- Advertisement -
"Save water. Shower with a friend" - it was a great bumper sticker and not a bad idea.
But these days, saving water around the home has become a far more serious business. More than a bit of soapy fun, it's about changing ingrained behaviour patterns; it's a commitment to using water efficient appliances and devices; and for renovators and home builders it can mean an investment in water tanks, plumbing and recycling systems that capture water and 'mine' the sewers.
The cheapest way to dry up your water demand at home is to change your behaviour. The trouble is, changing behaviour is not always as easy as it sounds. There's a curious disconnect between what people think they do, and what they actually do.
Geoff Cumming, a psychology professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne, says "Attitude is only indicative of people's behaviour. The relationship in practice is often more complex."
Often people say they might be good at doing something; but long ago that behaviour had lapsed, or they are too embarrassed to admit even to themselves that it's not strictly true, he says.
So take a long hard look at yourself and be honest: are you really doing it? Or do you just think you are?
According to Maxwell Maltz, an American author of self-help books, a good way to learn new habits is to consciously carry out the behaviour for 21 days in a row; by the end of the month, it should be on its way to becoming part of you.
Around the house, there are many little jobs that can be knocked off in a weekend to help stop our most precious commodity from going down the gurgler.
- Low-flow shower-heads save lots of water (and electricity) and are a cinch to install.
- Ask yourself: is there a leak in the house? It can waste dozens of litres of water a day, so you need to track it down.
- Read water meters and bills regularly to identify sudden increases.
- A 'night flow' test can provide some good clues too. Water use should be nil while everyone is asleep, so if your water meter inches up overnight, someone has either left a tap running or you've got a leak.
Some utilities, including Sydney Water, have programs like the WaterFix plan where, for only $22, licensed plumbers will check for minor leaks, install water-saving devices including one low-flow showerhead, and develop a water pressure management program that minimises leaks.
Since 1999, Sydney Water says more than 300,000 homes have installed these devices, saving the equivalent of some 6,270 million litres of water a year.
Toilets are notoriously leaky, and one way to check on the health of your dunny is to add food dye to the cistern. If colour appears in the bowl within half an hour, fix it or call a qualified plumber or your local water authority. Another little maintenance job is to replace washers the moment they start to leak.
There are lots of appliances and systems to help stem the flow. New white goods, showerheads, and low-flow tap and tap aerators are often far more water efficient that the earlier models.
Since July 2006, Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Scheme (WELS) ratings have appeared on all plumbing products, sanitary ware and white goods to help shoppers choose the best product.
The system is similar to the 6 star Energy Rating labelling. The more stars the better. As well as a star rating, the labels show a water consumption or water flow figure.
You can make your bathroom the water saving epicentre of your home with a dual-flush, waterless or composting toilet.
Install a half-flush toilet and save up to four buckets of water a day or, easier still, fill a plastic bottle with water and put it in the cistern to reduce flush volume (don't use a brick inside the cistern, as it can disintegrate and block toilets).
Specialist stores stock lever taps, fittings and knobs that deliver the desired water temperature almost instantly, which means no more water down the drain while you're trying to get that temperature just right.
Contact your local water authority to find out whether they offer water-wise incentives. Some utilities are offering cash rebates on water-efficient washing machines.
Building up to it
If you're renovating or building, present your architect, builder or designer with your 'water-saving wish-list' and ask how can you capture storm water, recycle your wastewater and minimise mains water consumption.
No wish-list is complete without a rainwater tank that captures run-off from your roof.
Most state governments discourage drinking tank water when an alternative mains supply is available because of their concerns about water quality and health issues - rain can carry debris, pollutants and algae, and there's always bird droppings and other nasties; while insect larvae and other creatures can breed in the tanks.
However, there are steps you can take to greatly improve the quality of tank water. A 'first-flush' design will allow the early stage of a downpour to wash away any dirt that may have collected on the roof, leaving clean rain for use around the home.
A cover for your tank will stop bugs getting in and a filter is recommended to protect your health and avoid blockages in irrigation sprays, filters or pumps.
If you're planning on connecting your rainwater tank to essential appliances, you'll need to maintain a minimum operating water level in the tank. This calls for some plumbing alterations and a 'top-up' connection to mains supply.
Consider including water recycling on a wish-list for your home. Capture it and capitalise on it. Use it anywhere that does not involve human contact or consumption, evaporative coolers or irrigation of food.
There are two types of water that can be recycled - greywater and blackwater.
Blackwater is any water that flows from the toilet and the kitchen. Its level of contamination needs significant attention and therefore is more expensive to treat to a standard for reuse.
A range of off-the-shelf products are available that can be installed in the backyard to do the job.
Greywater is wastewater from baths, showers, basins, washing machines and tubs. It can be used untreated straight onto your garden. But mind which detergents you use, because some are toxic to plants.
Storing greywater for later use can give germs in the water a chance to multiply, so generally, government authorities will recommend a treatment process first.
Often a simple filter will do the trick, but check with your local municipal council and health and water authorities as to their requirements.
Flushed with success
With one, some, or all of these ideas in the pipeline, you should be well on your way to reducing your water bill, and experiencing that satisfying feeling of doing your bit for Mother Earth.