Whether you are upgrading, building a new home, or improving your outdoor spaces, you have a variety of options you should discuss with your plumber which might help you conserve water. Of course, before getting into any big projects, on a day-to-day basis there are many ways to save water, and also many guides on how to do this.
This particular guide, sponsored by municipal water services departments across the country, is particularly informative.
High Efficiency Fixtures and Appliances
One of the first places to look to conserve water is in your choice of new fixtures and appliances. In 1992, the Federal Administration passed legislation (The 1992 Energy Policy Act) which mandated much higher efficiency in fixtures. Thus starting in about 1994, all new fixtures are vastly improved. If your home dates to 1994 or before and has not been upgraded, your fixtures and appliances are likely consuming two to three times what new high efficiency units consume.
Gallons per use of common indoor water fixtures and appliances(“Rated Flows”. For showerheads and faucets, actual flows will differ slightly)
Pay particular attention to your dishwasher, clothes washer, and toilet, as there has been significant innovation with these products recently. The most efficient new dishwashers and clothes washers , which are branded with the blue Energy Star logo, cut water consumption roughly in half when compared with 1980’s or older models.
The Energy Policy act also impacted toilets, where older models had 3.5-5 gallon tanks, and newer models may consume as little a 1.2g per flush. A new class of toilet called the dual-flush toilet, is becoming increasingly available in the United States. These models have two options for flushing depending on need, and have been used extensively in Europe and Australia. The following source, developed by the California Urban Water Conservation Council, gives a good room-by-room overview of fixture and other options for water conservation:
Rain Water Collection
Beyond fixtures and appliances, there are number of more comprehensive systems you may choose to install which help conserve water. One very important such option is rain water collection. This involves the installation of a system to collect, rout, and re-use storm water for exterior and potentially interior uses. Options here range from relatively simple rain barrels underneath downspouts, to more complex, and larger water storage tanks called cisterns. The larger and more complex the system, especially if it is used for any interior use, will require professional plumbing and permitting. Comprehensive information on this topic is available from Rainwater Management Solutions.
Grey Water Recycling
Grey water recycling is another area of green plumbing which holds tremendous potential for water savings. Grey water sources span laundry, sink, and shower/tub drain water, but for obvious reasons, not toilet wastewater. Grey water may be filtered to a variety of degrees, and then depending on purity, re-used for a range of purposes, spanning irrigation, toilet flushing, and potentially other areas. The regulations and building codes affecting grey water vary by state, and are changing, with some states having recently enacted legislation allowing more uses. A good source for more information on all aspects of grey water re-use is available from Oasis Design:
While there are many ways to conserve water inside your home, water usage for lawn, gardens, and car washing is also an area with tremendous potential for water savings. In some parts of the country, outdoor water use accounts for 50% of household water use on an annual basis. Some simple approaches will make a difference, including watering in the evening only, and using a commercial car wash. But the best way to conserve water use in your yard is in the design of your landscape: limit the size of lawns that need watering, introduce trees for shade, and make extensive use of plants which naturally do not require watering. These are known as “Xeric” plants.
The area of water and energy conservation for homeowners holds many other options, for example tankless hot water heaters, solar water heaters, passive solar radiant heat, to name a few. But a good start on conservation in general is to save water with the green plumbing ideas discussed to reduce your water use.