Ways to Conserve Water at Home

According to the EPA, the average American family of four uses approximately 400 gallons of water per day. We all know the importance of water conservation, especially for those of us in the dry Western U.S., but did you realize that water also has a strong connection with energy use? It takes energy to pump, heat, treat, and deliver the water we use everyday. Heating water is the second largest user of energy in the home, after HVAC systems. Power plants use a large amount of water to generate electricity: it takes 3,000 to 6,000 gallons of water to power a 60-watt incandescent bulb for 12 hours per day over the course of a year.

pie graph: "how much water do we use?" Toilet 24%, shower 20%, faucet 19%, clothes washer 17%, leak 12%, other 8%

Half of a home’s water use comes from the bathroom. There are three main actions you can take to decrease water usage throughout the house.

  • Install or retrofit existing older plumbing devices with modern, water-efficient products.
  • Maintain appliances and water sources, especially checking for leaks frequently and repairing as needed.
  • Adopt water saving habits.

Look for the WaterSense certification logo on plumbing fixtures. These products are certified to use 20% less water compared to similar items. As with Energy Star appliances, rebates are available with installation of WaterSense products.


WaterSense is a program created by the EPA to certify water-efficient plumbing devices like faucets, showerheads and sprinklers. These products can save hundreds of gallons of water each year. Look for this certification when shopping for plumbing fixtures.

How to conserve water in the bathroom


Go Green: Water saving faucets

Install WaterSense labeled faucets or retrofit existing faucets with Watersense aerators. These use a maximum of 1.5 gallons per minute and can reduce a sink’s water flow by 30% or more from the standard flow of 2.2 gallons per minute without sacrificing performance.

  • Fix leaky faucets.
  • Clean scale buildup from the aerator, which can cause performance issues
  • Turn off water while brushing teeth or shaving. I’ve even started turning it off while I’m lathering my face as I wash it at night.
infographic: replacing faucets and aerators with WATERSENSE models can save 700 gallons per year, equal to 45 showers worth of water

Shower & Tub

infographic: Replacing your old showerheads with WATERSENSE LABELED showerheads could save 2,700 gallons per year

Go Green: Water saving shower heads

Install WaterSense labeled showerheads, which use no more than 2 gallons of water per minute, which is about half the amount of water as conventional ones. This certification also ensures these products meet additional performance requirements, including adequate spray pressure and coverage. Shop for these water-saving showerheads at any hardware store, such as Home Depot.

Changing a showerhead might seem complicated, but is actually super easy; I’ve changed several on my own.

Make sure you replace the O-ring as necessary and fix leaky showerheads in a timely manner. Repair or replace leaky bathtub faucets as well.

Water-saving shower habits

  • The most obvious way to decrease water usage is to take shorter showers, which can be tough for someone like me who loves a long, hot shower. But a 15-minute shower under an old showerhead can use 90-120 gallons of water. See if you can shower in five minutes by setting a timer or listening to a five minute song. In addition, consider turning off the water while you lather up, shampoo your hair, or shave–some showerheads have a quick shut-off lever that allows you to turn the water on and off without adjusting the water temperature.
  • Put a bucket in the shower to collect water while you’re waiting for it to warm up, and use the water for watering plants, flushing the toilet, or cleaning. Or just jump right in—apparently there are many health benefits to taking cold showers. A couple of my siblings swear by them, but it’s not for me.
  • Take less baths, as they use about twice as much water as showering.

Find eco-friendly soaps and shampoos.


Infographic: Replacing inefficient toilets with WaterSense models can save 13,000 gallons per year, saving more than $140 per year in water costs

Go Green: Water conserving toilet

Toilets are the biggest consumers of water in the home, more than any other indoor fixture. This is especially true of older model toilets, which use 3.5 gallons of water per flush (gpf); some even use up to 7 gpf. Current federal standards all for 1.6 gpf. The best way to decrease water usage is to replace your toilet with a low-flow model that has a WaterSense label indicating it meets EPA criteria. These models can use up to 60% less water than an old toilet. Check for rebates in your area for installing a low-flow toilet.

If you’re not in the market for a new toilet, there are still several things you can do to decrease its water usage.

Retrofit older toilets with a dual flush conversion kit. Whatever the toilet’s baseline gpf is still required in these types of toilets to remove solid waste, but much less water is utilized to adequately clear liquid wastes, which of course are the majority of flushes.

You can also install an adjustable flapper that can be modified to control how much water flows into the toilet when flushed, or a fill cycle diverter, which diverts some of the water from filling the bowl to the tank instead.

