Reducing water consumption: 23 eco-friendly tips in (and outside) the home
Water is a vital resource that we depend on to survive. Unfortunately, it’s easy to take this resource for granted, assuming it will always be available in abundance. But that isn’t the case, with experts predicting that global fresh water demand will outstrip supply by 40% by 2030.
Water scarcity is already an issue that affects millions of people around the globe and, as the world's population continues to grow, demands for water are only increasing. These statistics from UN Water highlight the problem of water scarcity:
- 2.3 billion people live in water-stressed countries
- 1.42 billion people – including 450 million children – live in areas of high or extremely high water vulnerability
- 4 billion people experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year
Keeping our water consumption at a sustainable level is crucial to ensure we have enough water to meet our basic needs now and in the future.
And it’s not just about having enough water. Large amounts of energy are required to treat and distribute water, so using less water also means we can reduce our carbon footprint and minimise our impact on the planet.
Around the home
Homeowners can play a vital role in conserving this precious resource by reducing their water consumption. Apart from the environmental benefits, reducing water consumption can lead to significant cost savings in utility bills too. General best practice tips for reducing water consumption around the home include:
1. Make sure all pipes and fixtures are in good condition, with no leaks or drips
Even a small leak can waste litres of water every day, which not only adds to your water bill but also puts extra pressure on local demands for water. Unchecked leaks may lead to structural damage or mould in your home too, which can add to be expensive to repair. It’s crucial to keep an eye out for leaks and fix them promptly, not only to save water but also to keep your home in good condition.
Of course, homeowners aren’t responsible for leaks beyond their own property. But there is some good news from water companies in England and Wales, with leakage now at its lowest level ever (51 litres of water per person per day), coming down by around 11% between 2017-18 and 2022.
2. Use cold water whenever possible
Water is also intrinsically linked to energy. Most of us underestimate the energy required to produce hot water at home. Using cold water saves energy, since it doesn’t need to be heated. So when it makes sense to do so, opt for cold water over hot. All of these water-conscious behaviours add up.
3. Consider how you could reuse water
Water can generally be reused in two ways:
- Rainwater harvesting. The collection of rainwater for later use – typically collected in a butt from roofs and drains in the garden.
- Greywater. Greywater is the gently used water from bathroom sinks, showers, bath tubs, and washing machines. It can be collected using greywater recycling (GWR) systems and the water reused for toilet flushing, irrigation, outside water use and laundry, but these systems have to be installed. The plumbing in most houses directs all wastewater to the sewer system.
4. Make thoughtful purposes
The most eco-friendly thing you can do is to only buy new appliances when yours are broken and unfixable. But when you do need to buy a new appliance, make sure you’re considering its eco-credentials. All modern wet appliances (such as washing machines and dishwashers) come with labels informing you of energy performance and water consumption, so make sure you compare suitable models.
In the kitchen
5. Install an aerator on your kitchen tap to reduce water flow
Have you ever noticed how much water flows out of your faucet during a simple task like washing your hands? That's where a tap aerator comes in. This clever little device is inserted at the end of your tap and mixes the water stream with air, reducing the flow of water without sacrificing pressure. So you can reduce your water usage without even noticing a difference in the flow delivered. Aerators are typically attached to the spout of your tap and are very easy to install.
6. Use a dishwasher instead of handwashing dishes
According to waterwise, the leading UK water efficiency non-governmental organisation (NGO), a dishwasher run on an eco setting can be more efficient than washing dishes by hand – that’s if the dishwasher is totally full. So if you can fill a dishwasher, feel free to run it on an eco-friendly setting. With modern detergents, there’s no need to pre-rinse dishes; they'll be efficiently cleaned in the machine with just a simple scrape beforehand so any food is removed. But if you don’t have enough for a full load, hand wash your dishes with a washing up bowl rather than letting the tap run.
7. Only run your dishwasher or washing machine when it’s full
As mentioned above, only ever run your appliances when they’re full. One of the best ways of doing this is making sure you choose dishwashers and washing machines with a capacity suitable for your household size, so that it’s always full when you use it.
8. Change your washing machine settings to the shortest cycle length, and lowest temperature setting
The best washing machine models will typically use less than 7.5 litres of water per kg, according to waterwise. But whether you have the latest model or not, how you use it can make a difference. Opting for a shorter cycle on a cold setting will take less time (using less water), and a cooler setting means less energy is used to heat the water.
8. Reuse cooking water from boiled foods
When you boil foods, such as potatoes and pasta, it’s often in quite a big saucepan and the water is wasted afterwards. But you can actually keep the leftover water for the garden. Chefs also recommend using some of the pasta water in your sauces to make them go further – around a mugful of the starchy cooking water will help emulsify the pasta sauce.
9. Keep a jug of cold water in the fridge for drinking
We should be drinking at least two to three litres of water a day, and that’s one area of water consumption we shouldn’t be looking to cut back on. You can be sensible about how you drink your recommended amount, though. Keeping a jug of cold water in your fridge means you’ll always have access to a cold, refreshing drink. Not only will this help you drink more water and stay hydrated, but it eliminates the need to let the tap run until the water is cool enough.
Rather than throwing away leftover water, you can also use it to water houseplants or your garden. By making small changes like this in your daily routine, you can make a big impact on the amount of water your household uses.
