Ten tips to help you conserve water

After air, water is the most important substance needed to sustain life. That's why virtually all human societies (and plants and animals, for that matter) can be found near a source of water.

Because it's such a valuable resource, it's important for us not to misuse or waste it. In the United States, we often take this principle for granted, thanks to modern indoor plumbing systems where we can obtain clean, safe drinking water (hot or cold, by the way) by merely twisting a tap. As a result, the average American household uses anywhere from 120 to 150 gallons of water every day.

No doubt at least some of this total is wasted. Which is a waste, not only of water but money. And here's something else to think about, especially if you're one of the millions of Americans who get water from a utility: if you get sewer services from a utility as well, and you're wasting water, you're wasting a lot more money than you should be wasting.

Why? Well, because practically all sewer utilities in the United States base what they charge you on the amount of water you use. And that's because sewer services aren't metered while water service is, meaning if you use 7,000 gallons of water a month, you'll get billed not only for those 7,000 gallons of water, but for 7,000 gallons of sewer service. And sewer services are more expensive per gallon than water service because it's more expensive to treat sewage.

So as you can see, it behooves you to save as much water as you can, if for no other reason than to save money.

With that in mind, here we present the top 10 ways you can save water and save a buck in your home.

1. Find and fix water leaks.

Water leaks are possibly the worst way to waste water because nothing is gained by a water leak.

So how do you stop a water leak? You have to find it first.

The simplest way to find a water leak is by first making sure no one in your home is using any water. Then, go outside and check your water meter.

If the meter dial is moving, you have a water leak some where in your plumbing system.

Pinpointing where the leak is could be trickier. Some leaks are obvious--the drippy bathroom faucet, the leaking toilet (incidentally, leaking toilets are notorious for being the worst wasters of water). If that's what's happening in your case, then it's just a matter of fixing the leak. You can either fix it yourself, or call a plumber or handyman to do it for you.

If the leak is not so obvious, you may need the help of a plumbing professional to find it and fix it.

And here's a little "tip within a tip" that could save you a few dollars: check with your local water utility to see if they have some sort of credit for hidden, or underground leaks. If you have a leak that cannot easily be reached, such as a leak in an underground pipe or a leak in a pipe hidden behind a wall, some utilities will give you some sort of credit for the water wasted due to the leak. Check to be sure, as few utilities like to advertise the fact that they provide this service, and fewer still provide it at all.

2. Change your showerhead to save water.

If you have an older home and the showerhead looks old, chances are it's a water waster. Older showerheads tend to use about seven gallons of water per minute. With a five-minute shower every day, your water use can add up.

Newer, low-flow showerheads use less than two gallons per minute but they're designed to give you a good flow. They'll save you five gallons of water for every minute you're in the shower.

And here's another tip within a tip: check again with your local water utility. Some have showerhead exchange programs, where you can bring them your old water-wasting showerhead and they'll give you a new water-efficient showerhead for free!

As an added bonus, because most people use hot water in the shower, you'll use less hot water with a low-flow showerhead, which will result in less energy usage and consequently, a lower electric bill for you as well.

3. Change your toilet, save water.

Older homes usually mean older toilets as well. If that's the case, your toilets could be using as much as seven gallons of water per flush.

Change to a low-flow model and you'll only be using 1.3 gallons of water per flush, or less. And check with your local water utility too, they might offer a reimbursement program or something similar for changing to low-flow toilets.

4. Change your lawn-watering and gardening habits to save water.

As much as half of the water you use at home goes for outdoors usage, meaning mostly lawn watering. So consider landscaping your lawn with plants that use little water.

Also, be sure to water your lawn efficiently. Many people tend to overwater their lawns. Water early in the morning, before the hot sun comes out and evaporates most of the water. Limit your lawn watering to just a couple of days or less per week and spread out the days. Don't water your lawn at all if it's raining. Check your sprinkler system to make sure it's not leaking or any of the sprinkler heads are broken or aimed at pavement.

5. Use your dishwasher (wisely), save water.

Dishwashers are far more water-efficient than hand-washing dishes. Even older dishwasher models that use more water than modern efficient versions use less water than dishwashing by hand. Just be sure you don't run the dishwasher unless it's full. Also, don't pre-rinse your dishes in the sink to remove food; if you must pre-treat them, soak them a few minutes in hot soapy water instead, using just enough water to cover the dishes.

6. Save water in the laundry.

Washing machines older than a few years tend to use lots of water to wash a load of clothes, especially if they're top loaders. Consider replacing your washing machine with a new, more-efficient front-loader.

Front loaders generally clean clothes better anyway, you can stuff them full of clothes, they use less laundry detergent and of course, they use less water than top loaders.

Check with your local water utility to see if they offer rebates or other incentives for buying a water-efficient washing machine.

7. Save water with faucet aerators.

Put faucet aerators on your kitchen and bathroom faucets. They'll help cut your water usage down to about 1.5 gallons per minute, which is half the standard faucet rate of three gallons per minute.

8. Turn off the water and save.

When you're brushing your teeth or shaving in the bathroom, be sure to turn your faucet off until you actually need water. This'll save you anywhere from 1.5 to three gallons each minute.

9. Put the hose away and save water.

Yes, we know, it takes less effort to hose down your driveway than it does to sweep it with a broom. Unfortunately, hosing down your driveway and sidewalks also take more water. So use a broom instead and save.

10. How to swim in water (savings).

Here's a way to save anywhere from 180 to 250 gallons of water. If you have a swimming pool, buy a newer model water-saving pool filter. You'll save tons of water each time you back flush the filter, versus what you'd use to back flush an older filter.

These are just a few handy tips to help you save water at home. Use them and save water, save money--and help save the environment, too!