You may have heard about placing a brick in the toilet tank, which displaces water and therefore decreases the amount used with each flush. This is the right idea but a brick can break down over time and clog the drain. Instead try a product made just for this purpose, like these toilet tank bags, which are filled with water and mounted inside the tank.

Install a bidet to mitigate the amount of toilet paper used. I’ve got a Bio Bidet I purchased from Costco, and as well as this reusable toilet paper I bought on Etsy to dry with, but really any cloth will do. If you’ve ever questioned a bidet’s water usage, you can rest easy knowing that they only use 1/8th of a gallon per use. A single roll of toilet paper takes 37 gallons of water to create! Learn what to look for when choosing eco-friendly toilet paper.

No matter what type of toilet you have, do periodic checks to ensure it is functioning properly.

Toilet leaks can waste up to 180 gallons of water per week. Test for leaks about every 6 months by putting a few drops of food coloring into the tank and wait for about 20 minutes. Check to see if color appears in the bowl (without flushing), which would indicate a leak.

The most common culprit is a leaky flapper/flush valve and can be resolved by scrubbing off mineral deposits or flapper replacement. Other causes include a faulty fill valve or issues leading to water in the tank running into the overflow tube.

If you’re up for it, you can go with the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” thing to save some flushes. Maybe my kids have actually just been eco-conscious all along….?

Saving water in the kitchen

Go Green: Energy-efficient dishwasher

Did you know that handwashing dishes actually uses more water than a dishwasher? Handwashing can use up to 27 gallons of water per load versus as little as 3 gallons with an Energy Star-rated dishwasher. Energy Star dishwashers average 12% less energy and 30% less water than standard models.

Click here to learn more about energy-efficient dishwashers and other appliances.

There aren’t WaterSense standards for kitchen faucets because they perform high flow tasks such as filling pots and containers, as well as rinsing dishes and food. But you can look for models with lower flow ratings; many new kitchen faucets have a flow rate between 1.5 and 1.8 gpm. Some have a feature that allows you to switch between a traditional faucet flow and a spray stream to assist with rinsing.

Dishwashing tips

  • Most people are in the habit of prerinsing their dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, myself included. But multiple sources say this is an unnecessary step that uses a lot of water. Modern dishwashers are efficient at cleaning even heavily soiled dishes, so just scrape off loose food and let the dishwasher do the rest. I do think that this applies more to people who run the dishwasher daily, otherwise I find some food gets too crusted on and isn’t cleaned. Make sure there is not any paper or other packaging debris present.
  • Wash only full loads (but don’t overload or block moving parts) to optimize water use and run less often.
  • Use a sink drain stopper when you are washing dishes instead of letting the water run the whole time.
  • Compost your food and use your disposal as little as possible.

Find clean hand soap as well as dish soap and more sustainable dish washing tools.

More ways to conserve water in the kitchen

  • Keep a pitcher of drinking water in the refrigerator instead of letting the faucet run until the water is cold.
  • Thaw food in the refrigerator overnight rather than using running hot water. I am terrible at planning ahead, so I thaw in the microwave frequently, or I have found putting things out in the sun on a hot day thaws them pretty quickly.
  • Fill a bowl with water to rinse produce instead of letting the water run. This is also a great practice to help remove pesticides.
  • Boiling potatoes or cooking pasta? Use leftover cooking water to give a drink to potted plants or those in the garden.
  • Water plants or top off a bird bath with residual water left in bottles.

Laundry water conservation

Go Green: Energy-efficient washing machine

An Energy Star washing machine uses 20% less energy and about 30% less water than regular washers.

Learn more about Energy Star washing machines and other energy-efficient appliances here.

To optimize water and energy use, make sure to wash only full loads of laundry or use the appropriate water level or load size selection on the washing machine.

Go Green: Wash with cold water

About 90% of the energy used by a washing machine is to heat the water. Best practice is to wash with cold water. I resisted this until recently because I didn’t think cold water would clean clothes as well. But I’ve been doing this for months now and I assure you that it works just as well.

Using cold water not only saves you money, but it substantially decreases decreases carbon emissions: if you washed 4 out of 5 loads of laundry in cold water for one year, the CO2 emissions would drop to 864 pounds of CO2 emissions, which is equivalent to planting 0.37 acres of trees.

Cold water helps also prevent shrinkage and retain colors in your clothes and is better for delicate fabrics.

Click here to learn more from the American Cleaning Institute.

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