Recently while reading one of his favorite blogs, the Handy Millennial ran across an article that featured saving water by not flushing the toilet with every use.
This got the Handy Millennial thinking. You see my dear reader, the Handy Millennial lives in an area that has a high cost of water. As a consequence, I have devoted significant time and energy in trying to reduce my water consumption.
So today I will introduce you to part one in a two-part series on how to automatically save water. In a sequence of two posts, the Handy Millennial will show you a series of tweaks that you can do that are both simple and effective in cutting your water bill. Most importantly, these tweaks will help you feel better about conserving our environment.
I live in a HCW city (High Cost of Water)
So, the curious reader might wonder, given the fact that I have enough material to write 2(!!) posts, how high my bills are. Good question! In my metro area, water costs as much as five times the average cost of water in other metro areas. So while most Americans can blissfully shower with rain water shower heads and leave the faucet running while washing the dishes, the Handy Millennial must be very diligent or risk getting slapped with $200+ water bill.
This can be a bit comical because the Handy Millennial lives in a temperate climate with lots of rain. Yet, for historical reasons, the Handy Millennial is forced to pay, via the water bill, for pollution that was caused by others in 1970s and 80s. While the Handy Millennial is absolutely not opposed to helping clean up the environment, it can feel a little ridiculous when people living in the Colorado River Basin – with all its man made diversions, reservoirs and aqueducts – pay 3 cents per gallon, while the Handy Millennial forks over 15 cents per gallon. This despite the on-going multi-year drought on the Colorado River.
I want to help the environment
But rather than complain about the high water bill, let’s consider what a high water bill indicates! It means I used lots of water, and most of it – I dare say – was wasted. And I truly believe that this is unacceptable in the global scheme of things and something we all should strive to avoid.
But these days it seems like there is an endless amount of things we need to be careful of. The Handy Millennial understands that it’s hard for the average person (including HM himself) to constantly be after themselves to save every drop of water. Luckily, the Handy Millennial is here to help by showing you some ways to automatically save water.
So without further ado, lets introduce you to a couple truly simple tweaks that you can make to your home – rented or owned – to minimize your water use, reduce your water bill, and, most importantly, give our rivers and lakes a break from the relentless pressure of consumption.
Take care of the obvious stuff
Now the first tweak isn’t really a tweak at all. It’s what I affectionately call the OBVIOUS tweak. What does the Handy Millennial mean by this? The obvious tweak is to fix any existing leaks. Check all faucets, pipes, toilets, and bathtubs. You must fix all leaks, no matter how small. Do not let something like this go unaddressed:
Drop by drop a bucket makes, and a faucet that’s dripping can easy drip several gallons of water over a single night. You may not notice this on your bill per se (water bill rate is $0.03 per gallon!!!), but just think of the little fish in the town water reservoir whose life’s means are being drained away.
Bonus points if you are renting here. If you cannot tackle the task yourself, it’s usually free to you (and expensive to the landlord) to repair leaks. Double bonus points for avoiding the potential flood and ensuing hassle to your own life.
You really want pressure, not flow!
Now that we have taken care of the obvious problems around your house, let’s talk about what you need. Think carefully about the last time you washed your hair, or the last time you washed the dishes. Was it the amount of water that helped get your task done? Or was the water pressure that helped?
At the risk of sounding condescending, the answer is pressure. You see, the water we use at home is really meant to wash away dirt of some form. Washing away dirt means that we want that water to carry away the soap, shampoo, schmutz, etc. To do this, the water must be flowing with sufficient velocity to overcome the friction that the given schmutz is making with respect to the surface it’s sitting on. In essence, we want fast-moving water.
This is an interesting fact because it tells us that if you want to save water, then you want to somehow have water flowing with the largest possible velocity but the smallest possible volume. Aha!!! This is a eureka moment! This tells us that we want to tweak our home’s water system to reduce the volume of water used while keeping or increasing the velocity of the water to make our washing efforts more efficient.
There is a handy equation in Physics called Bernoulli’s Equation. It relates the water speed to the opening through which the water is passing. Here is a picture from the site referenced in the previous sentence. Feel free to study Bernoilli’s principle and then come back to this post. As usual the Handy Millennial will be patiently waiting.
