Why Potential Savings Are So... Fluid
Our figures for potential savings represent an estimated range of what a family of four might save in a number of metropolitan areas, but will vary widely depending on your home condition, geographic location, upgrades, number of individuals in your household, and changes in energy consumption.
In our ranges of potential savings, the lower dollar figures are estimates based on the average water bills of families who use 100 gallons of water per person per day (which is considered average consumption). The higher dollar figures are estimates based on average water bills of families of four who use 150 gallons of water per person per day (which is considered high consumption).
Major factors that could affect your savings:
Your Location: Water and sewer rates vary widely from city to city. So your location already determines your potential range of dollar savings from conservation -- and that's why we featured a set of metros. If you live near the Great Lakes region, all the nearby fresh water already translates into lower water rates for you (it takes less energy and cost to transport water shorter distances). So your potential savings could be lower. However, if you reside in the desert or in a city with some of the highest water rates, like Santa Fe or Atlanta, your potential savings could be quite significant.
Your Home: Age and size always come into play. If you have an older home, or fixtures that pre-date your existence, you obviously have the most to gain from energy-efficient upgrades. And in general, the larger your home or yard, the greater impact your changes will make on your water bill, just based on the effects of shear scale.
Your Behavior: Even installing every possible gadget or upgrade to save water might not compete with the biggest variable: you. Changes in behavior -- especially if there are a larger number of people in your household -- could have the greatest impact on your overall conservation and dollar savings.
So now that you have context, here are several tips that might save you serious bank and send the planet some much-needed relief:
Tip #1: Upgrade Your Showerhead
The EPA estimates that the average U.S. household could save 2,900 gallons per year just by installing WaterSense-labeled* showerheads. By changing a standard 2.5 gpm (gallon per minute) showerhead to a more efficient 1.75 gpm head you can cut your water use in the shower by 30% and potentially save 5% on your total water bill, plus approximately $30-$45 on the energy not used by your water heater for the hot water gallons saved.
Note: Figures below include combined savings for water and water heating (electric/gas).
Potential Yearly Savings From Upgrading Your Showerheads (2.5 gpm to 1.75gpm)
Los Angeles: $66-$106
New York: $65-$83
Santa Fe: $104-$182
San Francisco: $66-$98
Tip #2: Shorten Your Soap Opera
Roughly 17% of residential water use goes towards showers in the average home**, and your behavior can have the most impact on reducing that hefty slice of your water bill. If you tend to sing your little heart out while sudsing away into a time-warp under the pitter-pat, try timing the length of your showers. Then set a timer to try to reduce your average shower time by at least 20%. You may not miss the extra minutes at all. Cutting your shower time by 20% can potentially knock about another 3.4% off your total water bill, and another $20-$30 per year for savings on water heating.
Note: Figures below include combined savings for water and water heating (electric/gas).
Potential Yearly Savings From Shortening Your Showers 20%
Los Angeles: $44-$70
New York: $37-$56
Santa Fe: $70-$121
San Francisco: $44-$65
Tip #3: Stop Turning Your Yard Into a Pool
According to the EPA, "the typical single-family suburban household uses at least 30% of their water for irrigation. Some experts estimate that more than 50% of landscape water goes to waste due to evaporation or runoff caused by over-watering." So if you could try to nix any over-watering or inefficient watering, you might be able to cut 15% off your total water bill, depending on the length of the watering season where you live, the size of your yard, and the extent of your current watering habits. You might be able to save a swimming pool's worth of water each year.
And manual watering versus automatic sprinkler systems? The EPA also notes you'll typically use 1/3 less water by manually watering your yard versus using an automatic irrigation system. Of course, it makes sense logically for a couple reasons: 1) Automated systems on timers, if not monitored, are likely to water lawns when they don't need watering at all (like during or after rain). 2) A human being won't needlessly water sidewalks or pavement like poorly adjusted sprinkler heads.
Note: Estimates are only for typical suburban households who currently use 30% of their water for irrigation.
