Although Americans tend to focus on energy issues, wrestling with major worries about how to wean the nation from its dependence on fossil fuels and internal combustion, water issues actually pose the greatest threat to the North American environment and the global economy. Except in the drought-plagued southwest, Americans tend to take their water for granted. They count on winter blizzards and big spring and summer storms to supply more than enough clean water for crops and families. However, unless all Americans begin aggressively conserving and recycling water, it may become the nation’s scarcest and most precious resource. Unlike energy conservation, water conservation requires no serious sacrifices; instead, reducing your water consumption depends primarily on doing more with less. Continue your conscientious energy conservation initiatives, and give water conservation the same high priority.
Where and How to Wrench for Energy and Water Conservation
Although most plumbing projects require nothing more than common sense and working knowledge of sixth-grade fractions, one mistake can have serious consequences for your whole house. Balance your fervor for doing it yourself against the potential cost of flooding your kitchen, bathrooms or basement. When in doubt, call a reputable contractor, who will…
Install a Programmable Thermostat
Most American families pay more in monthly heating and cooling costs than they pay for their cars; for many families, gas and electricity represent the second-largest monthly expense, right behind the mortgage. You can cut these costs with a user-friendly programmable thermostat to regulate daytime and nighttime temperatures during the workweek when the house is empty and on the weekends when the whole family is home. Energy experts still recommend, when people are home, set daytime temperatures at 75 degrees, 68 degrees at night. Keep your heating and air conditioning unit turned off when you are not at home. For that high-tech touch that means so much, choose a programmable thermostat that comes with its own smartphone app. Using your app, you can heat or cool the house to your preferences while you drive home from work.
Hook-up a Tankless Water Heater
Because your old-fashioned water heater keeps warm water on hand at all times, it runs constantly, wasting gas and electricity. When you shower, run the dishwasher or washing machine, you risk running out of hot water because you have only 40 gallons available at any one time. A tankless water heater, on the other hand, quickly delivers hot water on demand, and it heats enough water that you may run two low-flow showers simultaneously. You never will run out of hot water, yet you will realize up to 60 percent savings on water-heating costs.
Convert to Low-Flow, High-Power Toilets
New designs combine physics and hydro-dynamics to deliver more flushing power from a single gallon of water than your old toilet could generate from five gallons. Some new designs have neither tanks nor floats and flush valves. State-of-the-art toilets run purely on waterpower, yet they use 50 percent less water than toilets introduced just two years ago. Although replacing a toilet is not extremely difficult, the job does require a good eye and delicate touch. Even experienced do-it-yourselfers leave toilet replacement to the professionals.
Soften and Purify your Water
A whole-house water purification system reduces minerals, chemicals and other contaminants from your water so that you no longer have to buy bottled water. Purified water washes better with less detergent, and it rinses more completely than water straight from pipes to tap. Purified water reduces soap scum on shower doors, and it completely eliminates deposits on faucets. Because the purification system removes salts and corrosives, it increases your pipes’ and fixtures’ life expectancy.
Recover and Reuse Gray Water
Instead of draining your tubs, dishwasher and laundry into the city’s sewage system, hook them to a gray water recovery system that stores water for use in your backyard irrigation system. With a little planning and attention to details, you can create a drip system that automatically waters your plants and flowers without costing a cent.
The thermostat, tankless water heater and low-flow toilet probably qualify for manufacturers’ and government rebates; ask you dealer when your purchase each item. With or without cash incentives, each of these upgrades will pay for itself in a matter of months. More importantly, the set of five quick fixes can add $3,000 or more to your home’s value.
Linda Waters is a full-time freelance writer. She recommends finding a water softener retailer through consumer research.