5 ways to save water and money…and the cost of a toilet flush

July 7, 2011 — Leave a comment

I don’t know if you’ve noticed; but, we could use some rain in Amarillo, TX. All this dryness is beginning to put a bit of a strain on our water system. The city is abuzz with talk of water conservation efforts. Our mayor even made a PSA suggesting that we Amarilloans wash our clothes by hand (WOW, by the way). The numbers: Amarillo used around 2 billion gallons of water in May of 2011. That’s 40% more water than we used in May 2010 (source: Globe News article). That’s a lot. I think we can all agree that conservation is important; and, I’m doing my part. For weeks at a time (and purely out of the goodness of my giant green earth-loving heart) my yard goes unwatered and undisturbed by the evil, carbon-infused exhaust of my lawnmower. Anyhow, let’s say that you, unlike me, hate mother earth. Let’s take a different angle on water conservation. Conservation can save you money! How much money does conserving water save you? Glad you asked.

I called the city to get some info on my water bill. A nice lady was kind enough to answer all of my questions (she probably wished she hadn’t answered that phone call). Anyhow, in the city of Amarillo, our minimum monthly bill is $39.09. Most of this bill is comprised of flat fees for sanitation/sewage stuff. This minimum fee of $39.09 allows me to use up to 3,000 gallons of water. If I use 3,001 to 10,000 gallons, it costs me an extra $2.00 per 1,000 gallons. If I use an extra 10,001 to 30,000 gallons, it costs me an extra $2.61 per thousand gallons. Between 30,001 and 50,000 costs $3.87/thousand gallons. View rates here.

Sooooo…let’s say that I typically fall in the 10,001-30,000 gallon per month range. Using these numbers, here’s what it costs me (bolded amounts in terms of water only) for various household tasks:

1 load of laundry: 6.5 cents – washing 2 less loads per week will save me $6.76, 2,600 gallons, and $26 in energy per year

1 load of dishes:  1.5 cents (newer dishwasher); 2 cents (sink, leaving water running); 1.5 cents (sink, fill up sink with water only) – 1 less load per week will save me 78 cents, 312 gallons, and $8.60 in energy per year.

flush the toilet: 0.5 cents (newer toilet); 1.3 cents (old toilet) – flushing the toilet less often is not an option. That’s disgusting.

brushing my teeth: 0.5 cents/brushing (leaving water running); 31 cents/month – by avoiding leaving the water running, I can save around $1.91 and 730 gallons per year.

washing my hair: 0.65 cents/washing; 20 cents/month (I would net + $2.38/year, + 913 gallons/year, – a lot of friends if I stopped washing my hair)

watering the lawn once (sprinkler system, 6 stations, 15 minutes per station): $3.52 – watering the lawn twice per week during the summer rather than every day would save ~$225/year

filling up our ghetto little swimming pool:  69 cents  (filling up a pool in my backyard once per week during the summer costs me $8.97. warning…in addition to $8.97, filling up said pool in your front yard and leaving it there throughout the year can also cost you the respect of your neighbors.)

accidentally leaving our water running overnight because a certain child has learned to operate the front-yard faucet: $8.05.

See, conserving water can save you a little money…most notably in the lawn-watering department. Interesting fact: according to the City of Amarillo, 2/3 of Amarillo’s water use during the spring and summer months results from residents watering their lawns and gardens.

What else should you be doing to save water? A great list of conservation tips can be found here: http://water.amarillo.gov/index.php. Here are 5 conserveration tips from me. I’ve taken the liberty of sorting them from most helpful/practical to least helpful/not at all practical.

1. The optimal time to water your lawn is from 10pm – 6am. A properly irrigated lawn typically only needs to be watered two days per week (from the City of Amarillo Water Conservation Guide). Follow these guidelines when watering your lawn.

2. Only run your dishwasher and clothes washer when they are full.

3. Shower less often (if we’re friends, please ignore this conservation tip)

4. Dig your own well down to the Ogallala by hand, in the dark, with a spork. Use only the water obtained via this method to water your yard.

5. Wash clothes by hand.

To summarize:  every little bit helps. Aside from curtailing your lawn watering, conservation probably isn’t going to save you a fortune. Sorry. If it is all about the money for you, here’s my suggestion: 1. Implement the strategies I mentioned. 2. Take your small savings at the end of the summer and use it to buy a more efficient toilet, fix a broken sprinkler head, install a water conserving faucet, etc. You’ll compound your savings next year; and, you might even increase the resale value of your house by a few bucks.

* Disclaimer: Obviously, all of these numbers are approximations based on my personal faucets. Yes, I used my phone’s timer, a 2.5 gallon bucket, and MS Excel to come up with most of these figures. That’s how you spent your Saturday, right? Also, I confirmed my lawn-watering estimates in a variety of places; one of which is here: http://sarainmaker.com/faq.html.


**Update** by popular demand, here are a couple more water-saving tidbits. And by “by popular demand” I, of course, mean “no one asked, but I was bored so”.

Which takes more water, a shower or bath?  For my house (which is probably average), if you shower longer than 20 minutes, you would use less water by taking a bath. If your shower is shorter than 20 minutes, a shower uses less water.

Out of curiosity, I researched washing clothes by hand vs. by machine (you knew this was coming, didn’t you?). Due to the numerous different methods for washing clothes by hand, it’s hard to say which takes more water. I can say that you will very likely use MORE water washing clothes by hand than you would by using a front-loading washing machine. Washing clothes by hand will likely use less water than the old, top-loading washers (probably 15 gallons or so at most). So, if you have an old top-loading washer, get to scrubbin’. The environment and our mayor thank you for your service.