Plumbing & water
Water efficient toilets, compact plumbing design, low-flow fixtures, grey water recovery and rainwater harvesting. There are lots of ways to save water in a home.
Designed by Jang Wooseok, water from the sink fills this toilet. © Jang Wooseok
Water efficiency at home in Canada
On average, Canadians use over 300 litres of water per person, per day. Compare this to consumption in the UK of 200 litres per day, and 150 litres per person per day in France.
Hopefully, as we see the beginnings of water shortages hit closer to home, this serious issue will garnish more attention. In the meantime, there are some easy steps we can take as individuals to reduce our personal consumption before it’s forced on us, as is already true in many parts of North America.
One billion people survive on five litres of water a day, less than one Canadian flush.
Make it a habit - and teach your kids - never to sit and watch water run. While Brushing our teeth, doing dishes, or just waiting for hot water, we watch a lot of water go by for no reason.
Taking shorter showers and smaller baths, limiting flushing, and washing your hands with cold instead of waiting for hot are some pretty simple ways that can significantly reduce your consumption.
Water plants with the water from dehumidifiers or leftover water in drinking glasses if you can, and make sure your dishwasher and washing machine are full before you run them. If we simply look at water and see its true value, these won’t seem like big sacrifices to make.
Rain water collection.
Photo Ladycliff, © Creative Commons
For watering gardens, rain water collection is a great solution. You should be diverting water from your home anyway, so you likely have an eaves trough system. For under a hundred dollars you can buy a rain barrel with a tap on the bottom for attaching a hose.
They come with overflow openings at the top so several barrels can be strung together for a much greater storage capacity. And if you are at all handy and looking to set up a series of barrels, you can probably save a few bucks by buying barrels without taps, and installing a tap yourself. For a complete guide, see our pages on rainwater collection and storage.
Aside from reducing your consumption of ground water and the energy required for pumping, rain water is really the best thing for your garden. Wells can have minerals that over time will contaminate your soil.
If you are growing vegetables, you will likely need to supplement your rain water supply with well water, so be sure that your outdoor hose is hooked up before going through a water softening system, in order to avoid adding unwanted salt to your soil.
Composting toilet. © Biolet
More complex (but certainly a noble undertaking) would be the treatment and reuse of grey water (laundry, dishes, shower) for toilets or for irrigation of your garden.
It does, however, require a substantial plumbing investment and will eat up some real estate in your basement. So at the price of water, don’t hold your breath waiting for the payback on that one.
You could also install composting toilets. They don’t use water, they don’t require septic systems, and they don’t pollute waterways. Not necessarily for your downtown condo dweller, but a lot of people on their own wells do see shortages during dry seasons and composting toilets are a way around that.
A composting toilet is a great solution for reducing water consumption as well as having facilities where you don’t have access to water. It will cost you quite a bit more than a conventional toilet, and prices vary so shop around.
Leaking faucet. © Creative Commons
Dual flush toilets are now common on the market and priced competitively. A few years ago you would have paid triple the price for an efficient toilet, but now they are now pretty much on par. and can use up to 67% less water than an older toilet.
Less common are toilets that are filled by waste water from the sink, but it is really only a matter of time before they start showing up on the market.
If your fixtures are getting old, consider installing low-flow showerheads, and aerators on your taps. Not a lot of thought was put into water conservation in the days of old, and fixtures reflected that. It doesn't cost much to replace them with modern efficient ones, and you could feasibly cut your consumption in half if you live in an older home. There is a great return on investment to be had here, and you'll get your money back fast.
Installing a water meter is also an effective way to encourage conservation. When people see their level of consumption first hand, it often leads to painless behavioural changes that can have a significant impact on their overall use. For example, many people leave the water running while brushing their teeth. One look at a water meter ticking is usually all takes to put a quick end to that habit.
It has been found that metered households use 39% less water per person than unmetered households, or 229 litres per person compared to 376 litres per person.
More on residential water efficiency: