Less than one percent of the water on earth is available for us to drink. Most of it – about 97 percent – is locked in salt water oceans and coastal seas like Long Island Sound. That leaves three percent as the fresh water we can drink, and of that, more than two percent of the water on earth is frozen in glaciers and ice at the poles. So we don’t have enough water to waste.
The average consumer in the Authority’s water district uses about 50 gallons of water a day. That’s 200 gallons for a family of four. If you had to carry that much water home from a well each day, you’d have to make 40 trips carrying a 5-gallon bucket.
The bathroom is the largest consumer of indoor water. Most of the water in your house - 27 percent - is used to flush toilets. Older toilets use between 3.5 and 7 gallons per flush. Toilets installed after 1991 use 1.6 gallons per flush. Think of it: replacing a 5-gallon per flush unit with a 1.6 gallon per flush unit can automatically and permanently cut your water consumption by 25 percent. You use about 17 percent of your water in the shower. More if you have teenagers in the house. Some shower heads use between 5 and 7 gallons each minute the shower runs. Newer shower heads use only 2.5 gallons a minute. Replacing an old high-flow shower head with a newer low-flow one could save thousands of gallons of water a year. Faucets generally run at 3 gallons of water per minute. By turning off the tap while brushing your teeth or shaving, you can save more than 200 gallons of water per month. Washing the dishes with an open tap can use up to 20 gallons of water, but filling the sink or a bowl and closing the tap saves 10 of those gallons.
Clothes washers account for almost 22 percent of the water use in your home. Traditional models use between 27 and 54 gallons of water per load, but new, energy- and water-conserving washers (non-agitator front-loading or top-loading) use less than 27 gallons of water per load.
Leaks can dribble your money away. A leaking faucet can waste hundreds of gallons of water a year. That faucet in the basement with a slow, steady drip can send 3,900 gallons of water down your drain in a single year. If you’re connected to a public sewer, you might have to pay for both buying the water and disposing of it through the sewers. And keep in mind, if you had to carry that much water to your home from a well, it would take 780 trips with that five-gallon bucket.
Some leaks are easy to see – or hear. Others are small. Whether big or small, any leak costs you money while it wastes a valuable resource.
Your water meter is the key for figuring out how much water you use in a day, week or month. It can also help you detect leaks. And you can use it to help measure the effectiveness of your household water conservation program.
First, find your water meter. It’s probably located in the corner of your basement next to an outside wall or in a vault outside the house.
Now look at the meter. It should resemble the one pictured here.
Meters measure water in cubic feet. To change from cubic feet to gallons, multiply the cubic feet by 7.48. So if you use 32 cubic feet in a day, you would multiply 7.48 by 32 to find out your family used over 239 gallons of water.
You don’t have to multiply anything just to see if you have a leak inside your home. First, make sure all water fixtures in the house are turned off and that nobody uses any water for an hour. Then, check to see if the meter reading has changed. If it has, you have a leak.
Try this experiment to find out how much water a leak can waste.
A leaky toilet can often be detected by the sound of it “running” or trickling in the night, but sometimes it leaks silently. Don’t be fooled! Try this:
Remove the lid from the toilet tank. (You may want to flush the toilet to get a better idea of how the mechanism works. Wait for the tank to refill completely and the water in the bowl to be still.)
Drop a dozen drops of red or blue food coloring or one of the dye tablets (available from RWA) into a tankful of clear water. Wait 15 minutes. If colored water appears in the bowl, you have a leak. One leaky toilet can waste more than 150 gallons of water a day!
Repair is relatively simple, particularly if you are handy. The only tools you may need are pliers or a wrench. Or, you may want to call in a plumber to locate and fix the leak.
To start, empty your toilet tank for repairs. You do this by turning off the water inlet at the base of the toilet and flushing the tank. Soak up excess water with a sponge; then check these parts:
1. Flapper or Flush Valve:
Your flapper or flush valve may not be seating properly in the valve seat – or it may need replacement. (This is the typical cause of a running toilet.)
To fix: Check the valve seat for corrosion and clean if necessary. Try flushing. If the flush valve still won’t seat properly, the guide wire may be bent, misaligned or catching in the guide. Straighten the wire and clean the guide. Be sure to check that the valve falls easily into place. If the flush valve is in poor shape, check with your plumber or hardware store for inexpensive replacement parts and simple do-it-yourself installation instructions.
2. Overflow Tube:
If the water level in the tank is too high, it may spill into the overflow tube. The correct water level is about a half inch to one inch below the top of the overflow tube.
To fix: Bend the float arm downward gently until the water fills to the proper level after you flush. Be sure to check that the float arm is securely screwed in so that the arm won’t rotate. *If the water level is too low, you may get a poor flush; carefully bend the float arm upward.
3. Guide Wire:
If you have to jiggle the handle to keep the toilet from running over, it may be a sticking guide wire, a misaligned flush valve or a loose handle.
To fix: Clean and straighten the guide wire and/or tighten the nut that holds the toilet handle to the tank.
4. Shut-Off Valve:
If the water that refills the tank won’t shut off, you may have a broken shut-off valve in the ballcock assembly; water will just keep spilling into the overflow tube.
To fix: Know your limitations. Unless you’re an accomplished plumber, call a professional. At least you’ve isolated the problem!
Those customers who conserve the most will pay the lowest bills. Even as rates rise for a variety of factors, those practicing water conservation will pay the smallest amount. Those who ignore conservation will pay the most.