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Update: the home water conservation project

October 28, 2013

On Sept. 6th I blogged about our new rain barrel ( “Water is the New Oil“). Since then we have received our latest water bill and I’m happy to report that we shaved $24.00 off the bill by harvesting water from our basement dehumidifiers and using it to flush toilets and water out plants with.  (An apology is needed here to all those readers who wonder why my husband and I are bothering to save water. . . . but as often happens when a person embraces veganism or Pilates or any other rigorous discipline, after you take that initial big step, you begin to tell everyone about it whether they want to hear it or not.)

All through September we harvested about eight gallons a day from the basement dehumidifiers. But now that the cool weather is upon us, the dehumidifiers have been unplugged for the winter and the furnace is keeping our home much drier than it is during the summer months. So what happens now?

IMAG0529Several years ago, in an attempt to use less gas, we switched to a whole-house water heater that only comes on when you turn on the hot water tap. We use less gas, true, but we ended up using MORE water than before, because we must now wait for the cold water in the pipes to drain out before the warm water finally arrives at the faucet. We were sending large quantities of water down the drain simply because it was too cold to shower in or to wash with. By harvesting that perfectly good cold water in our handy five-gallon buckets, we are still harvesting about three gallons a day, which we use to flush toilets. We also flush a lot less frequently than we used to, adopting the old saying, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.” “Ew, yuck!” many readers will object; to which we triumphantly reply “Doing this, we’re now twenty-four dollars a month richer, for a total of $288 per year which we can use in other, better ways. How much money and water are YOU wasting?”

Water will not always be abundant and cheap. Back in the late 1980s, our household used to enjoy ten-dollar water bills. But our average bills had reached almost seventy dollars before our water conservation experiment. Some in our situation would phrase the question as “Why pay this much money?” whereas others would phrase it “Why should we waste so much water?” In either case, it’s wastage, and waste seems to be a predominant American trait at present. The famed thriftiness of our Yankee ancestors has completely fallen by the wayside. Once upon a time, most people saved string for those times they needed things tied up; they’d save paper for when they needed to wrap things for storage or for gifts; they’d save empty jars with lids to use as containers for leftover food. But these thrifty, sensible habits have all been tossed out, and people nowadays seem to take pride in how much they consume instead of how much they save.

I’m tired of being an Ugly American. I want to be a thrifty Yankee instead. I grow greens in my garden; I keep hens for their fresh eggs; I spin thread and weave yardage to make my own clothing. I understand how different processes come together to function as a whole, and water conservation is part of this. My husband and I are both very happy with our decision to save on our water bills. On days when we don’t harvest enough cold water we feel disappointed, as if we are falling behind in the game. When necessary, I go out to the deck and take the top off the 50-gallon rain barrel and dip out a few gallons to flush with, trusting to the rains to fill it to the brim again. The rain barrel has become our liquid savings account, which we are very grateful for.

We could save even more water by changing the way we wash dishes, and by pouring water not into the toilet bowl but into the tank behind the toilet, where the power-flush mechanism would do more with 1.5 gallons than simple gravity can do with two gallons. But baby steps come first! We will reach that point eventually.

How do YOU save water? Share your tips!

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