But I rent and do not want to upgrade my Landlord’s abode
“OK Mr. Handy Millennial, now you want me to tweak my indoor plumbing based on Bernoulli’s equation – my landlord isn’t going to like this.” Now here is the thing: as we begin to talk about some really tiny changes at home, we can find resistance from the reader because: 1) you don’t want to spend big bucks on home improvement, or 2), you do not want to improve your landlord’s property.
You probably thought of #1 or #2 because marketing has convinced you (or at least your fellow) that the only way to save water is to buy a new dishwasher, laundry machine, water heater, etc. These are big ticket items with big ticket prices. But the tweaks I am about to suggest can be done in any home with minimal effort. Importantly, they should not violate your tenant agreement.
Start with what you use most frequently
OK, Bernoulli’s law, landlords, saving water, blah blah blah, let’s get to it. What is the most common water-related task? If you guessed washing your hands or using the sink, you are correct! Pat yourself on the back 🙂 Because use the sink so often, this is a great place to begin our water saving adventure.
This is an ordinary faucet.
This is an efficient low flow faucet.
Do you see the difference? In the first case water comes out as a full thick stream; in the second, water comes out in several smaller but faster (Bernoulli’s principle) streams. Now the second faucet did not come this way. In fact, it was the Handy Millennial himself that retrofitted the faucet. So let’s see how its done.
First, we realize that the faucet has an end on it called the aerator. Here it is:
The aerator is just a cap that screws on, righty tighty lefty loosey. Just remember that when screwing a bolt in or out, we always think from the point of view of the bolt head. In this case, the “bolt head” is looking down at the sink. This means we turn right to loosen and left to tighten.
Removing the aerator completely shows us the thread that we were unscrewing and a little black rubber ring. This is an O-ring and it prevents water from leaking around your aerator – don’t lose this. If it falls out, you can put it back on in either direction.
Here is a good picture from the top of the aerator.
Notice the little schmutz in there? That’s dirt that came in from your pipes. The original purpose for aerators was to hold back debris from the pipe and to make the water stream regular, nice and thick like you are used to.
Turning over the regulator we can see a ring of small holes. This is where the water comes out from. The smaller the holes the more water you save. Importantly, because the holes are smaller than the pipe, by Bernoulli’s principle, the water coming out of those holes will come out faster.
OK, so how do we use all this knowledge to save water? Well, we realize that since we can change the aerator and since it has an engineered flow rate – how many gallons can flow through it per minute – then we can pick an aerator that LIMITS how much water can flow through per minute. Here are some examples.
- The standard aerator (3 pack) – max flow is 2.5 Gallons per Minute (GPM)
- Save some water (2 pack) – max flow 1.5 GPM
- Save a bit more (6 pack) – max flow 1 GPM
- Extreme Savings – Handy Millennial Favorite (6 pack) – max flow 0.5 GPM
How much did we save?
That depends – how much did you use? According to Water Watch, if you brushed your teeth, washed your face, and then washed your hands, you just used 5 gallons of water. Now assume you do this every day for a year (365 days) and that you live with just one other lovey human being. You just used 5*2*365 = 3,650 gallons!
If you were to use the Handy Millennial’s favorite aerator, you would cut that down by 5 to just 730 gallons per year. How’s that for a good bit of savings?!
Now let’s say you want to save some water. But you are just not sure how low to go on say… your kitchen faucet. Now this is a big deal because you want to make sure you can rinse your dishes! Well fear not. The Handy Millennial has discovered a special aerator that lets you select how much water is coming out!
This little guy will help you go from 1/2 gallon per minute to a full 1.5 gallon per minute. And trust me, the water flow is strong at 1.5. It feels more like a pressure washer than a faucet at 1.5 GPM.
– The switchable aerator – 0.5/1/1.5 GPM
So there you have it. Fix all leaks you see and change out the aerators. This will automatically save you on your water bill. “Buttt waiittt! Mr. Handy Millennial, you promised us a few tweaks, not one!” You’re right my dear reader, but the Handy Millennial has rambled enough for one day.
Come back on Monday for part 2 of this series where I will introduce you to two more tweaks to automatically save water. In part 2, I will also show you a beneficial upgrade and give you an estimate of my personal savings ($$$) gained by implementing these tweaks. Until then!
Oh, and in case you are curious about the post that triggered this series of posts, here it is by Mrs. Frugal Asian Finance.