Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Water, Water Everywhere, And it Costs Money

I spent the last few Diary entries telling you some of the green progress going on in our community. Today, for Earth Day, I thought I'd mention few changes around the house we all can make to save water, electricity, heating and cooling costs, all of which help the environment. Some can even be good for Norristown as a whole. Then I realized, as I started compiling energy-savings tips, I found I have enough to fill a week's worth of blogs. So today, I'll just stick to one subject--water--and save the rest for another time.

The average person uses 50-100 gallons of water per day. The average household of 4 (because of shared usages like cooking) consumes about 300 gallons per day. The main places water are used are kitchens and bathrooms, laundry, the garden, and sometimes the heating system. I checked my last water bill and found that my average is about 37 gallons per day.

Saving water is just a matter of trying not to let water go down the storm drain until you've used it more than once, and in the garden, using rain when you can instead of water from PA American.

Now, we probably all have heard the usual advice--don't let the tap run the whole time while you brush your teeth or if you wash dishes by hand. When you do wash, the larger the load, the more you save water and electricity.

Here's a tip I learned from an Australian friend of mine who's lived with a decade's worth of extreme drought: When you let water warm up before getting in the shower, catch that excess water in a bucket and, next time you flush the toilet, pour it in the back of your toilet when the water drains out. One person can save 40-100 gallons a month this way. Multiply that by the number of people in your house.

I have friends who took it one step further--when they put in a powder room, they installed a long trough for a sink. When you flush the toilet, the water goes on at the upper end of the trough where you can wash you hands. The dirty water then fills the toilet tank and turns off automatically. It has a manual override if you just want to wash your hands without using the bathroom, but it's an ingenious solution that saves water, and looks really cool.

For my garden in the summer, I hook up a 50 gallon rain barrel to the downspout that drains my 450 sq. ft. flat roof. A good drenching rain will fill the barrel easily. The overflow hose is connected to a sump pump hose with holes in it that runs through my side garden, under the trees, where the rain doesn't always reach the ground. I also fill about 20 gallons worth of plastic jugs from the rain barrel, in case we get a dry spell (I easily use 10 gallons or more a day on my vegetables in the middle of summer, so my backup system works for about a week).

Last year I didn't have to pay to water my garden at all, and the plants like rain water better than treated water. The rain barrel was bought from the Montgomery County Recycling Office much cheaper than I would have paid elsewhere. If you keep an eye on their website or follow them on Facebook, you can find out when they have sales. You can find downspout diverters online. Mine cost about $30. It paid for itself in one season.

Rain garden using overflow from rain barrel
You can also put in a rain garden fairly easily if you have a downspout that can be diverted to drain downhill onto a piece of unpaved ground. Dig out the area, loosen the soil and add top soil, peat moss and compost, with maybe a bit of gravel on my bottom if you need better drainage. Put in plants that like moisture, like ferns, up close to the downspout, and ones that work better in dryer conditions at the far end. The rain garden will absorb the runoff and not send it down the storm drain, and you save on watering costs. If everyone in Norristown did this, we might curtail a good bit of flooding in town.

So there are my suggestions for water conservation. Check out this link for a whole list of others.

Anyone have any other tips they want to share? 

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