Water conservation’s been a big topic lately. Whether it’s the California droughts or environmental lobbying to save endangered fish populations, there are plenty of good reasons to conserve potable water. Maybe you just want to save a few dollars on your water bill every month. If you live off-grid or on the road, there’s a greater, daily incentive to do so.
Valerie and I each only average about 2 gallons of water per day, not including purchased consumables like milk, juice, or alcoholic beverages. To put that into perspective, according to the EPA, the average American family uses 400 gallons of water per day, or 80-100 gallons per person per day according to the US Geological Survey.
Now, we have a few distinct advantages that make our numbers possible. First of all, being mobile, we’re off the grid a good portion of the time. Since we have holding tanks and gauges, it’s easier for us to monitor our consumption—a 33-gallon fresh water tank lasts us and our two dogs about a week (7 days). We also minimize our usage via plumbing systems designed specifically for RV and marine use. But in the end, it comes down to thinking about how much you need every time you turn on the tap. Here are a few ways you can conserve water in your home, boat, or RV.
1. Wipe Off Your Dishes
This is the simplest, and most effective thing you can do to conserve water if you don’t use a machine to wash your dishes. Just use a napkin or paper towel to wipe off your dishes before putting them in the sink. It eliminates the need for a pre-rinse, stops P-trap odors, and will keep your gray tank or septic system from getting that sickly rotten food smell.
2. Reuse Clean “Gray Water” With a Bowl
It takes the right tool to get the job done. I suggest using a plain old one-gallon mixing bowl, also known as the best water conservation tool you have in your house! We love multi-taskers, and a bowl easily has hundreds of potential uses—not the least of which is catching water that might otherwise go down the drain.
Start with what’s normally wasted while you’re waiting for hot water. Your shower (and other fixtures that aren’t near the water heater) can run up to 30 seconds before getting hot. Save that water in a bowl. Reuse it to water your plants, rinse your dishes, or flush your toilet. If nothing else, you can save it in a bottle for when the power goes out.
You can also use a bowl to wash your fruits and vegetables. Instead of letting wash water go down the drain, use a single bowl half-filled with water to wash and prep all of your dinner veggies.
When dinner’s over, use the largest cooking pot or prep bowl as a gray water basin to rinse and catch water while you’re washing the smaller dishes and silverware. The water can then be reused to rinse the plates and other large dishes.
3. Turn Off the Water When You’re Not Using It
While this one should be the most obvious, it’s a bad habit most people have trouble breaking. Whether it’s brushing your teeth, shaving, washing your hands, prepping for dinner, or doing the dishes, I guarantee you don’t need the water running the whole time.
Wet your toothbrush and then turn the water off while you brush. Wet your hands and then turn the water off while you lather. Same goes for the dishes and even your morning shower. The real issue is not that we need to use less water, it’s that we need to throw less of it away.
4. Upgrade Your Plumbing
It sounds expensive, and it certainly comes with an upfront cost, but upgrading your plumbing with “low-flow” or “high-efficiency” fixtures can save you a lot in the long run.
First up is the washing machine. Whether you’re in a sticks-and-bricks home or living a higher-end mobile lifestyle, if you have a washing machine for your clothes, there’s no excuse for it not to be a high-efficiency model. They’ve been widely available for well over a decade and use up to 80% less water than conventional models.
The high-efficiency tip goes for your dishwasher as well, if you have one. But a better alternative is to simply wash your dishes by hand. New dishwashers have settings to minimize water use, but an older dishwasher can use up to 20 gallons of water per wash! If you’re conservative with the tap you can clean up an evening’s dinner-for-two with a half-gallon of water, no problem.
Moving over to the bathroom, while older, conventional shower heads can use upwards of 4–8 gallons of water per minute, newer models—particularly those bearing the WaterSense label—can reduce that number to less than 2 gallons a minute. Our shower head also has a button/switch to cut the water while you’re soaping up, and that feature isn’t specific to RVs.
Then there’s the toilet. If you’re on a boat or in an RV, you probably only use about a cup of water per flush, so you can jump ahead to the next paragraph. For everyone else, your toilet alone could be using over 25% of your household water consumption. Older in-home models (pre-1980) can use as much as 7 gallons (!) per flush, whereas newer, standard models use about 3.5 gallons. Swap that out for a low-flow model—using only about 1.6 gallons—and a family of four could save over 11,000 gallons of water a year!
Finally, if you want to get really conservative you can find low-flow faucets to replace all your sink and bath fixtures. In my opinion, it’s a lot easier to just turn them on a little bit and use what you need instead of running them full blast.
5. Take Shorter Showers!
When it comes to showers, some people really don’t like the idea of turning the water off while they soap up or wash their hair. If the window’s open it can get cold in there quick. It can also be difficult to turn the water back on at the right temperature without freezing/burning yourself. So what’s the alternative? Take shorter showers!
But the shower is my sanctuary!
It’s where I go to think!
It’s where I go to relax!
It’s where I wake up in the morning!
Here’s a wake up call for you—it’s also the biggest waste of water in your daily routine. Even with an ultra-low-flow shower head at “only” 2 gallons of water per minute, your 30-minute shower is flat out wasting 60 gallons of water that someone could be using for literally anything else.
Danger Will Robinson!
Potential Downer Approaching!
Listen up California. I know the drought and water restrictions have been hard on everyone—especially the farmers (great article)—but the reason you can’t water your lawn is because you used three times as much water as that requires before you even left for work this morning.
Water is the most precious resource we have. It supports life at every turn. It’s the seed of our crops and the root of our national forests. We build dams to contain it and irrigation systems to distribute it. An abundance can spur the rise of an empire. A deficiency can squelch a continent. That’s a powerful thought, and it’s coming out of your tap. Don’t waste it.