Thirty-six states expect to face water shortages by 2013, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Even if you're not in a water-challenged state, it's in your best interest to use water efficiently, as saving water also saves on the heat required to warm it for washing clothes, dishes and bathing.
A simple way to save is to install low-flow showerheads and faucets. Or get a low-flow aerator that fits on the faucet. Showers and faucets together use about 23 percent of an American home's water, more than toilets or clothes washing.
Low-flow showerheads and faucets cost $10 and upward, and they can reduce your water use by 30 percent to 50 percent. Resulting savings in water use and hot water heating can be $50 to $90 or more a year, just by installing a couple of water-saving fixtures.
Standard showerheads in the U.S. today use a maximum of 2.5 gallons per minute. You can ensure you'll use less by looking for a WaterSense label, which mandates using 2 gpm or less. WaterSense is a government-run program that certifies water-saving devices like showerheads and faucets, much like Energy Star recognizes energy efficient appliances and some electronics.
WaterSense showerheads are about 20 percent more efficient than others and can save more than 2,300 gallons per year and 300 kilowatt hours of electricity enough to power a television for about a year.
Low-flow showerheads typically come in two types: aerating and laminar. Aerating showerheads mix air into the water, while laminar showerheads produce steady streams of water. Some people favor laminar fixtures because aeration makes the water splashy. Laminar showerheads may also be favored in humid areas because they don't create as much steam or moisture.
You should purchase a showerhead that matches the flow rate of an automatic-compensating mixing valve, which may be behind the shower or at the water heater.
If you have your home's original showerhead and it was built before 1994, it's a water waster. You can also use the bucket test to determine if it's time to replace a showerhead. Place a bucket marked in gallon increments under the shower and time how many seconds it takes to reach the 1-gallon mark. If it takes less than 20 seconds, it's time for a new showerhead.
The federal standard for faucets is 2.2 gallons per minute, though WaterSense specification sets the maximum flow rate of faucets and aerators at 1.5 gallons per minute (at 60 psi). WaterSense does not certify kitchen faucets.
Faucets come in many different types, and more expensive models can use motion sensors to automate the water flow. There are also metering faucets that automatically shut off the water after a certain amount of time or water flow, as well as those activated with foot pedals.
If you don't want to replace a faucet, you can simply replace the screw-on aerator that's on the tip of the faucet. Aerators generally cost only a few bucks and they can be one of the most cost-effective water conservation measures. For maximum water efficiency, purchase aerators that have flow rates of no more than 1 gpm. WaterSense certifies aerators, as well, and some are of the laminar variety.
Learn why programmable thermostats are a smart way to save on your heating and cooling costs.
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