forum home > articles home
Water users can be divided into two basic groups: system users (such as residential users, industries, and farmers) and system operators (such as municipalities, state and local governments, and privately owned suppliers).

These users can choose from among many different water use efficiency practices, which fall into two categories: 1. Engineering practices: practices based on modifications in plumbing, fixtures, or water supply operating procedures. 2. Behavioral practices: practices based on changing water use habits.

Practices for Residential Users:

Engineering Practices -- Plumbing

An engineering practice for individual residential water users is the installation of indoor plumbing fixtures that save water or the replacement of existing plumbing equipment with equipment that uses less water. Low-flow plumbing fixtures and retrofit programs are permanent, one-time conservation measures that can be implemented automatically with little or no additional cost over their life times (Jensen, 1991). In some cases, they can even save the resident money over the long term.

Low-Flush Toilets. Residential demands account for about three-fourths of the total urban water demand. Indoor use accounts for roughly 60 percent of all residential use, and of this, toilets (at 3.5 gallons per flush) use nearly 40 percent. Toilets, showers, and faucets combined represent two-thirds of all indoor water use. More than 4.8 billion gallons of water is flushed down toilets each day in the United States. The average American uses about 9,000 gallons of water to flush 230 gallons of waste down the toilet per year (Jensen, 1991). In new construction and building rehabilitation or remodeling there is a great potential to reduce water consumption by installing low-flush toilets.

Conventional toilets use 3.5 to 5 gallons or more of water per flush, but low-flush toilets (see figure above) use only 1.6 gallons of water or less. Since low-flush toilets use less water, they also reduce the volume of wastewater produced (Pearson, 1993).

Effective January 1, 1994, the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (Public Law 102-486) requires that all new toilets produced for home use must operate on 1.6 gallons per flush or less (Shepard, 1993). Toilets that operate on 3.5 gallons per flush will continue to be manufactured, but their use will be allowed for only certain commercial applications through January l, 1997 (NAPHCC, 1992).

Toilet Displacement Devices. Plastic containers (such as plastic milk jugs) can be filled with water or pebbles and placed in a toilet tank to reduce the amount of water used per flush. By placing one to three such containers in the tank (making sure that they do not interfere with the flushing mechanisms or the flow of water), more than l gallon of water can be saved per flush. A toilet dam, which holds back a reservoir of water when the toilet is flushed, can also be used instead of a plastic container to save water. Toilet dams result in a savings of 1 to 2 gallons of water per flush (USEPA, l991b).

Low-Flow Showerheads. Showers account for about 20 percent of total indoor water use. By replacing standard 4.5-gallon-per-minute showerheads with 2.5-gallon-per-minute heads, which cost less than $5 each, a family of four can save approximately 20,000 gallons of water per year (Jensen, 1991). Although individual preferences determine optimal shower flow rates, properly designed low-flow showerheads are available to provide the quality of service found in higher-volume models.

Faucet Aerators. Faucet aerators, which break the flowing water into fine droplets and entrain air while maintaining wetting effectiveness, are inexpensive devices that can be installed in sinks to reduce water use. Aerators can be easily installed and can reduce the water use at a faucet by as much as 60 percent while still maintaining a strong flow. More efficient kitchen and bathroom faucets that use only 2 gallons of water per minute--unlike standard faucets, which use 3 to 5 gallons per minute--are also available (Jensen, 1991).

Pressure Reduction. Because flow rate is related to pressure, the maximum water flow from a fixture operating on a fixed setting can be reduced if the water pressure is reduced. For example, a reduction in pressure from 100 pounds per square inch to 50 psi at an outlet can result in a water flow reduction of about one-third (Brown and Caldwell, 1984).

Homeowners can reduce the water pressure in a home by installing pressure-reducing valves. The use of such valves might be one way to decrease water consumption in homes that are served by municipal water systems. For homes served by wells, reducing the system pressure can save both water and energy. Many water use fixtures in a home, however, such as washing machines and toilets, operate on a controlled amount of water, so a reduction in water pressure would have little effect on water use at those locations.

A reduction in water pressure can save water in other ways: it can reduce the likelihood of leaking water pipes, leaking water heaters, and dripping faucets. It can also help reduce dishwasher and washing machine noise and breakdowns in a plumbing system.

