Ask the Readers: How do you lower your water costs?


Today’s questions is from Lisa:

The cost of water in our town is extremely high. We are always looking for ways to lower it… so I’m looking for any creative ways to keep our water bill down. Does anyone have suggestions? -Lisa

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  1. says

    I don’t know about me (water’s pretty cheap where we live) but when my parents were newly weds, they showered together…and washed their dishes while they did. Dad said it wasn’t uncommon to find them in the shower on a Saturday, shampooing their hair and rinsing off plates.

      • says

        Considering my dad used Dawn to shower with since his job required him to get pretty messy (he was an elevator mechanic for 30 years and frequently came home covered in grease and hydraulic fluid), I guess dish soap is dish soap. But my parents weren’t really squeamish about anything, either. (I refer back to the job involving getting messy.) So, I suppose if it wouldn’t bother you… why not?

    • Ruth St. says

      That’s about the most creative response that I could ever have imagined!!
      LOL. I always save rain water in pails to water my outdoor flowers and a few
      veggies that I grow. It’s amazing how much you can collect from a storm’s downpour. Carrying the pails is also good exercise.

  2. Kristen says

    If you have a gym membership or are thinking about getting one…factor in showering there! I am a huge advocate of our local YMCA. Once we factor in all the benefits (‘mom’ time while I work out with free babysitting, showering there to lower the water bill, turning down the heat while we are gone, and all the free fun family activities, along with all the benefits of being healthy and working out) our membership costs really are quite minimal and worth it to us

  3. Angel says

    National Water Week is coming up for the first part of May, so this is great timing!
    Some ideas for you… depending on how extreme you’d like to go:

    1. Check for leaks! Put a few drops of color in the tank of your toilet and look for color in the bowl after 10 minutes. IF you have color, you have leaks.
    2. Do you have water treatment systems? Home Reverse Osmosis (RO) systems can easily use 5 gallons of water to provide 1 gallon of water and more! Home water softeners should be optimized and regenerate on flow of water treated and not timers. There are a number of other opportunities to save water.
    3. Washing – a front load washer is a great if you can afford one, also, get as much out of a washer load as possible – maybe even get some color catchers to protect your clothes (although you need to factor in the expense of the color catchers or make your own).
    4. High efficiency toilets are a lot better than they used to be. A lot of areas even have rebates if you switch.
    5. If you’re hard core, don’t flush as often… the old adage – if it’s yellow let it mellow… brown flush it down. This doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s an option.
    6. Cut back on irrigation and outdoor watering.
    7. Install new aerators on sinks to reduce water flow. Pretty low cost option if your faucets can accept the aerators.

    Just a few ideas. All the best on your endeavor to save water!

    • Kailey Spaulding says

      Remember to shut off the faucet will you brush your teeth and wash your hands. Shut off the water while you shampoo your hair. Only run the washer when it is full. Change your shower heads and faucets to water saving heads.

  4. says

    I recently cut my water bill by 1/3. I started by calling my city water department, who did not return my call, so I called my city managers office, and was informed by a kind gentleman there, that water, like electricity has a variable cost, and there are peak and nonpeak times of the month, season, and year when water charges are higher, so countries and cities can offset the cost of public works projects in many areas. He also said, that you can request in writing, that your city water department tell of you of current charges, pending spikes for everyone, etc. When I found this out last summer, I noticed that charges were higher the last week of the month, as so I purchased water system to attach to my gutters, which I now use for watering my garden the final week of the month, I also do not wash during that week, making sure all of my wash is prepped before that time, and just these two changes saved me $38.10 monthly!

  5. Corswanson says

    1. We installed shower heads on our showers that funnel the water into a smaller head, using less water with the same amount of pressure. These heads also have on/off switches on them so you can turn the water off while you soap up and the water will stay the same temperature.
    2. Soaker hoses instead of using our sprinkler system help us keep our summer water bills lower!
    3. Water only runs when it needs to. If I’m hand-washing dishes, I plug my sink, rinse 5-6 dishes at a time and then promptly turn the water off. When washing hands, we rinse, then soap up, then rinse again.

  6. says

    Our water and sewer bills are separate now, but one way I’ve lowered costs for the sewer bill is not pouring unused/undrunk water down the drain. It gets used to water plants instead. It’s not much, but every little bit helps!

