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August 01, 2010

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Guide to conserving water at home

L. Sara Bysterveld

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Amongst all the conservation chatter, “conserve water” is a fairly loud refrain. Somewhere in the back of our heads, we each know that fresh water is running out, because it’s a phrase that is repeated in the media and marketing everywhere we look.

And it’s true, worldwide. Here in Alberta, it would appear we have plenty of fresh water. However, the municipal government points to a number of converging issues that threaten our water supply in the longterm. Among these are a growing demand for water as our population increases as well as from a variety of recreational, industrial and agricultural users up and downstream from the city; a finite water supply; uncertain impacts of climate change on the water supply; and gradual decline in water quality.

In Calgary, our residential water comes from the river and is returned to it. In between it is treated twice — once before entering our homes and once more after leaving our homes and before returning to the river. This takes energy. Considering that our water usage can be cut drastically with little to no compromise of lifestyle, why wouldn’t we make an effort to cut back? The financial savings can also be huge!

The bathroom is the biggest water-wasting culprit in the home, thanks to the toilet. Luckily, most new homes feature low-flow or dual-flush toilets. In homes that do not, Calgarians can utilize the City’s toilet rebate program and receive $50 for switching out an old toilet for a new water-conserving model.

But it’s not just the type of toilet that matters, as Ashley Lubyk points out. Lubyk is the manager of Healthy Homes Calgary, a Green Calgary program that guides Calgarians through a thorough home energy and waste audit. Lubyk recommends that homeowners do a toilet leak test off the bat to learn whether they are losing litres of water every week without knowing. A few drops of food dye in the tank will reveal within a few minutes whether water is leaking from the tank into the bowl — a leak that can amount to 28 bathtubs worth of water every month. These leaks are simple to fix and doing so will cut the water bill significantly.

Low flow showerheads and faucets in new homes, however, are not always as efficient as they could be. Lubyk recommends a showerhead that has a maximum flow rate of 1.5 to 2 gallons per minute, adding that some new homes feature showerheads that can technically still be labelled “low flow” at 2.5 gallons of water per minute.
When it comes to the actions we take, simple tips such as turning off the tap while we brush our teeth or shave, and taking showers instead of bathing (if you install that super lowflow showerhead, the shower doesn’t even need to be shorter).

In the kitchen, conserving boils down to mainly our practices, including choosing the dishwasher over the sink (and filling it before running), keeping a jug of water in the fridge instead of running the tap for cold water, and composting instead of using the garburator.

And outside, two main changes can save a lot — leave the grass three inches long so that roots are shaded and need less water, and install rain barrels to catch water for the garden and flower beds.

If you only make one change in your home, the evidence is clear. The best thing you can do is switch from unmetered to metered water. Lubyk explains that the water bill for a household often drops by up to one third after the water meter is installed.

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