October baby steps challenge: use less water

Way back in April, I wrote this post about how during my Buy Nothing New year I wanted to become a better role model for green living. So I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish during the year, and embarked upon a new one each month, using the baby steps method. The idea is that it’s easiest to change one behavior at a time, by focusing on it, getting advice and information, and giving yourself plenty of time to make it a lasting habit.

So far, I’ve made an effort to stop catalogs and junk mail, started air drying the laundry, started a compost bin, and switched to natural cleansers. That last one is still in progress, but will be complete by the end of the month.

This month, I’m going to tackle the goal of using less water. I went to the DWP website and found this list of “The Top 5 Actions to Save Water Now.” I should add that we live in Los Angeles and we’re in a drought, so we’re already pretty aware about conserving water.

I’m happy that we’re already doing or have done the “Top 5 Actions:”

1. Stop those leaks! My husband is super handy and does this on a regular basis.
2. Replace your old toilet, the largest water user inside your home. Again, my husband is in the process of doing this. The toilet has been researched and ordered and is on its way to being installed. He bought the ultra-low-flush, and we’ll receive a rebate from the DWP.
3. Replace your clothes washer, the second largest water user in your home. Kudos to my husband, who took this step last spring.
4. Plant the right plants with proper landscape design and irrigation. Over the past two years, I tackled the project of landscaping our front yard after my husband installed a drainage system. I used all native grasses and ground cover and succulents. It looks great and uses much less water. During the winter months, as long as it rains at least once every ten days, I don’t need to water at all.
5. Water only what your plants need. Again, I water plants the most when they’re first put in the ground, but after that only as much as they need.

I next looked over this 16-item list called “More Water Conservation Tips for your Home.” Happily, we already practice 13 of these habits, including using the dishwasher and clothes washer for full loads only, watering plants less often and changing the schedule seasonally, and not leaving the hose running while washing the car (I go to a car wash, my husband washes his car only once every several months). You can check the list to see how you’re doing with water conservation.

I did identify 3 things we’ll work on this month in order to use less water:

1. Turn off water while brushing your teeth.
2. Turn off water while you’re shaving. Fill sink just a little and rinse razor as you go. (I’ll have to speak to my husband about that one).
3. Rinse vegetables in sinkful of clean water rather than letting the water run.

Even though taking a shorter shower isn’t on either of these lists, it’s the next most obvious thing, so I’m going to make an effort to shorten them a bit, and make them a little less scalding. This is a sacrifice for me, because I love showers and baths, and the shower is where I come up with some of my best ideas. So my shower space-outs aren’t entirely a waste, productivity-wise. But they’re not cool, water-wise.

How about you? Tell me about your water-saving efforts. And let me know if you want to join in the baby steps challenge. Please share all your tips, advice, and questions in the Comments section.


  1. hiptobeme says

    This is fantastic. Wow, replacing your washer and toilet is very admirable! Here in the Okanagan we are always watching the water level as well and I am concious of turning off taps when brushing, not leaving hoses run needlessly, not just flushing because you threw a kleenex in.. etc. I am teaching my son to be concious as well, so much that he often reminds me to turn off the tap when it is not needed. Are baths more efficient than showers, I wonder? I will look into this a bit more. This is a baby step that makes a huge difference to our most precious of resources.

  2. WilliamB says

    If every single urban Californian stopped using water entirely, that would save less than 20% of total state water usage. (My data come from a 1990 survey but my subsequent research leads me to believe it hasn't changed significantly. More recent data welcomed with open arms.)

    So what you can do to save the most water is lobby your legislature for more rational water pricing for agriculture and industry. California practically pays farmers to use water, it's no wonder most of it is wasted.

  3. Betsy Talbot says

    I haven't washed my car in the driveway in years (mainly because I don't have a driveway), but I did find out earlier this summer that washing a car this way uses more water than a car wash and sends harmful chemicals down the drain.

    We have a local chain called Brown Bear that treats the chemicals before they are drained to Puget Sound, which keeps the water cleaner and protects salmon habitats. Not sure if this is all a marketing trick or not, but washing the car at the car wash is a lot faster than doing it at home, so I think you would save water by going to the car wash.

  4. Angela says

    hiptobeme- That's so great that you're teaching your son to form good habits early.

    williamB- Bottom line in California is there are way too many people living in a place without enough water. But while I'm here I want to do the best I can at conserving water. I'm still shocked to see people putting in grass lawns when we essentially live in a desert. Yes, I always vote and I'm aware of water issues. Out of curiosity, do you live in CA?

    Alea- great ideas! Thanks for sharing them.

    Betsy- Yes, I've been using a car wash for years, and never washed it at home after hearing about the environmental pros and cons. My husband is a little more, shall we say- cheap- than I am, so he doesn't like to pay for it. But he's VERY aware of water and especially drainage/contamination issues. Plus he literally only washes it about twice a year.

    Thanks for your comments!

  5. WilliamB says

    Angela, I used to live in CA both desert and nondesert parts.

    To use even less water when washing veggies, wash them in your salad spinner (if you have one). Just lift the sieve part out of the bowl part, dump the veg, and go on to wash the next batch.

    If you shave your legs in the shower, do it the same way as shaving in the sink: plug the tub, let some water run (maybe while you get allover wet first?), turn off the water, sit down to shave, the continue with your shower.

    I don't think I've said yet: some of your so-called baby steps are big steps and I'm impressed with your constant progress with them.

    @hiptobeme: to check if you use more water during a shower or bath, plug your tub while you take a shower. If your tub fills up then you use more water. Unless you run the tap to rinse your hair. This trick won't work if your shower is separate from your tub.

  6. Angela says

    WilliamB- Thanks for your compliment, and also for your comments, which are so helpful.

    I love the salad spinner idea- so simple it will work for me! As far as shaving my legs, I go once a month for a wax. It's not frugal, but it's the most time-saving thing I've ever done and is SO much better than shaving (as far as smoothness).

    As far as shower vs. bath, that's a good suggestion for hiptobeme. It would definitely depend upon the length of the shower, but I've always heard/read that a bath uses much more water than a shower.

  7. Non Consumer Girl says

    Living in Australia, I am used to saving water due to water restrictions.

    During one drought, we had a four minute egg timer for our showers! This was very hard at first, as I love a long shower, but I grew accustomed to it.

    Now there are no longer water restrictions, I have retained the habit of shorter showers, around 10 mins instead of the 20 min epic of times past!

  8. WilliamB says

    Long hot showers are one of (my) life's great pleasures and it's last of my hypothetical list of ways to conserve. I have a front-loading washer, cache run-till-its-hot water, reuse veggie washing water, don't water the lawn, use a basin of water to shave, and so on, but you'll have to pry my long hot shower from my cold dead fingers.

    I'm pretty sure that my winter-time showers use more water than a bath[1] but I don't know how long they are. Time to find out answers to both these questions.

    [1] There are three variables: waterflow thru shower head, length of shower, size of bathtub. My bathtub is small.

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