Drought Data: The Surprising Numbers Behind Household Water Use

So you think you’ve maxed out on the H2O you are able to save? A quick dive into the facts and figures might help you squeeze a few more drops out of your bill

By now everybody knows that the state has mandated cities to cut back on water use by 25 percent. And we’ve all given ourselves a collective pat on the back for meeting or exceeding those goals. (Well, not everybody: Wealthier areas tend to use more water, which might explain why Beverly Hills has cut its use by only 12 percent so far.) But what was an overall reduction of 31 percent in July slipped to 27 percent in August (the same savings we reached in June). Here, some random tips and figures to help you stay motivated and find additional ways to conserve.

➻ Still not turning off the faucet when you brush your teeth? According to Dr. Peter H. Gleick, president and cofounder of the Pacific Institute, you can save 1,170 gallons each year if you change your ways.

➻ According to the Environmental Protection Agency, American families wash close to 400 loads of laundry each year. Switching to a high-efficiency Energy Star front-loading washer (which averages 13 gallons per load) and doing away with your old top-loader (23 gallons) would save you 4,000 gallons annually.

➻ Washing dishes by hand might seem like the frugal option, but it’s complicated. Assuming that you wash dishes in the most wasteful way possible—leaving the water running the entire time—and that your faucet runs water at the standard rate (2.5 gallons per minute), you’d use 27 gallons of water, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. But you wouldn’t do that, would you? Some other stats to weigh:

  • Energy Star-qualified dishwashers use at most 4.25 gallons per cycle, saving 22.75 gallons per load when full.
  • A dishwasher that doesn’t qualify for an Energy Star rating might use up to 15 gallons per cycle, according to the NRDC. If full, one of these machines could still save 12 gallons per load over hand-washing.
  • Energy Star lists the average number of cycles annually as 215 per machine. Using a high-efficiency washer would save 4,891.25 gallons annually. An older, noncertified machine would save 2,580 gallons annually.

➻ There was a time when 1.6 gallons a flush was the standard for high-efficiency toilets. These days it’s 1.28 gallons. So assuming you flush as often as the average person—five times a day, according to the Water Research Foundation—an upgrade would save you close to 600 gallons a year. And what if you have an old toilet, one that isn’t high efficiency? You could save 4,380 gallons a year by upgrading. Rebates are still available from the DWP and other local utilities.

➻ If mustering the willpower to cut your showers short is proving difficult, consider this: According to a study done by the Berkeley Lab, the average person showers for eight minutes (clearly they haven’t studied teens) and takes 255.5 showers a year. Now for some math:

  • A standard showerhead pumps out 2.5 gallons per minute. So the average person with one of those uses 20 gallons per shower and 5,110 gallons per year.
  • A high-flow showerhead, like one of those rain showerheads, uses four gallons per minute—in other words, 32 gallons per shower and 8,176 gallons per year.
  • To earn the label “efficient” by WaterSense, a program similar to Energy Star that applies to water appliances like showers and toilets, a showerhead maxes out at 2 gallons per minute, or 4,088 gallons each year. So switching from a high-flow to an efficient showerhead would save 4,088 gallons annually.