    • Laura says

      When I tried moving the almost-full plastic dish tubs outside, it was extremely heavy for me. I also sloshed a lot of water out. And that was just a few steps from the kitchen. I can’t imagine keeping buckets under every faucet in the house and carrying them out on a regular basis.

      I’ve heard this suggestion repeatedly. I just haven’t found a practical way to implement it. Any ideas you can provide about how to do this (barring having a house full of strapping teenage sons!) would be appreciated.

      • says

        Hm, did you mean for your reply to go here? I am mostly talking about water left in drinking cups, but maybe occasionally a bowl used to rinse fruit or veggies. Definitely nothing bigger than that.

        Though a small pitcher used to empty the larger containers, say if you’re catching the not-yet-hot water from the shower, may help. But it would be time consuming.

        • says

          OK, I reread your comment and it sounds like you’re talking about dishwater – if you want to avoid paying for that going down the drain, I’d try a small pitcher and make a couple of trips instead of trying to manage the whole thing. Those are heavy! If you have a compost pile, that might actually be good anyway because compost should get watered, so it doesn’t matter if the pitcher is dealing with dirty water.

  7. Heather Masengale says

    set up rain barrels at the end of your gutters…use that water for watering plants/flowers, washing crud off of shoes, washing dirty hands and feet while playing outside, watering animals..all kinds of stuff

    • Elizabeth Sims says

      i was going to suggest the same thing. if you go down to your local extension center ..if you are in the usa…. you can get a print out on how to make your own rain barrel which is generally less than purchasing a premade one

      sorry shift key on phone isn’t working

  8. says

    We live in an rv (with 9 kids), so we are pretty savvy at saving water!
    -take military showers (shut off the water while you shampoo up, shave, put in conditioner). If bathing littles, do multiples at one time, or use the same water just add some hot as needed.
    – shut off water while brushing your teeth, or lathering your face
    -water your yard before bed or early morning, not when it’s sunny as so much evaporates. Set a timer so you don’t forget to turn it off.
    -When washing dishes (and most other tasks) don’t turn the water on high – just a trickle often is sufficient
    -TEACH your HOW kids how to conserve water (show them what you want), don’t just say, “don’t use very much water” 😉
    -make that jetted bath a treat instead of a normal occurance
    -install an on-demand hot water heater near where you actually use hot water – often homes have hot water heaters located far away from where the water needs are, therefor they have to let the faucet run a lot until the hot water reaches the faucet.
    -our front loading washer saved us tons! of water over a traditional top loader

    In truth, most families don’t USE a lot of water, they just ‘run’ a lot of water…

  9. says

    We went through our house last year and tried to figure out some water and energy saving ideas. There are faucet aerators that you can purchase at your local hardware store, they put air into the water that comes out of the faucet so that you use less water but still keep your water pressure high. They work great! They are about $1.50 each at your hardware store. Amazon has them for $10/ 6pack. We also purchased a new low flow shower head (the US dept of energy assures you that it would reduce our water by 30-60%), plus the obvious things like take shorter showers, turn the water off while you brush your teeth. A friend of mine takes an empty pop bottle and fills it with water and places it in the back of her toilet, then your toilet will use that much less water each time you fill it. For example if you use a 1 liter bottle of water, then your toilet will use 1 liter less every time you flush because it wont need to fill up so much. We also upgraded to a high efficiency washer and dryer which makes a huge difference on the amount of water you use. Hope this helps :)

  10. Dana says

    Keep a bucket next to your tub and fill it up while you wait for the water to get warm for your shower. You can use the water to shave your legs, flush the toilet (just pour water into the toilet bowl until it flushes), water plants, mopping, etc.

  11. andrea c says

    Two things come to mind. Catch rain water for your garden/yard. It cost me $30 last year to build one for us, and it is reusable, and should work for years. Also, see if you can find someone to build something to recycle your rinse water from your washer. The rinse washer would then be used for the wash water in the next load!

  12. HeatherHH says

    Two big things we do (not just to cut back on water usage but has that effect) is to cut back on the number of baths/showers and the number of loads of laundry. We have seven children, ages 12 and under that bathe twice a week, and my husband and I shower three times per week. That saves a lot of water compared to daily baths/showers for all of us. Also we wear most of our clothing at least 2 days, wash sheets every 3-4 weeks (barring accidents, etc), etc so that we don’t do any more laundry than many families of 4 do (and there are 9 of us).

