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The Three Golden R's

Water Smart Solutions in the Home:
Reduce, Repair and Retrofit

Reduce
Repair
Retrofit

So where do we start? The first step is to identify where we use water in the home. Then we need to decide on what to do to reduce the amount of water we use, either by eliminating wasteful practices and habits, or by improving the efficiency of our water using fixtures and devices. Since we waste so much, this should be a relatively easy and painless process. The prime area to target is the bathroom, where nearly 65 percent of all indoor water use occurs. 

What follows are some suggestions for how to get your house or business in order. Based on the three rules of water conservation – reduce, repair and retrofit – a typical household can reduce water consumption by 40 percent or more, with or no effect on lifestyle.

Reduce

Much of the water "consumed" in our daily activities is simply wasted. Taps are left running while we brush our teeth. Dishwashers and laundry machines are operated without full loads. Really, everywhere we use water there is room for improvement. Here are just a few examples for both indoor and outdoor water use.

  • Don't use the toilet as a wastebasket or flush it unnecessarily.
  • A quick shower uses less hot water than a full tub (and saves energy too).
  • Keep a bottle of drinking water in the refridgerator rather than letting your tap run to get cold water when you want a drink. (Rinse the bottle every few days.)
  • More than 50 percent of the water applied to lawns and gardens is lost due to evaporation, or run-off because of overwatering. Find out how much water your lawn really needs. As a general rule, most lawns and gardens require little more than 2 to 3 centimeters (1 inch) of water per week.
  • To reduce loses due to evaporation, water early in the morning (after the dew has dried).
  • Watering off-peak helps the utility manage its load on the system and helps ensure adequate reservoir levels and water pressure for possible fire emergencies.
  • When washing a car, fill a bucket with water and use a sponge. This can save about 300 litres of water.

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Repair

Leaks can be costly. A leak of only one drop per second wastes about 10 000 litres of water per year. Most leaks are easy to find and to fix, at very little cost. 

 

  • Leaking faucets are often caused by a worn out washer that costs pennies to replace. Most hardware stores will have faucet repair kits with illustrations showing how to replace a washer.
  • A toilet that continues to run after flushing, if the leak is large enough, can waste up to 200 000 litres of water in a single year! To find out if your toilet is leaking, put two or three drops of food colouring in the tank at the back of the toilet. Wait a few minutes. If the colour shows up in the bowl, there's a leak.
  • Toilet leaks are often due to a flush valve or flapper valve that isn't sitting properly in the valve seat, bent or misaligned flush valve lift wires, or a corroded valve seat. All of these can be fixed easily and inexpensively. To get at the valve seat, which surrounds the outlet hole at the bottom of the tank, you must first empty the tank . This is accomplished by turning off the inlet tap under the tank and flushing the toilet, making sure to keep depressing the flush lever until no more water drains out of the tank. Then, holding the valve out of the way, sand the corroded or warped valve seat smooth with a piece of emery cloth, if, however, the leak is around the base of the toilet where it sits on the floor, call a professional.

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Retrofit

Retrofit means adapting or replacing an older water-using fixture or appliance with one of the many water-efficient devices now on the market. While these solutions cost more, they also save the most water and money. Retrofitting offers considerable water saving potential in the home and business. 

Toilet retrofits

When it comes to retrofitting, the prime fixture to target is the toilet. You can: i) adapt your existing toilet in a number of ways, by installing certain water-saving devices inside the tank at the back of the toilet; or, ii) if the toilet is more than fifteen years old – which means it probably uses about 18 or more litres of water per flush – you can replace it with one of the growing number of ultra-low-volume (ULV) toilets, that can be ordered from most plumbing outlets, and use only 6 litres or less per flush.

There are many toilet adaptations you can install in the tank of an existing toilet to reduce the amount of water used in a flush cycle. These devices fall into three generic categories:

  • water retention devices;
  • water displacement devices; and,
  • alternate flushing devices.

