Jul 15, 2009

10 ways to save on your water bill

Brown grass, swimming pools and water-crazy kids add cents and dollars to your utility bill every summer. In fact, residents can see their water bills increase as much as 35 percent during the summer, says Dan Clayton, director of public works for the city of Williamsburg, Va.

Most water-saving techniques are small lifestyle changes. Add these 10 methods of saving water into your daily routine.

Don't flush trash

The toilet is not a trash can, reminds Lee Ann Hartmann, spokesperson for Newport News Waterworks. Avoid disposing trash items, such as used tissues and bugs in the toilet.

"A dead bug in a tissue does not need to be flushed," she says. "If it's really, really dead, it won't crawl out of the trash can."

Don't use a schedule

Most people water their lawns too much, says Samantha Villegas of Loudoun Water, a utility provider in Northern Virginia. A survey they conducted in 2007 showed that residents were over-watering their lawns by as much as 60 percent.

To remedy this, don't water your lawn based on a set schedule. Instead, water your lawn when necessary.

There are several ways to see if your grass needs to be watered before it becomes brown, Villegas says.

For example, stick a screw driver into the ground. If the tool slides easily into the dirt, you don't need to water. Also, if your footprint leaves a pronounced mark in the grass, it's time to water.

To figure out how much water your grass needs, set an empty tuna can next to the sprinkler. Note the time it takes for 1 inch of water to collect in the can. That is how long you should water the grass.

Mow early

In addition to mowing the grass at the proper height - it will require more water if you cut it too short - you should mow your lawn at the proper time, says Tammy Rojek, the conservation and recycling specialist for Williamsburg's public works department.

"If you need to mow your lawn, do it in the early morning hours to minimize evaporation and increase water penetration," she says.

Color the water

Fixing household leaks can save homeowners up to 10 percent on their water bill, Rojek says. If you think your toilet has a leak, put a few drops of food coloring into the tank. If the color seeps into the bowl before you flush, you have a leak.

Recycle water

Think of ways to reuse water, instead of pouring it down the drain, Rojek says. For example, instead of throwing out old water in a pet's dish, use it to water the plants. If you drop an ice cube, put it in a potted plant instead of throwing it in the sink.

Sweep, don't spray

Don't use a hose to clean your sidewalks and driveway after mowing the lawn or working on your landscape. By using a broom or leaf blower, you'll save 3 to 5 gallons of water, Rojek says.

Collect rain

Rain barrels - a large barrel that collects water from gutter spouts - are a popular way to collect water for washing cars and watering landscaping. The Web site hrwet.org has directions on how to make one using a large trash can. Purchasing a rain barrel will cost about $100.

To prevent mosquitoes from breeding in the barrel, cover the opening with a cheese cloth or window screen.

Test your shower

If your shower fills a 1 gallon bucket in less than 20 seconds, replace the shower head with a low-flow version, says Sarah Shank of the Earth Day Network. Hartmann recommends products that are labeled as WaterSense, a label used by the Environmental Protection Agency to help consumers recognize efficient equipment.

Plug the bathtub

People waste gallons of water in the bathtub by waiting to plug the drain until the water is hot. Go ahead and plug the drain, and adjust the temperature as the bathtub fills up, Hartmann advises.

Manage summer fun

It's just not practical to take away water activities. Instead, choose water toys that don't require a continuous water flow (have kids play in a wading pool instead of the sprinklers, for example). You can also consider a water leveling device if you have a problem with an overflowing pool.

Courtesy of (c) 2009, Daily Press (Newport News, Va.). via DowJones Marketwatch

By Nicole Paitsel

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