When it comes to improvements to your home, a lot of people think about energy efficiency. Double-paned windows, upgraded insulation, and even solar panels are popular renovations. But a less often considered renovation is your water-efficiency. The fact is, water is an extremely limited resource most of us take for granted. But as cities grow and climates change, water will only become more scarce and more expensive. So when it comes time for an upgrade to your home, consider how water efficiency can play a role. You will be doing good for the environment, your fellow citizens, and your pocketbook.
What is Water Efficiency
Technically, water conservation is how we reduce the total amount of water that is used, lost, and wasted. Water efficiency is accomplishing the same tasks, like flushing toilets and washing dishes, with less water. When it comes to using less water, a two-pronged approach is necessary. The two parts of water efficiency are human behavior and water-efficient construction. If either of these two pieces is missing, your home will not be as water-efficient as it could be.
The biggest gains in water efficiency can be had in outdoor water use. A traditional lawn can eat up hundreds of gallons of water in a single watering. Nationwide, it is estimated that residential irrigation makes up 30 percent of all residential water use, or 7 billion gallons a day. Decreasing landscaping water use by just 10% would saving 225 billion gallons a year, enough to feed all of Metro Atlanta for six weeks. Reducing outdoor water usage can be achieved with some very simple changes to human behavior, as well as some changes in what we plant and the equipment we use for irrigation.
Reducing Outdoor Water Waste
Before we talk about using less water, we should talk about wasting less water. The difference between using less and wasting less is simple. Wasted water is water you never needed in the first place and don’t get any benefit from. In a water-efficient home, your waste should be close to zero.
The biggest waste of water is overwatering. Most lawns don’t need to be watered every day. In fact, an established grassy lawn only needs about one inch of water a week. To figure out how long your sprinkler takes to deliver one inch, just place some empty tuna cans around the lawn the next time you turn on the sprinklers. Keep track of how long it takes each can to fill up with one inch of water. Since sprinkler coverage varies around your lawn, average the time it took the different cans to fill to one inch get your ideal water time. You can water for that amount of time once a week, or split it into two ½-inch waterings a week. To avoid watering when mother nature has done the work for you, install a simple rain gauge in your backyard. If it reads an inch or more, you can skip watering for that week.
Have you ever had the experience of turning on your outdoor hose only to have a small jet of water come shooting out of every connection?
To reduce outdoor water waste, check and replace failing washers in your outdoor hose each season. If water is coming out of any part of your hose beside the end of it, you need to replace some washers.
Outdoor Water Efficiency
To get water efficient outdoors, you will need to combine a change in water use habits and some simple (and less simple) technologies. The first step to water efficiency is to limit the amount of water it takes to water your garden. You can do that by thinking about what you plant and where you plant it. The best things to plant are native species that are adapted to survive on just the natural rainfall. We get a lot of rain in Georgia, so it shouldn’t be hard to find plants that don’t need a lot of extra watering most of the time.
In addition to what you plant, where you plant matters. Try to plant in tight bunches. Keeping the ground shaded will reduce evaporation and help keep soil moist longer after a watering. It is also more efficient to water in a smaller area. If you have a vegetable garden, plant a few short rows close together instead of one or two long rows. The shorter, tighter rows will take less water to irrigate adequately.
While we’re on irrigation, here’s where some simple technology can come into play. A simple drip irrigation system is much more water efficient than traditional sprinklers. It allows you to deliver water directly to each plant as needed. You can water your whole garden with much less water than if you were using a hose or sprinkler to cover the entire area.
If you want to go higher-tech, you can install timers or even weather sensors to aid your drip irrigation system. These high-tech tools control the release of water even further, to make sure your garden gets all the water it needs and none it doesn’t. For more information about irrigation systems right here in Atlanta, Dale recommends Oasis Landscape and Irrigation or Outdoor Makeover & Construction.
Use What Mother Nature Gives Us
Just like you wouldn’t water your lawn during a rainstorm, it’s possible to dramatically reduce your water usage by making some smart choices with the water mother nature gives us.
During a rainstorm, your lawn gets a lot more water than just what it needs to survive. The vast majority of the water your lawn and garden receive just becomes runoff. But what if you would save all that water for later when it’s not raining? It turns out, saving your rainwater and using it later is easier than you think. If you go to your local garden or home improvement store, you can find rain collection barrels. Most are made to hook up to your rain gutter downspout, though some simply have a screened top to allow water to enter wherever they are placed. The barrels have a spigot at the bottom to easily hook up a hose or fill a watering can.
If you want to further harness the water that falls freely from the sky, consider permeable hardscape surfaces. Instead of paving a walkway with brick or stone, use gravel. The gravel will allow the ground to soak up the water instead of directing away and into a storm drain. Placing mulch around the bottom of plants will also allow rainwater to soak in slowly and keep it from evaporating long after the rain stops.
Help the Planet and Your Pocketbook
There’s no reason you should be spending any more than you have to on your water bills. By thinking a little more about how we use water, you can save hundreds on water bills and help out the planet at the same time. To learn more about TrustDALE certified gardeners and landscape architects, click here.