  13. Sarah says

    I spent a summer working in Africa while a college student. One thing I learned to do there was to take a “bucket shower”–basically fill one small bucket or pail with water and use only that to take a shower. You can do it and still be clean! For awhile after college, I would take a bucket shower twice a week and use the money that I saved to donate to a charity that provided water for towns in Africa.

  14. Susan says

    I put my three little kids in the same bathwater. Since they bathe every day I don’t feel like they are too dirty to share. I also don’t wash sheets every week anymore. I have a high efficiency washer, low flow toilets, and newer low flow showerheads. I don’t water my grass. I do take advantage of showering at the Y when we go there to swim. I also don’t pre-wash the dishes before they go in the dishwasher and I only run the dishwasher when full. My water bill is reasonable and I live in an expensive area.

  15. Stephanie says

    Look into putting in a well. It’s expensive upfront, but our savings in the last couple years have more than paid for it and our water bill is a tenth what it was before.

    • says

      We were fortunate enough to move into a house with a well. We don’t have a water bill but we still use several of the water-saving strategies mentioned. I almost always wait until I have a full load before starting the washer or dishwasher to save on our electric bill! :) Our boys when they were younger would share the bath water, now they take showers. Before we moved here, I definitely was considering a rain barrel for watering the yard!

  16. Cara says

    We do a few of those things. My husband and I take a weekend shower together. I fill up the sink in the morning and do all of that days dishes in that water. I then take the dish water and water our fruit trees or plants outside with it. Another thing we are hoping to do with part of the garden this year is olla pots. You bury a porous pot and fill it up with water. It waters directly to roots when needed. It is supposed to use less water than even drip systems.

  17. Amy says

    I’ve read that putting a full water bottle in the water tank of your toilet helps the toilet to use less. We’ve done this on our toilets even though they are already pretty efficient. Also this can be gross but we try to go by the rule of if it’s brown flush it down and if it’s yellow let it mellow. With littles constantly going this helps.

  18. Jenn says

    My village sells a bypass meter that you can buy once for about $60 and attach outside so that the water you use outside of the house doesn’t get added into the sewer charges (they only measure sewer usage by water usage). This makes my garden greener without the high sewer bills!

  19. says

    put bucket in shower while water getting hot – use for outdoor watering,or washing car. don’t let water run while brushing teeth or men sharing. make sure dishwasher is full. washing clothes use water levels if doing small load.

  20. jch says

    do not flush your toilet until you have to – put used toilet paper in a sack by the toilet – I experienced this in Africa and tried it when I got home and it is simple and not awful. The toilet paper dries quickly and no odor. I was amazed.

    • says

      We actually use cloth wipes instead of regular toilet paper (I still keep some on the roll for guests). Since I already wash cloth diapers, the cloth wipes just go in with them. I keep a small “wetbag” by the toilet to keep the used wipes in, and the bag gets thrown in whenever I wash the diapers.

  21. Grace says

    I have long, thick hair, and I’ve noticed that most of my time in the shower is taken up with washing my hair. If you’re comfortable with it, you could consider only washing your hair every other day. I’ve found my hair is clean and healthy when I wash every 2 days (or even every 3 days). Your hair might be a bit greasy at first, but if you can handle the initial adjustment period, your hair will stop producing as much oil as it is washed less, so it will remain clean for longer (at least, this is the experience I’ve had, and I’ve heard the same from other ladies who stopped washing their hair daily).

    Another way I conserve water is to shave my legs at the sink instead of in the shower (I started this because I can’t see well in the shower without my glasses and used the sink to avoid cutting myself while shaving…but it does save water!). The faucet at the sink uses less water than in the shower. I just prop my leg on the counter. It’s handy to shave in the shower with the water running, but I just use a washcloth to wash off the lather in the sink and it works fine for me.

    In terms of laundry, can you consider wearing your clothes more between washes? I know some people throw their jeans in the wash after every wear, for example, but I wear my pants a few times before they need to be washed. Skirts are also a good option because they generally don’t need to go in the laundry.

