which I'm still trying to knock down). The national average is somethingn like 75 gallons per day per person for non-watering months, so I'm pleased that we use 1/3 less than average.

Showers: low-flow showerheads. Again, pays to look around, as some 2.5 gallon per minute showerheads are great, and others are terrible. There are also some 1.7 gpm s-heads, and I've even seen .7 gpm s-heads. sells good 2.5 gpm s-heads -- we replaced our s-heads with the lower cost ones that they sell, with good results.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2003 at 3:46AM
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mollywaters(z5 SLC)

These are all great ways to save water! Boy, do I love to see other people thinking about this!

Try this site:

Here is a link that might be useful: Utah's Water Conservation Website

    Bookmark   June 9, 2003 at 4:01PM
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Laxygardens got to my favorite piece of advice. We fixed a leak, cut down on landscape and veggie garden watering, installed low water use toilets, dishwasher, and washing machine and managed to cut water use down by 75-83% on our last two bills (two of us vs. one little old lady who owned the house last year). Honestly, I think the best change was the leak repair. You can't tell from our landscaping that I've gone from running the sprinklers 10 mins/day to 15 mins/week, stopped watering several areas altogether, and shut off the irrigation from November to April. People just seem to water a lot of things blindly without any consideration for run off or season change. Eventually, I'm going to have a mostly xeric landscape.

I have found that Kohler and American Standard 1.6 gal toilets work just fine. I also install my own toilets since it is a very simple task although I did need help from DH to install a big heavy one-piece. Of course, this is house number 5 for me which means that I've installed 8-10 toilets....

    Bookmark   June 16, 2003 at 7:06PM
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Paula, obviously these are not ideas for you guys. I do comisserate with you tho - we just came back from a two week vacation in the soggy NE!

We turn off the faucet when washing, brushing teeth, or shaving. Our gutters and AC hose is directed towards the plants near the house. Just started using a bucket to catch the cold water in the shower - amazing how much water that uses.

My biggest problem is at my school. It irks me to no end to see the amount of water wasted by the kids - they don't seem to have been taught the concept of conservation in the desert at all. But then the district doesn't help. We still get our grounds flood irrigated every few months. What a waste!

    Bookmark   June 29, 2003 at 12:20PM
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I use sub-surface irrigation.

A "wet pot" system gives you the advantages of both drip and soaker hose. Using your rainwater capturing barrel as the water source for the wet pots is ideal.

I have had success using "wet pots" for sub-surface watering of plants. The pots provide a concentrated watering area - approximately 8" radius from center of pots, similar to a drip but below the surface.
The nice thing about the pots is it also provides "distributed water storage" at the same time. And, it never gets blocked, simple to install, allows liquid fertilization to be applied, saves water (no evaporation), finally does not encourage weeds.....

The added cost of pot vs drip head is well worth it in the overall water savings.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2003 at 1:21PM
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Must agree about Toto toilets. I got a Cyclone flush and a G4(?). Both flush anything with no problems, no drama.

Really amazing after my encounters with low budget toilets.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2008 at 10:20PM
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We live in North Carolina and continue to be in a drought.We are pretty conservative,but still we can do more.

We save shower & hand washing water to flush & water plants with.
When washing dishes,fill one side w as little soap as possible,and water of course & the other side about half full w clean water to rinse dishes in.Or rinse in a dish pan & use that water to either replace dirty dishwater,or to water plants.
Take a barrell or rain barrell and put it close to an entry door that isn't to far away from a bathroom.Catch water while you are waiting for it to get warm in a bucket.You can then pour this into the barrel & use for veggies.
Cut bottoms off plastic bottles & push into the dirt close to plants & pour water in them to cut down on run off.

I am trying to figure out a way to send the water from the washer outside without moving the washer outside.

Anty suggestions???


    Bookmark   March 29, 2008 at 11:16PM
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I personally don't do this. But I visited my aunt & uncle in England a few years back. They were doing the dishes together in what I thought was a strange way. But it does conserve water! They wash the dishes by hand and then instead of rinsing them with water they just dry off with a dish towel. Again, I thought this very strange but it seems to work for them. I do not remember tasting any soap when I used the dishes. LOL!

    Bookmark   June 27, 2008 at 10:11PM
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I water all my plant from the water i get from airconditioning. Ill end up with about 8 - 10 liters of water in a day from airconditioner.
I must have 50 or so liters of water saved up from just the airconditioning.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2008 at 7:10AM
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We have our bathtub in the upstairs, and washer downstairs.

We also have a navy shower. After we are done showering and saving the water, we siphon the water directly from the tub downstairs into the washer for the first rinse. Luckily we can thread the hose through the stairs.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2008 at 3:25PM
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gjcore(zone 5 Aurora Co)

A couple of suggestions

As much as possible wrap your hot water pipes with insulation. This will cut down the amount of time it takes to get warm water and save a bit of energy too.

