Water conservation – the why and how for homeowners

In renovating a home, why should homeowners conserve water and how do they go about it?

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    The spillway on the pond is located at the end of the dirt road. Sheep Dog Hollow farmhouse is on the same lane as the spillway. Although there's plenty of water in the area, water conservation will be a rule at Sheep Dog Hollow.
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At Sheep Dog Hollow, our green and economical renovation challenge, we apparently have an abundance of water. The view from almost every window includes a peek at a pond, or a brook, or one of the two lakes at either end of our dead end road. And did I mention we’re a mere four miles from the mighty Connecticut River?

A lack of water does not appear to be a problem. But that doesn’t mean that water use shouldn’t be paid proper attention in our effort to renovate in a green manner. It turns out that residential and commercial development, industry, and an a whole assortment of other human activities, such as watering the lawn, are putting a stress on the world’s water supplies – even when it’s not apparent.

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According to the website Earth Easy, it’s one of those little-noticed but looming, ever-growing problems that each person can do a little something to help with:

“In 1990, 30 states in the US reported 'water-stress' conditions. In 2000, the number of states reporting water-stress rose to 40. In 2009, the number rose to 45. There is a worsening trend in water supply nationwide. Taking measures at home to conserve water not only saves you money, it also is of benefit to the greater community.”

On the kids' section of a local water and electric utility in Florida (a peninsula, think plenty of water), I found an even simpler, nuts and bolts explanation as to why it matters if water is conserved. It states simply: “Saving water is good for the earth, your family, and your community.”

• “When you use water wisely, you help the environment. You save water for fish and animals. You help preserve drinking water supplies. And you ease the burden on wastewater treatment plants—the less water you send down the drain, the less work these plants have to do to make water clean again.
• When you use water wisely, you save energy. You save the energy that your water supplier uses to treat and move water to you, and the energy your family uses to heat your water.
• When you use water wisely, you save money. Your family pays for the water you use. If you use less water, you’ll have more money left to spend on other things.”

The Earth Easy site has a list of 25 things a homeowner can do to easily, and inexpensively conserve water. A few examples:

1. Check faucets and pipes for leaks. A small drip from a worn faucet washer can waste 20 gallons of water per day. Larger leaks can waste hundreds of gallons.
2. Don't use the toilet as an ashtray or wastebasket. Every time you flush a cigarette butt, facial tissue or other small bit of trash, five to seven gallons of water is wasted.
3. Check your toilets for leaks. Put a little food coloring in your toilet tank. If, without flushing, the color begins to appear in the bowl within 30 minutes, you have a leak that should be repaired immediately. Most replacement parts are inexpensive and easy to install.

The Environmental Protection Agency is also trying to make water conservation a priority in the construction industry. In December it released its guidelines for its Water Sense home certification process. Like the EPA’s Energy Star program, Water Sense provides builders and homeowners with specific things that can be done to reduce overall water usage. It says:

The new homes will feature WaterSense labeled plumbing fixtures, Energy Star qualified appliances (if installed), water-efficient landscaping, and hot water delivery systems that deliver hot water faster, so homeowners don’t waste water—or energy—waiting at the tap

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By investing in WaterSense labeled homes, American home buyers can reduce their water usage by more than 10,000 gallons per year—enough to fill a backyard swimming pool—and save enough energy annually to power a television for four years. If the approximately 1.27 million new homes built in the United States each year were WaterSense labeled, it would save more than 12 billion gallons of water.
“These homes will save homeowners as much as $200 a year on utility bills compared to their current homes,” says Peter S. Silva, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water.

The EPA also has a handy site to direct you to products like toilets, sinks, shower heads, and other plumbing fixtures that have the EPA’s stamp of approval with a “Water Sense” label.

The site also has some fun facts, such as did you know that you could save 11,000 gallons of water yearly by updating your bathroom with a WaterSense-labeled toilet?

Well, I just have to let Martin know that, and then begin work on convincing him that the two old pedestal sinks he’s already collected from antique shops to put into Sheep Dog Hollow may not make the WaterSense cut.

Once again, we’re faced with pitting historical accuracy against good green building practice. I’m sure there are plenty of reproduction sinks and toilets that will fit the “green” water conservation requirements, I’m just not sure Martin will be happy with them. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Editor’s note: Alexandra Marks blogs on Tuesdays and Thursdays about her green and budget-friendly restoration of a 1902 farmhouse in Connecticut.

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