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Before You Harvest - Conserve
by Doug Pushard


Water conservation can pay big dividends. Not only can it save you money every month, it reduces your impact on the planet and can make you feel better. All without a major change in your lifestyle.

Harvesting rainwater is easy, but can be expensive and can involve a change of lifestyle. But conserving is something we all can do. It just makes good sense. Water rates have started to increase and will probably continue to spiral upwards. There are many, many ways to save water, and all you have to do is start.

Before buying a rainbarrel or planning to install a complete rainwater system look at the list below and start with one or two of these small ways to conserve. It will save you money when you go to install your rainwater harvesting system. The list is organized into inside projects and outside projects; just take your choice and do it!

Inside Projects:

  • Check your water meter and bill to track your water usage.
  • Select the proper size pans for cooking and save a little water every time you cook
  • Wash dishes by hand, in a dish bin, don't let the water run while rinsing and use the dish water in your garden
  • Don't rinse your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher
  • Use the garbage disposal less often; it uses water and the scraps can be better used in your garden
  • Wash your produce in a pan and then reuse the water in your garden
  • Soak your pots and pans instead of letting the water run while you scrape them clean
  • Avoid defrosting frozen foods under running water
  • Make sure there are aerators on all of your faucets
  • Run your washing machine and dishwasher only when they are full
  • If buying a new clothes washer, buy a front loading low-water use model
  • When it is yellow let it mellow and when it is brown flush it down. Put your toilet paper in a nearby trash receptacle
  • Replace your toilet with a new low-flow 1.6 gallon per flush model. Or want to save even more buy a new dual flush model
  • Install a sink on top your toilet with a Toilet Lid Sink. Used hand washing water goes through the toilet, so it is used twice.
  • Install a low-flow showerhead. To save even more keep a bucket in your shower and catch the cold water and use it in your yard
  • Turn off your shower water while working your shampoo and conditioner into your hair
  • Put food coloring in your toilet tank to check for leaks
  • When taking your shower to keep it under 5 minutes or shower together and save even more
  • Turn off the water while you brush your teeth
  • Install a faucet which shuts off automatically
  • Insulate hot water pipes and your hotwater tank
  • Install a hotwater recirculating pump or install a instant under sink hotwater heaters; get immediate hot water with no wasted cold water. Make sure the hotwater reciculating pump is on a timer or switch so it does not waste electricity or circulate hotwater needlessly.
  • Check under your sinks and faucets for water leaks periodically
  • When cleaning your fish tank, reuse the water on your plants
  • When you give your pet fresh water, use the old water to water house plants or plants in the yard
  • Reuse your bathtub water rather than letting it run down the drain
  • When doing laundry, match the water level to the size of the load. Preferably wash only full loads
  • Where possible and allowed, recycle your cloth washing water into your garden
  • Turn your water softeners off while you're on vacation or better yet eliminate it
  • Teach your children about water conservation

Outside Projects:

  • Mow your lawn as infrequently as possible
  • Put a layer of organic mulch around plants to reduce evaporation
  • When planting, choose flowers or shrubs that are native to your area and are low water use. Make sure to plant during the spring or fall when the watering requirements are lower
  • Replace grass with plants requiring less water
  • Water during the early morning hours to minimize evaporation
  • Install porous materials for walkways and patios to keep water in your yard and prevent wasteful runoff
  • Wash your pets outside and reuse the water in your garden
  • Clean your evaporative cooler annually
  • Water plants only when necessary. Set a timer when watering by hand as not to let the water run needlessly
  • Install covers on pools and spas to reduce water evaporation
  • Use a hose nozzle and turn off the water while you wash your car to save more than 100 gallons. Wash your car in the rain to save even more
  • If you live in a cold climate, make sure to winterize outdoor spigots to avoid pipes from bursting or freezing
  • Direct downspouts or gutters towards shrubs or trees to make sure this precious water stay on your property
  • Install berms and swales on your property to keep more rainwater on your property and out of the storm system
  • Check your sprinkler system frequently. Make sure to adjust sprinklers so only your lawn is watered and not the house, sidewalk, or street
  • Replace your sprinkler system with a water efficient drip irrigation system
  • Install an automatic rain shut-off device on your sprinkler system to eliminate unnecessary watering
  • Set your drip irrigation system to water depending on temperature and rainfall
  • Don't leave water hoses running carelessly
  • Use a broom instead of a hose to clean your driveway and sidewalk

Lifestyle Changes:

Reader Input:

  • Johnny suggests:
    • Don't forget to harvest your Air Conditioner water
    • Use the rinse water from the delicate cycle of the washing
      machine because it needs the least treatment, again you will
      be amazed by the quantity of water you can collect
  • Ingrid writes:
    • Here's one thing we do routinely in our home: It takes exactly 1 gallon of water before the water gets hot enough to wash dishes in the kitchen sink. We collect that in 1-gallon milk jugs and use it to flush the toilet. And yes, we do the same thing in the shower

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