How Much Water Do You Use?

TEXT by Celine MacKay | PHOTOGRAPHS by Amy & Richard McDowell


IN MY MOST RECENT PODCAST INTERVIEW WITH BRANDEN PEAK, we talked for quite some time about saving water. For Branden it is a necessity. Living in an Airstream he has a small reservoir he fills and in some remote locations there aren't easy places to refill. For him, what was born of necessity quickly became a project in awareness. He speaks of how saving water has become a daily challenge—he takes great care to only use what he needs and even plugs the sink while brushing his teeth so he can actually see and measure in the sink how much water he used. He says that mostly it's bad habits that waste water, and we are simply unaware of how MUCH we actually use (ahem, the average person in the US uses 80-100 gallons PER DAY). Most of us live with the utmost luxury of simply turning on a tap and behold, there is unlimited water, but increasingly we are living with drought and this report by the UN states that it will progressively get worse. 

The PGM Water-Saving Guide

Our discussion got me thinking that I wanted to research the top ways that we waste water at home and provide a few solutions for you to try. I myself have a few bad habits, my biggest leaving partially empty glasses of water littered about the house and taking longer showers than necessary. In all honesty, simply becoming aware is the biggest thing. You'll find your water-saving ways will evolve naturally from there. Turn it into a game with kids if you have them and have them challenge each other (or you) to use the least amount of water required for each task. (I know this post got a little lengthy but once I got going I just couldn't stop, ha!)


A single running toilet or leaky faucet (besides driving you mad) can waste a shocking amount of water. So don't procrastinate on that one, please. Also, if you have an older toilet that still has that huge tank on the back, swap it out since they use gallons more per flush than newer models. If a new toilet isn't in the budget (or you rent) put a couple of bricks in the tank. Yes, seriously, and yes, real bricks. They will displace water so the tank holds less, and it will still flush just the same. And since we're talking toilets...


Yes, you will cringe, but honestly why must we pee into pristine water? It's a little crazy when you think about it, and when you break it down every individual flushes about 2,774 gallons of water (and a little pee) yearly. That's a lot of water you could save! Obviously flush for #2, but if it's only pee, try only flushing the second or third time. Oh, and when you clean the toilet, don't flush the cleaner down. Let it sit until the toilet is used and needs to be flushed. More water saved! 


Even the most water frugal hand dish-washer can't come close to an HE dishwashing machine, but make sure to ONLY run full loads, and choose the most water-efficient cycle. If you must wash by hand, use two basins or tubs in the sink, fill one for soap, the other to rinse. This uses a lot less water than filling the sink, and you can better control your usage. (Get more info on this topic here.)


Using the hose to wash the car in the driveway may seem frugal, but it's a terrible waste of water. The average home wash uses 80 to 140 gallons (300 to 530 liters) of water, whereas a wash at a commercial car wash will only use about 30 to 45 gallons (115 to 170 liters). Plus these car washes use methods of recycling water and keep the soap suds from running into the ditch or sewer and running into waterways.


Don't do a load just because your favourite pair of jeans are dirty and you want to wear them right now. Be patient, and wait until you have a FULL load. Half loads of laundry are one of the biggest sources of household water waste.


Don't let the water run as you brush your teeth or shave. It's a mindless thing, and we all do it, but try to notice and simply turn the tap on and off as you need to. Take a cue from Branden and plug the sink while you perform these tasks. Notice how much water you use each time and try to do better next time!


There's not much better than a long, steamy shower, but it wastes an incredible amount of water. Every minute you shower uses about 2.1 gallons of water. First up, if you can swing it, install a low-flow shower head. They make lovely ones these days that are aerated so they increase the pressure while decreasing water use. Genius! In general, you could take military-style showers like Branden where you turn off the water while lathering up, and/or you could cue up your favourite song and aim to be finished your shower by the time it's done (the average song is 3ish minutes long). 


Got a half-full glass of water kicking around and you aren't sure whose it is? Toss it in the houseplants or the dog's bowl rather than down the drain. Oh, and as you run the tap waiting for it to get hot? Try capturing the flow in a bucket and then using it to again, water the houseplants, wash the floor, water the veggie garden, or whatever creative idea you can dream up. Just don't let it go to waste.


Okay... just one more! The best time of day to water your garden or even lawn (only if you MUST) is at dusk. This will quench your garden's thirst after a long hot day, and you can water less! The reason is that in hot sun water will be lost to evaporation. Also, your plants' roots absorb better either in early morning or at night.

PRODUCED with Stacy Faivre