Use lots of compost and mulch on your gardens. Also top dressing your lawn with compost will build up water retention properties in the soil.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2009 at 1:37PM
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Personally I have been researching this for years, and on a average uses, if I conserve water well and get a efficient washing machine, I should be able to meet all my water needs for my home just from yearly rain and snow. I average only 10 to 12 inches a year so most of you get WAY more then that. For each 12 inches of rain per square foot of roof space you will collect 7.5 gallons.
Im seriously looking into setting out a slab of concrete or possibly clay I dig up to collect water for my gardens. (our city water is terrible for plants anyway) I have some remote land and wllls here need to be very deep and thus extremely expensive. With NO garante of actually hitting water. at this point being that the science it sound collect water you have water, lol. I only need to figure out how to store this much water over a course of a year. Which will still be cheaper then a well, city water is NOT a option, the closest city line to my and is 30 miles or so. So yes it will be expensive but cheaper then a well and garanteed.
Also I do much of the technics, decribed here, and even did a test on my gardens, with grey water. I use all earth friendlier soaps and detergents by the way. I also didnt use it on seedlings. But I have a book called create an oasis with greywater. You can witha little money set up a self sustained greywater system, and have the water directed to trees, flower beds. storage tanks, all with no more effort then letting it run down the drain as it does now. n this book he suggests grewater is okay for even veggies so I tried it and I have to agree. It did no noticeable damage, everything grew just as fine as always.
I would also recomend a book called rainwater harvesting by brad lancaster. Amazing what this guy did in ARIZONA no less. Youd be suprised how much water just evaporates, he uses technics to get the water o sink in. Hes turned his yard in the desert into a buetiful gardn all with better management of water already present in his yard, just not being used to potntial.
I think in the years ahead, peopl might be alot smarter to find ways to do things such as that. If I can get all my needs met by simple rainwater, I think ALL of you could to if you wanted to.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2009 at 1:13PM
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My husband bought this little moppy thing that actually cleans the car without water. You just dust off the dirt and the chemicals in the mop clean and polish. For bird poop, you need a damp rag but everything else comes right off.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2009 at 4:00AM
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Your right about wasting irrigation water!

I recently found this product No-dig irrigation shields on the web at I purchased 4 head protectors and 4 flexline adaptors and in the first month I have seen my water bill drop about $21 a month! And, the second thing I really like about them, is that I have not had to digup any of the heads I put these shields around! Before that, I had been digging up and replacing one every month or so and it was getting kind a expensive!

I think it was either the garbage or postal trucks running them over...but I am not certain!

Anyhow, they worked and that's all that matters to me.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2010 at 3:18PM
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girlbug2(z9/10, Sunset zone 24)

I will add my thumbs up for the toto low flow toilets. We have had one for over a year, and just installed a second one that has the two-button system. The previous toilets were original with the house--1957! We were wasting HUGE amounts of water for years with those old toilets. If anybody has those older toilets pre-low flow laws, please replace them. You will make your money back in water savings in less than 1 year.

Somebody else on this thread jokingly mentioned urinals. Actually, I am remodeling a family bathroom and seriously considering adding a urinal to it for water savings (that bathroom is used by two boys several times a day). There is a no- flush model I saw somewhere. Even a flushing model would save water over a toilet flush.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2010 at 3:38PM
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How to Really Save Water.

When you flush your toilet touch the handle. Make sure it is working right. It could run all night, or all day long if you went to work with it running.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2010 at 11:06PM
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I have installed a grey water system for the vegetable garden. This was separated from the black water system when I built the house. The grey water system includes the kitchen sink and the drain lines for the air conditioning. The black water system is in the process of being totally redone for treatment so it can be used for the drip system in the flower beds and yard. Rain catch tanks are in the plan for the future, assuming it it will rain again someday.
Most high water use plants have already bit the dust. They are being replaced by plants more accustomed to more arid conditions.
The top of compost pile is covered by plastic. This causes the steam to condensate and drip back into the pile lessening the need for re wetting.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2011 at 7:26AM
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"They wash the dishes by hand and then instead of rinsing them with water they just dry off with a dish towel."

forgo the dish towel & air dry them. more sanitary. Not only do you use less water but you do less work. :-) If you insist on rinsing, use a clean dish cloth & a small bowl of cold water. Yes, my family is originally from UK.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 8:32AM
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Instead of using rain barrels, use the larger size storage tubs. The openings are more conducive to collecting more water because the opening are much larger. With our last rain, my 5 40 gal tubs filled up. I put the lids on and use as needed. Yes it is a LOT of carrying, but it sure saves on water usage. I use my rain water for bathing, washing hair and just about everything else.

In the summer when it gets hot, I transfer water into 2 5 gallon buckets and leave set in the sun. It warms up beautifully and I pour it into my bathtub for a warm bath. So I am also saving on electricity.

I also put a bucket under my washing machine hose. That water goes for toilets. I wash clothes only when I am down to my last pair of anything.

I use so little water, my utility company came out to inspect the meter. Then I was accused of pirating water. Fools! I showed them my tubs and methods. They went away after receiving a dose of my temper. :)

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 1:12AM
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I do many of the above water-saving techniques. I do bigger and fewer laundry loads than previously. Also, some things which don't have to be super-clean (throw rugs, dog towels, some rags), I just put through a warm rinse cycle and hang on the line to dry.

I use the bathroom closest to the water heater and save that warm-up water. Kitchen water to rinse vegetables goes on outdoor plants, but I avoid salty water or soapy water for plants. The dog gets washed in a tub, water poured under a tree. Hand water needy shrubs, haven't had the sprinklers on in a couple months, a first for us.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2015 at 8:14AM
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