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Released with Spanish Translation: February 2, 2001

(Initially released: July 10, 2000)


Dollars Down the Drain? Conserving Water in the Home

MANHATTAN, Kan. Drought conditions, a higher-than-normal water bill, or restrictions imposed by a septic system may prompt consumers to think about water conservation, but preserving natural resources makes sense any time, said Marilyn Bode, a Kansas State University housing specialist.

Doing so, she added, also will reduce water and utility bills.

Conserving water in the home is not difficult, Bode said. For example, people often do not realize that the toilet accounts for the largest single use (28 percent) of water in the home. Reducing the water needed to flush the toilet can save an average household about 7,500 gallons of water per year.

Toilets made before 1970 use about five gallons per flush; late '70s toilets use about 3.5 gallons per flush. Replacing an older toilet with a new, low-flow toilet, which is mandated for new construction by the National Energy Policy and Conservation Act, costs about $320. The cost of water saved will offset replacement cost over the long term; consumers also are encouraged to check with their local utility company to see if a rebate on replacement is available, she said.

A less expensive remedy requires inexpensive materials: Fill a plastic beverage bottle with sand or water, tighten the lid, and place it in the toilet tank (or use two bricks sealed in a plastic bag) to displace water and save about one-half gallon with each flush. Displacing the water should not affect the flush of a pre-1970s toilet.

Another way to save water and reduce the water bill is to check for leaks about 20 percent of all toilets leak. A leaky toilet loses an average of 15 gallons per day, which adds up to more than 5,000 gallons a year. Water loss usually is more expensive than the price of getting the toilet fixed adjusting the float arm or replacing the flapper may be all that's needed. A leak can be obvious: a toilet may make a noise as it runs or the floor around it may be damp or wet. If a leak is suspected, but not obvious, drop a few drops of food coloring in the tank. If the color shows up in the bowl 15 minutes later, the toilet has a leak.

Consumers also can check for a leak by reading their water meter. Jot down the meter reading and the time of day to the minute. Plan not to use any water during the test period, which should be an hour or more. (To simplify testing, plan the test at a time when you will be away from home for a few hours. Remember, however, to shut off the ice maker, etc.) After the test time has elapsed, check the water meter reading again. Subtract the second reading from the first to verify a leak, said Bode, who is with K-State Research and Extension.

Using the toilet to dispose of trash is considerably more expensive than using a wastebasket, she said.

"In a typical household, bathing and showering account for 25 to 60 gallons of water per person per day. If a shower lasts longer than seven minutes, taking a bath will use less water. Replacing a shower head can pay for itself in two years or less. Newer shower heads are required to use 2.5 gallons of water per minute or less. (Older models used five or more gallons per minute.) Newer shower heads also may offer some benefits, like a massage setting," she said.

Learning to take a 'Navy' shower also can reduce water use when showering. With limited water on shipboard, sailors were taught to get wet, turn off the water, lather, and then turn the water back on to rinse, said Bode, who offers these water-saving tips:

* Install aerators on faucets to stretch water use and minimize splashing.

* Turn off the water while brushing teeth: a family can save as much as 10 gallons a day 3,650 gallons a year.

* Fill the bathtub half full. Close the drain before running water; adjust temperature as needed.

* Run the dishwasher only when it's fully loaded. Dishwashers produced after 1994 use five to seven gallons of water per load. Water-and energy-saving models use less water than washing a similar load by hand. Newer dishwashers also do a better job, so less pre-rinsing is required, Bode said.

* When washing dishes by hand, rinse at one time, rather than one at a time under running water.

* Chill drinking water in refrigerator, rather than let water run to cool before filling a glass.

* Adjust water level in the washing machine to match the load; choose warm or cold water wash. For more information on conserving water in the home, contact the local Extension office.

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Sidebar or box:

Water, Water....everywhere?

The American Water Works Association estimates that the average American family uses 28 percent of the water used in their home to flush the toilet; 22 percent to wash clothes; 21 percent to take showers; 12 percent from faucets; 9 percent to take baths; 5 percent toilet leakage; and 3 percent to wash dishes.

Source: K-State Research and Extension

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Pullquote:

The average person uses 80 to 100 gallons of water a day.

Marilyn Bode, K-State Research and Extension Housing Specialist

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K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus in Manhattan.

Story by:
Nancy B. Peterson, Communications Specialist
npeterso@oznet.ksu.edu
K-State Research & Extension News

For more information:
Contact Marilyn Bode at 785-532-1305