Luke Mullins

Americans have plenty of reasons to conserve water. Efficient water use helps maintain reservoir and groundwater supplies at levels that support a healthy public and a thriving environment. Meanwhile, smarter water use reduces the amount of energy needed to treat and transport the supply. What's more, conserving water saves money. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that homeowners can save roughly $170 a year simply by making a few minor changes to their water use. To help consumers better understand how they can realize these savings, we spoke to a number of water efficiency experts and compiled a list of six ways that consumers might be unintentionally wasting water today -- and what they can do to prevent it.

1. Leaking toilets

The average household can leak more than 10,000 gallons of water each year, and much of that water escapes through toilets. "The leaking toilet can be one of the worst water wasters and probably one of the biggest areas of just total waste in the household," says Eva Opitz, the chair of the American Water Works Association's Water Conservation Division. "A leaking toilet can leak 20 to 30 gallons a day." Often times, a homeowner's best defense against a leaky toilet are their ears. "If you hear [water in the toilet] running constantly, it's a fairly easy fix," Opitz says. "Check the flapper valves and the inner parts." But not all toilet leaks are so easy to spot. To check for silent leaks, experts recommend dropping some food coloring into the toilet's tank. If the food coloring makes it into the bowl within about 15 minutes, you know the toilet is leaking. Click here for advice on repairing leaks.

2. No WaterSense

Certain home products use water more efficiently than others. To ensure that your home is as water efficient as possible, experts encourage consumers to look for the WaterSense label when buying or replacing appliances. In partnership with the EPA, the WaterSense program is designed to make it easier for consumers to identify water-efficient products. "What that label means is that the product uses about 20 percent less water but performs as well or better than the conventional model," says Stephanie Thornton of the EPA. "And it also means that it has been through a third-party independent testing process to verify that it meets those criteria." WaterSense bathroom sink faucets, for example, can save an average household roughly 500 gallons of water a year. Replacing less efficient showerheads with WaterSense units could save a household more than 2,300 gallons of water each year.

3. Overwatering the lawn

Homeowners should pay close attention to how they water their lawns and gardens to ensure that they are not accidentally wasting resources, experts say. "In many parts of the country, more than 50 percent of residential water use -- that's treated drinking water -- goes out on the lawn," says Mary Ann Dickinson, the executive director of the Alliance for Water Efficiency. "That's the equivalent of taking a bottle of expensive Evian and just pouring it on the grass." Experts recommend a number ways that consumers can make their outdoor water use more efficient. "When you are watering your lawn, make sure that you are not doing it in the heat of the day, so you are not losing water to evaporation," Thornton says. In addition, avoid watering the lawn when it is windy out, as moisture can be carried away from its intended destination. Finally, make sure that the water is landing only on the landscaping, and not on the driveway or street.

4. Toilet Trash Can

Representing almost a third of a household's total indoor consumption, toilets are the biggest source of water use in your home. And even if the unit itself is working correctly, improper use of a toilet can waste water. To eliminate extra flushes -- which unnecessarily consume water -- experts recommend that homeowners avoid using their toilets as garbage bins. "If you have a tissue, don't flush it down the toilet," Thornton says. "Don't use the toilet as a trash can."

5. Asleep in the bathroom

There are several other simple ways to cut down on water use in the bathroom. When you are shaving or brushing your teeth, turn the water off when you're not using it -- rather than letting it run the whole time. Thornton also recommends taking a shower instead of a bath. "A bath can use up to 75 gallons of water," she says. "So showers are usually better as long as they are not really really long."

6. Half-full laundry loads

Being smart about the way you use your washing machine is another way to increase the water efficiency of your home. "Only wash full loads of clothes," Dickinson says. "Don't go running the clothes washer load for just five pieces of clothing." By consolidating smaller loads into larger ones, you can minimize the use of your washing machine, which will conserve water and save money.


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