Interior Plumbing

12 Ways You’re Wasting Water at Home

Cut down on wasted water by eliminating these 12 drains on your wallet—and the planet.

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Save Water at Home

There are many easy steps you can take to save water at home, and a good way to start is by making an inventory of leaks around your house. Household leaks alone account for more than 900 billion gallons of water wasted each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s enough to supply the annual water needs of 11 million homes! Beyond leaks, however, there are other, less obvious ways that you’re probably wasting water every day, whether through thoughtlessness or bad habits. Take a look at your house and your routine to see if you’re guilty of any of these common water-wasting offenses.

Overdoing It Outside

Outdoor watering can account for up to a third of household usage and is often the number one cause of water waste. To cut down on your outdoor watering, first consider your choice of landscaping. Stick with plantings that are appropriate for your climate so you don’t have to lavish precious water resources on them. Opting for drought-resistant native plants will help you conserve even more. Also, think about the other ways you use water outdoors. Instead of hosing down your sidewalks and deck, a practice that squanders water, use a broom or leaf blower. Finally, fight against water loss through evaporation by watering your lawn in the early morning or evening and keeping your pool covered. 

Related: 7 Smart Ways to Save Water in the Yard

Secret Leaks

Not all leaks are easy to spot. Even if a faucet isn’t dripping, there may be leaks around the base of the spout, which can be caused by a cracked or worn-out O-ring. Check under the sink too, where loose connections to the water supply and drain can cause leaks in less noticeable places.

Ignored Leaks

Leaks of all kinds account for at least 10 percent of household water waste. You can take control of the problem by leak-proofing your home using the EPA’s handy Fix a Leak Week program. The agency provides an easy checklist to help homeowners conduct their own plumbing inspections. While the steps in the program may seem simple, they can yield big benefits. With population pressures and climate change increasingly threatening supplies of clean water, we should all do our part to cut down on the nearly 1 trillion gallons of water wasted each year as a result of leaks. So, take a little time to track down the hidden leaks in your house, then DIY the fixes or call in a plumber.

Inefficient Flushes

Toilets manufactured before 1993 use between two to six gallons per flush. Compare that to newer, water-saving toilets that adhere to the current federal standard of just 1.6 gallons per flush. If you own an older model, consider replacing it with a new, more efficient toilet, or retrofit your current toilet with a water-saving dual-flush attachment. The dual-flush feature lets you choose either a light flush or a heavier flush, as needed. Whatever type of toilet you own, look for signs of leaks in the tank, such as a toilet that runs between flushes. If the flapper is old, water may be leaking from the tank into the bowl, periodically triggering “phantom” flushes. You can check for leaks by putting a few drops of food coloring in the tank; if the color shows up in the bowl within 10 minutes or so, the valve needs replacing.

Old Fixtures

If you have older plumbing fixtures, they’re probably wasting water—and adding to your monthly water bill. Newer fixtures are much more water-wise than older models. Case in point: While a standard shower head uses about five gallons per minute, a low-flow shower head cuts that number in half. Swapping out old faucets and shower heads for WaterSense-certified fixtures is one of the easiest and best ways to save water every day.

Daily Baths

An occasional long, hot bath does wonders for mind and body. But a bath uses up far more water than a shower. While an average bathtub holds about 40 or 50 gallons of water, a 10-minute shower using a water-saving nozzle that cuts flow to two gallons per minute requires just 20 gallons. And if you take an even shorter shower, you’ll enjoy even more water savings.

Running the Tap

You waste gallons of clean, usable water when you keep the tap running unnecessarily. The biggest culprits? Personal hygiene (brushing your teeth, washing your face, shaving) and kitchen chores like hand-washing dishes and cleaning the kitchen. Always turn off the tap when it’s not in use, and soak dishes and pans to cut down on wash time and water usage.

Running Partial Loads

Even if you have a “smart” machine that adjusts water levels to match the size of each load, a half-full dishwasher or washing machine is a waste of water and electricity. Whenever possible, wait to run your machines until you can wash a full load.

Forgotten Connectors

Large appliances like your washing machine, water heater, and refrigerator (if it dispenses ice or water) are connected to a water supply line. This connection can be shaken loose as a result of movement and vibration, and hoses age and become brittle over time, leading to leaks behind your machines. Contact a repair specialist or contractor if you notice pools of water forming under or behind any major appliances.

Assuming That You're Conserving

While replacing old fixtures and appliances with more efficient models is a great start, you also need to be conscious of your water use habits. According to Consumer Reports, people who rely on water-saving devices may take longer showers and run the tap without thinking, assuming that they’re already conserving water. If you have trouble remembering, place a sticky note next to faucets and appliances with a simple message: “Save water.”

Related: 14 Sneaky Ways to Save Money on Your Water Bill

Drinking Alcohol

No way around it, humans need to drink water—at least half a gallon daily. But alcohol is another matter. According to Scientific American, overindulging in alcohol is one of the 10 top water wasters. Alcohol is a diuretic and leads to dehydration, which is a major reason why people end up with hangovers the next day. The more you drink, the more water your body loses. That lost water has to go somewhere, and it has to be replaced in your body—and both of these processes lead to more water usage at home.

Underestimating Your Footprint

Water usage can easily get out of hand and can be hard to track on a daily basis. Increasing your awareness of your water usage is one of the best starting points for controlling it. The Water Footprint Calculator will encourage you to think about the many ways your family uses water, will help you estimate your household’s water usage, and will provide you with tips and articles about water safety and conservation.

Related: 22 Water-Saving Habits to Start Right Now