California remains in a deep drought, and this winter's expected precipitation levels aren't expected to be much more than a than a drop in the bucket, so to speak, for the state's parched aquifers. That means it's the responsibility of every citizen to conserve as much water as possible in this time of need. But that doesn't mean you need to blow hundreds or thousands of dollars on professionally installed low flow appliances—not when these inexpensive items can be installed with the tools you (should) already own.
Low Flow Faucet Aerators and Shower Heads
The fastest and easiest way to reduce your water usage is to simply install aerators on your faucets. These perforated metal sleeves reduce water usage by about four percent on average and can either be installed into the end of the faucet itself (you simply have to unscrew the tip—counter-clockwise—using a pair of slip-jaw crescent pliers) or by screwing on as an external attachment, like a Pur. There will be a noticeable drop in your water pressure, but that's how you'll know it's saving you money.
Installing a low flow, or aerating, a showerhead is just as simple, as they operate nearly identically to faucet aerators. Look for a head unit with a flow rate of 1.5 gpm (gallon per minute) or less. Compared to a regular 2.5 gpm head, these low flowers will save thousands of gallons of water annually. You'll need that same crescent wrench you used on your faucets, some plumber's tape, and a rag for this installation:
- Use the wrench to loosen the nut that's holding the old shower head onto the pipe (remember, it's lefty loosy, righty tighty) then finish unscrewing it with your fingers and remove the head.
- Wipe down the pipe's threads (the ones that were just exposed by removing the head) to ensure that there isn't any mildew or rust or other bits of gunk that could bind the threading.
- Wrap a thin layer of plumber's tape over the threads to ensure a watertight seal with the shower head, then screw on the new head until finger tight before cranking it down to the appropriate tension with the crescent wrench.
And if you want to get really serious about saving money while bathing, you can also install an intermediary water cut off nozzle that sits between the pipe and the head. This device features a simple thumb turn mechanism that fully halts the flow of water. This will allow you to soap up without wasting water and without having to fiddle with the hot water controls once you resume. Regardless of which brand you buy, make sure that it meets or exceeds federal standards by looking for the EPA WaterSense label.
Take a Look at Your Toilet
Sure, you could spend big bucks on one of those flash water heaters (and give up a helpful supply of potable water during the next 72-hour crisis) or you could look to your toilet for more practical water savings.
Dual flush triggers have become pretty common features on modern toilets. These devices forgo the conventional handle of favor of a pair of buttons, usually mounted on the top of the tank cover—the small button releases just a little water when you go #1, the big button releases a full 1.5 gallons for flushing #2. However, adding this function usually requires buying a new toilet. That is, unless you pick up a dual flush conversion kit like the Tap N Flush.
This device doesn't require any tools for installation (you simply hang the device's float-weight to the existing flapper chain and you're done). You flush normally for #2, but for lighter loads, tapping the tank-mounted controller before hitting the handle will result in a shorter, less wasteful water movement.
If that sounds like more trouble than it's worth, you can always just install a tank bag. These inflatable devices occupy some of the space in your toilet tank that water otherwise would—effectively shrinking the size of the tank and reducing the amount of water that goes down the tubes every time you flush.
While you're rooting around in the backside of your toilet, you might as well get in there and make sure that it isn't leaking—and, if it is, make sure you fix it. The easiest way to spot a leak is with temporary dye tablets. Just drop one or two in the tank and wait. If you notice brightly tinted water in the bowl within the timeframe prescribed by the dye's packaging, you've got a leak.
To correct it, you'll likely have to replace either the float and handle assembly, which will require your crescent wrench, a screwdriver (the new unit's packaging will usually list what you need in order to install), and about 20 minutes of concentration.
The leak could also be due to a worn out flapper, which is the rubber mat that sits at the bottom of the tank, covering the drain, and is affixed to the end of the chain. That project is slightly more involved but still easily within the realm of a DIY'ers abilities.
All of these items can be picked up at your local home improvement store and found at a variety of online retailers. Heck, Niagara Conservation even sells a variety of kits that include many of these devices so you don't have to spend your afternoon wandering Home Depot's plumbing department in search of an 85 cent aerator sleeve. And when combined with the water saving techniques described below, your daily water usage will slow to a trickle.
lead image: Denis Ponkratov