    Also consider whether you’re willing to reuse shower towels (I hang mine to dry in the bathroom and use it for 2 showers before putting it in the laundry), hand towels (I change mine once a week, not sure how that compares to most people), and dish towels (I change the kitchen towel and wash cloth daily in the summer because they start to smell a little funky, but in the colder months I go a couple days before changing them out).

    I hope this helps! Good luck!

  22. Angie M. says

    I’m still searching for new ways to save water, but here is what I’ve learned so far:

    * Buy a high efficiency/low water washing machine. Of course, if you don’t need a new washing machine this tip isn’t practical. However, if you need a new washing machine I highly recommend the HE/low water models. My 17 year old washing machine bit the dust in 2012 and I replaced it with a top loading HE/low water model. My water bill dropped significantly! I do a lot of laundry. I have two sons who play sports, so they each wear 2 – 3 sets of clothing a day (school clothes, athletic wear for practice, uniforms for games). The new washing machine really made a difference in my water usage.

    * Save cold water that would normally be wasted. I keep an empty, clean milk jug under my kitchen sink. When I am waiting for the water to warm up for dishes or anything else, I collect it in the jug. I use that water for my 4 dogs to drink or to water my plants. You can also do this when warming up water for a bath or shower.

    * Limit water use. I am careful to limit how much water I put in the sink when doing dishes or the tub when taking a bath. I’ve learned I can make do with less. I’ve taught my kids to wet their hands and then turn off the water while soaping/lathering and then turn the water back on to rinse. We also turn off the water while we are brushing our teeth and soaping up/shampooing in the shower.

    * Buy water saving toilets. Again, this tip isn’t practical if you don’t need new toilets but worth it if you do. We bought a home in 2012 that was built in 1989. The bathrooms hadn’t been updated since it was built. My Dad is a retired carpenter and he helped with the remodeling that was needed before we moved in. Since the toilets needed replacing anyway, he suggested we buy water savers. We found a good sale at Lowes and the water saver models didn’t cost us any more than the regular models. Our models have a regular flush (which uses less water than normal toilets) and also a ‘light flush’ (which uses even less water).

    * Collect rain water. We have a few 5 gallon buckets that we keep outside behind our storage shed. These collect rain water which we use for watering flowers and plants in our garden.

    Good luck with lowering your water bill!

  23. Ryan says

    Pull an Adam Carolla and pee in the sink/shower. Just run some water while you do to get it past the trap. It sounds bad, but urine is sterile. I save 3-5 flushes a day which adds up to thousands of gallons a year.

  24. Julie says

    I’m sure you have already checked your bill and know the answer but how much of the cost is solely for having the service? I had a neighbor tell me one time she needed to cut expenses and was trying to cut down on water use. If she had cut her use in half it was going to save a couple of dollars a month. Much easier to cut out something else. For two of our quarterly water bills we don’t pay anything for water overage, the built in allowance covers what we use. The other two quarterly bills do have overage because we have a sprinkler system to water the grass for 6 months of the year. If we lived someplace that we didn’t need to do that the actual cost of the water we use would be zero if you don’t count what you have to pay even if you didn’t use any. Hope that makes sense.

  25. Kelly says

    If you have a yard, consider how you can cut down on watering. There are drought-resistant plants that require less watering. Growing up, my dad replaced many of our grassy areas with concrete with decorative rock and brickwork – especially around the driveway area. I always applauded this idea because it meant there was less weeding to do! :) Haha. But also less watering.

  26. Maria says

    Our area of the country is currently in an “exceptional” drought, that’s the worst level there is, so this is more than just cost savings right now for us.*

    Besides many of the items above like turning off water while brushing teeth/washing hands, flushing when it’s brown, etc. I keep my large canning pot in my sink for any time the water runs that would go down the drain. I reuse it to partly fill the sink then add hot when washing dishes, I rinse dishes or produce in it, I may dump in in to add to a bath, or the last stage when it’s dirty/soapy is watering the garden.

    I get free 5 gallon buckets (ask) from the grocery store baker (it comes filled with icing) and use that to bail water from bath/keep in the shower or metal mixing bowl I keep under the bathroom faucet like the canning pot.

    Another trick is put a brick in your toilet tank to displace water.

    *If you are in an area of the country not facing drought, a real cost savings would be to put a garden in as produce costs are expected to go sky high by summer, when the only place to get it is our area of the country and water is so scarce many commercial fields don’t have the water allotment to plant.

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