Gray Water Use. Domestic wastewater composed of wash water from kitchen sinks and tubs, clothes washers, and laundry tubs is called gray water (USEPA, 1989). Gray water can be used by homeowners for home gardening, lawn maintenance, landscaping, and other innovative uses. The City of St. Petersburg, Florida, has implemented an urban dual distribution system for reclaimed water for nonpotable uses. This system provides reclaimed water for more than 7,000 residential homes and businesses (USEPA, 1992).


Lawn and landscape maintenance often requires large amounts of water, particularly in areas with low rainfall. Outdoor residential water use varies greatly depending on geographic location and season. On an annual average basis, outdoor water use in the arid West and Southwest is much greater than that in the East or Midwest. Nationally, lawn care accounts for about 32 percent of the total residential outdoor use. Other outdoor uses include washing automobiles, maintaining swimming pools, and cleaning sidewalks and driveways.

Landscape Irrigation. One method of water conservation in landscaping uses plants that need little water, thereby saving not only water but labor and fertilizer as well (Grisham and Fleming, 1989). A similar method is grouping plants with similar water needs. Scheduling lawn irrigation for specific early morning or evening hours can reduce water wasted due to evaporation during daylight hours. Another water use efficiency practice that can be applied to residential landscape irrigation is the use of cycle irrigation methods to improve penetration and reduce runoff. Cycle irrigation provides the right amount of water at the right time and place, for optimal growth. Other practices include the use of low-precipitation-rate sprinklers that have better distribution uniformity, bubbler/soaker systems, or drip irrigation systems (RMI, 1991).

Xeriscape Landscapes. Careful design of landscapes could significantly reduce water usage nationwide. Xeriscape landscaping is an innovative, comprehensive approach to landscaping for water conservation and pollution prevention. Traditional landscapes might incorporate one or two principles of water conservation, but xeriscape landscaping uses all of the following: planning and design, soil analysis, selection of suitable plants, practical turf areas, efficient irrigation, use of mulches, and appropriate maintenance (Welsh et al., 1993).

Benefits of xeriscape landscaping include reduced water use, decreased energy use (less pumping and treatment required), reduced heating and cooling costs because of carefully placed trees, decreased storm water and irrigation runoff, fewer yard wastes, increased habitat for plants and animals, and lower labor and maintenance costs (USEPA, 1993).

Behavioral Practices

Behavioral practices involve changing water use habits so that water is used more efficiently, thus reducing the overall water consumption in a home. These practices require a change in behavior, not modifications in the existing plumbing or fixtures in a home. Behavioral practices for residential water users can be applied both indoors in the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room and outdoors.

In the kitchen, for example, 10 to 20 gallons of water a day can be saved by running the dishwasher only when it is full. If dishes are washed by hand, water can be saved by filling the sink or a dishpan with water rather than running the water continuously. An open conventional faucet lets about 5 gallons of water flow every 2 minutes (Florida Commission, 1990).

Water can be saved in the bathroom by turning off the faucet while brushing teeth or shaving. Water can be saved by taking short showers rather than long showers or baths and turning the water off while soaping. This water savings can be increased even further by installing low-flow showerheads, as discussed earlier. Toilets should be used only to carry away sanitary waste.

Households with lead-based solder in pipes that flush the first several gallons of water should collect this water for alternative nonpotable uses (e.g., plant watering).

Water can be saved in the laundry room by adjusting water levels in the washing machine to match the size of the load. If the washing machine does not have a variable load control, water can be saved by running the machine only when it is full. If washing is done by hand, the water should not be left running. A laundry tub should be filled with water, and the wash and rinse water should be reused as much as possible.

Outdoor water use can be reduced by watering the lawn early in the morning or late in the evening and on cooler days, when possible, to reduce evaporation. Allowing the grass to grow slightly taller will reduce water loss by providing more ground shade for the roots and by promoting water retention in the soil. Growing plants that are suited to the area ("indigenous" plants) can save more than 50 percent of the water normally used to care for outdoor plants.

As much as 150 gallons of water can be saved when washing a car by turning the hose off between rinses. The car should be washed on the lawn if possible to reduce runoff.

Additional savings of water can result from sweeping sidewalks and driveways instead of hosing them down. Washing a sidewalk or driveway with a hose uses about 50 gallons of water every 5 minutes (Florida Commission,

Uploaded: 2/21/2004