The planet is covered in blue stuff, but as the old saying goes: “water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink.” Globally, water needs are outstripping supply, even as potable water is being contaminated, complicating matters even further. Since we need water to survive, it’s becoming a critical issue in many regions of the world, from California, where people are struggling with a drought, to Britain, which practically drowned in floods earlier this year.
Ask the average American how much water she uses, and she won’t have a very good idea. A recent study took a look at perceptions of water use, looking at how much people estimate they use and comparing it against actual use. The researchers found that people underestimate their water use pretty dramatically. How much? By about 50%, as it turns out. People also have uncertain perceptions of the level of impact caused by various activities, including bathing, washing clothes, cooking, swimming, and more; in other words, despite substantial outreach campaigns from nonprofits and government agencies, many people struggle to understand water use.
Guess what? 70% of your personal water use is accounted for under your own roof, says the EPA, and of that, well…guess which household activity uses up the most water? We try not to talk about it around here, but it’s flushing the toilet, which accounts for a whopping 27% of indoor water usage.
The study also shows that people don’t understand the best ways to cut down on water use. Many people are under the impression that they need to change their personal habits to do right for the planet, which is definitely a step, but it’s not the most efficient way to keep household water usage down. Unfortunately, many groups have promoted the individual action approach, to the exclusion of educating people about the real way to cut down on water use: revamp the plumbing.
Toilets in particular are a real problem, because many older models use significant volumes of water per flush, and they really don’t need to. In regions like Europe, many people are using dual flush toilets, which allow you the option of selecting between a small or big flush, depending on the level of need. Furthermore, their toilets use less water either way, cutting down overall on household water use related to flushing the toilet.
Similar efficiency moves are important for washers and dishwashers. It’s not just enough to make sure they’re never run with partial loads and the right cycle is selected (although this is a good idea). It’s also important to upgrade to equipment that will actually use less water, and is designed to operate as efficiently as possible. These are steps that don’t involve any changes in your routine, but make a huge difference in your water usage habits.
If you still want a habit to change, though, you’re in luck: stop running water and waiting for it to get hot before you wash your hands. Washing with cool water is actually more effective, and far less wasteful. Not only will you save water, you’ll also cut your HVAC costs!