Potential Yearly Savings From Not Over-Watering Your Yard
Los Angeles: $105-$178
New York: $75-$113
Santa Fe: $219-$404
San Francisco: $105-$155
Tip #4: Replace or Aerate Your Faucets
Although not all faucets have replaceable aerators, swapping out standard 2.2 gpm (gallons per minute) aerator taps (which became standard in 1992) with newer 1.5 gpm low-flow aerators (which became "Green Code" standard in 2012) can potentially cut another 5% off your total water bill. If you replace 2.5 gpm faucets (which were standard until 1990) or older 3.5 gpm faucets (which were standard until the 1980s) with 1.5 gpm faucets, you could cut up to 6% or a whopping 14%, respectively.
Potential Yearly Savings From Switching Faucets (2.2 gpm to 1.5 gpm)
Los Angeles: $36-$61
New York: $65-$38
Santa Fe: $74-$137
San Francisco: $36-$53
Potential Yearly Savings From Switching Really Old Faucets (3.5 gpm to 1.5 gpm)
Los Angeles: $98-$166
New York: $70-$105
Santa Fe: $204-$377
San Francisco: $98-$145
Tip #5: Check Your House for Drips and Leaks
Did you know that a drip rate of one drip per second can waste more than 3,100 gallons of water per year? So double-checking all your taps is a must, especially less frequently used taps like those in garages or for garden hoses.
Potential Yearly Savings From Stopping a One-Drip-Per-Second Leak
Los Angeles: $37+
New York: $27+
Santa Fe: $78+
San Francisco: $37+
To calculate the yearly waste in gallons for a leak, based on drips per second, try the WaterWiser Drip Calculator.
Tip #6: Go for the One-Two Flush
It should be no surprise that the throne of your home reigns as the largest portion of your water bill. Roughly 27-31% of total water use in the average home goes towards flushing the ol' John. Don't take any of your yearly thousand flushes for granted. If you have a newer home, switching from single flush toilets to dual flush toilets is your best option for conservation and savings.
Newer dual flush toilets on the market have two flushers: a 1.6 gpf (gallon per flush) flush for solids and a 0.9 gpf flush for liquids. Considering the latter flush applies to the majority of flushes in a household, the average gpf for a dual flush toilet falls around 1.1 gpf overall.
Potential Yearly Savings From Switching Toilets (1.6 gpf single flush to 1.6/0.9 dual flush)
Los Angeles: $68-$115
New York: $49-$73
Santa Fe: $141-$261
San Francisco: $68-$100
In the 1990s, 1.6 gpf became the standard for toilets in new construction, but many toilets older than 1992 might have a 3.5 gpf or higher. If this is the case in your home, you could save considerably more by switching to modern dual-flushers. Also, don't get fooled by the ol' "put a brick in the tank" trick in an old toilet to save on your gpf. Older toilets aren't designed to use less water, and two weak flushes use more water than one good one.
Potential Yearly Savings From Switching Really Old Toilets (3.5 gpf single flush to 1.6/0.9 dual flush)
Los Angeles: $149-$252
New York: $106-$160
Santa Fe: $309-$572
San Francisco: $149-$220
Sources: Dollar estimates in this article are based on correlating data from Circle of Blue's 2013 Urban Water Pricing Survey with water usage statistics from the American Waters Works Association and the Environmental Protection Agency.
* Products that have earned the WaterSense® label have met the Environmental Protection Agency's criteria for water efficiency.
** Water usage statistics source: American Water Works Association.
Doing the Math: Conservation Tips to Save Hundreds on Your Water Bill
Get a clear down-to-dollars perspective on potential savings for a family of four, based on where you live and what energy-conscious changes you make.
Recently, Circle of Blue, a non-profit organization dedicated to research on world resources, released its annual Urban Water Pricing Survey. Based on the average monthly water bills for typical single-family homes in 30 major U.S. cities, the survey found the average monthly water bill rose 6.7% in the last year -- that's more than triple the rate of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index. Since 2010, average water bills have risen 25%, and the trend shows little signs of abating.
So with the tide of water prices rising ever higher, we took the opportunity to do some helpful math. We applied Circle of Blue's survey results to water usage stats from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the American Water Works Association (AWWA) to flush out a much clearer picture of the real, potential dollar savings in a selection of U.S. markets for various water-saving improvements, from updating fixtures to nixing nightly soap operas.
Some day math might save the planet. But in the meantime, we hope these water-saving tips and a little math of your own can also help save your pocketbook in the process.