The most common water retention device available is the toilet dam. A set will save about 5 litres per flush when installed properly. Their main attraction is their low cost (under $10.00 per set) and the fact that they are easy to distribute and install for example, as part of a wider municipally-sponsored retrofit program. Their main disadvantage is that they tend to leak over time by slipping out of adjustment and can slip free and interfere with the moving parts inside the toilet tank, if not routinely checked.

The water displacement devices familiar to most people are the plastic bags or bottles filled with water which are suspended inside the toilet tank. As the name implies, these devices displace several litres of water, saving an equivalent amount during each flush. Like the toilet dam, most displacement devices are inexpensive and easy to install. Their chief disadvantage is that they don't save as much water as other devices and, if they are not installed carefully, they can interfere with the proper operation of the toilet.

One displacement device to stay away from is the brick! It can disintegrate inside the toilet tank, leading to excessive leakage at the flapper valve and may even be heavy enough to actually crack the tank.

There are essentially two types of alternative flush devices: early-closure and dual-flush. They are usually attached to the overflow tube inside the toilet tank. In both cases, they close the flush valve or flapper after the tank is only partially emptied. In theory, this interruption in the flush cycle occurs after the bowl has been cleared. In the case of the dual-flush mechanism, the amount of water saved is dependent upon how long the flush lever is activated – a partial flush for light duty or full flush or heavy duty.

While all of the above toilet adaptations appear to work as intended when first installed, their performance may vary considerably, depending on the toilet design. The best advice is to monitor the performance of the devices periodically. If you discover that it becomes necessary to double flush the toilet, something is in need of adjustment or replacement. Remember that double flushing defeats the purpose of your water conservation efforts and is costing you money.

If you decide that it is time for a toilet replacement in your home or business, you are well on your way to significant water savings that you can bank on over the life of the toilet. Replacing a 18 litre per flush toilet with an ultra-low-volume (ULV) 6 litre flush model represents a 70 percent savings in water flushed and will cut indoor water use by about 30 percent.

Keep in mind that 18 litres per flush, assuming 4 flushes per person per day, translates into nearly 30 000 litres of clean, fresh water per year just to get rid of 650 litres of body waste. A 6 litre flush toilet only use about 10 000 litres to do the same task. Low flush toilets are available for less than $150.00 at most plumbing and supply stores.

Remember, the ULV toilet not only uses less water, it produces less wastewater. If your municipality applies a sewer surcharge on your water bill, the investment in the better toilet could translate into a 50 percent reduction in your combined water/sewer bill. If you are on a private well and septic system, you are significantly reducing the loading on your tile field while extending its useful life. To a lesser degree, the same applies to the other water-saving devices described in these pages.

Showerheads and faucets

After the toilet, the shower and bath consume the most water inside the home. Conventional showerheads have flow rates up to 15 to 20 litres per minute. A properly designed low-flow showerhead can reduce that flow by half and still provide proper shower performance. Low-flow showerheads can be purchased in most plumbing supply outlets.

Depending on your preference for finish and appearance, you can select a serviceable low-flow showerhead starting at around ten dollars. Consider one with a shut-off button. The advantage of the shut-off button is that it allows you to be really water efficient if you so choose, by being able to interrupt the flow, while you lather up or shampoo, and then resume at the same flow rate and temperature.

Beware of the type of showerhead that produce such a fine mist that the water is quite cool by the time it reaches your feet. And, stay away from so-called flow restrictors that are inserted inside your existing showerhead. They look like a small plastic washer and can produce a fierce, stinging spray pattern which may significantly reduce the enjoyment of taking a shower.

Conventional faucets have an average flow rate of 13.5 litres of water per minute. Install low-flow aerators to reduce this flow. In the bathroom, a flow rate of about 6 litres per minute should do the trick, and in the kitchen a flow rate of 6 to 9 litres per minute is sufficient. Don't bother retrofitting the tap in the utility sink; it is intended to provide large volumes of water quickly, for example, for cleaning or washing, such that low flows will only inconvenience the user.

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Source: Environment Canada

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