11. Think about how you use the kettle
All too often we just switch a full kettle on just to make a couple of drinks. Not only does this use more water, but more energy to boil it too. Taking a moment to think about how much you need to fill the kettle is another water-conscious habit to embrace.
12. Steam your vegetables
Thinking about your cooking methods and habits can also make a difference to the amount of water used in the kitchen. Steaming vegetables instead of boiling them can save water and preserve nutrients. Anytime you’re using a saucepan too, you can put the lid on to reduce the amount of water lost through evaporation and cook what’s in the pan quicker.
13. Eat less meat
Vegetarian and vegan diets are on the rise, as people become more engaged with efforts to reduce their impact on the world around them. When it comes to water consumption, meat production has a high water footprint, so reducing your intake can help save water too. Water footprint is simply the term used to indicate the amount of fresh water that any given process or activity uses. And the average water footprint per calorie for beef is 20 times that of grain, according to EU data.
In the bathroom
14. Replace old shower heads with low-flow varieties
To conserve water when bathing, you can change your shower heads – similar to the recommendation to add an aerator to your kitchen tap. Aerated shower heads reduce the amount of water in the flow, but don’t compromise on pressure. Air is mixed in with the water to maintain a good pressure with less water.
15. Take shorter showers
One of the easiest ways to reduce water in the bathroom is simply to spend less time with the water running. Aiming for showers of four minutes or less can make a big difference. Although it’s tempting to stay in for longer, embracing these water-conscious behaviours can make a real difference over time. If you did want a longer dip, consider having a bath instead.
When it comes to the amount of water used for a shower or bath, numerous factors can impact which uses more water. Generally speaking, taking a short shower with an efficient shower head uses less water than taking a bath. But modern power showers can easily undo your water-saving efforts as they may actually use more water than a bath.
16. Don't leave the tap running when brushing your teeth
Similarly, leaving the tap running as you brush your teeth or wash your face is a habit that needs to be broken to reduce water consumption. Running taps can waste six litres of water a minute, according to waterwise. Remember to turn the tap off when you’re brushing your teeth, or for any other reason, also sets the right example for the rest of your household.
For lovers of home technology, you can even install motion sensor taps so they’re only running when needed.
17. Install a dual flush toilet
According to waterwise, about 30% of total water used in a home is used to flush the toilet. Considering that this water is the same high quality water that comes out of the taps, it can be considerably wasteful.
Luckily, many modern toilets aim to be more efficient with a dual flush system, which means you can choose who much water you want to use to flush your toilet. When you need extra water, you have that option – but most of the time, the smaller flush will do. Waterwise advises that dual flush toilets typically use 4-6 litres of water per flush, opposed to the old style flush systems which use a massive 13 litres.
If you don’t need to upgrade your toilet yet, you could get a Cistern Displacement Device (CDD) – often offered for free from water companies. Having a CDD in your cistern reduces around 1 litre of water per flush.
In the garden
18. Collect rainwater to use for watering plants
More often than not, the rain is something to complain about. But if you’re a keen gardener, you’ll know how valuable it is when there’s wet weather – it means all of your garden is getting watered, so you don’t need to worry about it.
You don’t need to wait for the rain, though. You can collect rainwater in a butt or barrel to use at another time. By doing this, you reduce your reliance on the mains water supply, which not only helps to conserve water but also reduces your overall water bill. Plus, rainwater is naturally free of chemicals like chlorine and fluoride, making it a healthy option for your plants to thrive.
With hosepipe bans increasingly common in the UK, especially during the summer months, collecting rainwater also gives you an option to keep watering your garden while remaining within the guidelines.
19. Reduce your lawn area
Gardening is a labour of love, and many people take pride in their flourishing outdoor spaces. But keeping your garden healthy and hydrated can be a challenge. Grassy lawns tend to suffer the most, and look the worst, with a lack of rain. Rather than having to water your lawn with a sprinkler or hose, consider reducing the size of your lawn or replacing it with native plants or a vegetable garden.
20. Plant drought-resistant plants
When designing or planting up your garden, you should also consider plant species that are adapted to dry conditions and will require less watering. What you can plant in your garden may vary depending on the type of soil, as well as how much sunlight the plants will get, but it’s worth talking to experts about plants which require less watering. A garden which requires less maintenance during the typically drier summer months will considerably help households reduce their water consumption.
21. Mulch your garden
Mulching your garden can help retain moisture in the soil and reduce watering needs. Mulching is the process of placing a layer of natural material on the soil to help retain moisture, regulate temperature, and protect the roots. By applying mulch to your garden, you'll create a barrier that stops moisture from evaporating quickly, helping to reduce the need for frequent watering. You can mulch lawns and borders, even reusing the grass you cut as mulch.
22. Use a broom or other cleaning methods
When it comes to patios, garden furniture or even the car, it’s very tempting to get out the pressure washer. But these – like anything attached to a hose – use up a lot of water. They also don’t encourage responsible behaviours, as we’ll often leave them on for far too long or go over the same area several times.
Where possible, think about how else you could clean whatever it is you need to in the garden or on the driveaway. Use a broom instead of a hose, for example, to clean your patio. It might take slightly more time and effort, but convenience is often considerably more wasteful.
23. Consider drip irrigation
To remove the need to water your garden by hand, you may want to consider drip irrigation. This method is great for watering plants as it delivers small amounts of water to their roots, reducing the amount of water needed and removing the temptation to overwater. Just make sure you select appropriate settings so you’re not using too much water.
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