How did it go? – reduce water use

With the end of 2019 come and gone, now is a good time to look back and see how I did with the goals I set myself a year ago.

I set out my 2019 goals here.  I’m going to review the goals one by one, in separate posts.

First off water use – how much (less?) did we use, what worked, what didn’t, and what next.

Our water is metered, and there are only two of us in our household.  The meter is read twice a year, February and September.  These readings feed into the bills we receive.  The bills helpfully include information about how much water we have used during the billing period, how that compares with the same billing period last year, and how it compares with national average water use (per person).

First things first

We are fortunate to own our own home, including a garden.   This means that we have control of our appliances and systems, and we have been able to install a water butt (now in fact two garden water butts; soon to be three).  Many many people are far less fortunate than us and have considerably less control over their usage.  Which seems to me all the more reason that those of us who do have that control, use it well.

In order to reduce what I use, I have to first assess what I’m using for what purposes.

A major use (waste?) of water is for toilet flushing.  While I’m not (yet?) suggesting that this should be completely avoided, it’s common knowledge that we can substantially reduce the amount of water flushed away.We have two toilets in the house, both dual flush.  I’m embarrassed to say until today I didn’t actually know how much water each of these flushes uses.  I had to look it up – its 6 litres and 3 litres.  So, clearly there are easy savings to be made by:

  • never use a full flush if it isn’t needed (ie if its only to flush away wee) – 3 litres saved every single time we use a half flush
  • not flushing every time we use the toilet – 3 litres every single time we don’t flush – my simple calculation is that if a household can avoid 6 half flushes a day, that works out to over 6,ooo litres of water saved in just a year.  The old adage: if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down works well
  • using rain water to flush when flushing is needed – this is potentially another big saver, particularly when a full flush is saved, and one I have experimented with this year

We have a bath (with shower over), and three wash basins.  Plus the kitchen sink.  We have a washing machine, and a dishwasher.

Despite having a mains tap in the garden, I never ever use it for garden watering – so far a combination of water butts and reusing water from hand washing clothes and dishes has been enough (that and an acceptance that at time some plants may not thrive).  In any event, this isn’t an issue during the winter months (though in some recent years I’ve been concerned to find that the water butts have been at a very low level unusually early in the year – adding more water butts will help deal with this).

What I did

I began the year by trying to save every last drop of water that could be reused.  Aware that each time I want hot water at the kitchen sink a lot of cold and cool water comes through first, I have for a long time collected the first lot of water in a bowl to use for watering the garden.  But I only use water in the garden during the hotter dryer weather (and frankly dry weather hasn’t been much in evidence recently).  So for much of the year, this water was being wasted.  I bought a pail with a lid (secondhand), which I keep under the wash basin downstairs.

I also began the year by collecting water used for hand-washing (post toilet use) in the downstairs cloakroom.  I bought a small basin (again, secondhand) to use for this, and poured the water into the pail after use.  This proved to be a complete faff, and probably not worth the effort, as I realised in April when thesnailofhappiness pointed it out and said that she uses rain water for this.

At which point the penny dropped, and I realised that I have lots and lots of rainwater in the garden butts that never gets used.  So around halfway through the year I began filling the pail once or twice a day from the butts (no shortage of rain for most of this year), using the water for flushing downstairs.

I was heartened to find that when the September bill came in, the volume of water used was appreciably reduced.  This time just 20 cubic metres (down from 23 the same period last year; down from 21 cubic metres the previous period).

So, summing up this year’s efforts, I have substantially reduced the amount of mains water flushed away in the toilets.  We already did all the obvious easy things, like only washing clothes when they really need it, always running the washing machine and dishwasher with full loads, not letting the taps run more than needed.  But the additional measures this year have resulted in reducing our mains water use still further.

I was pleased to be able to donate the financial saving to a charity that provides clean water  supplies for those who lack it.  For others, this could be a useful saving to reinvest in saving more water themselves in the future.

What next?

This one is definitely a keeper.  Plus I like a good bit of data, and I enjoy plotting our water use as the bills arrive twice a year.  Next one due in February, so that will be my next update.

I am certain that the minimal effort required is really worthwhile, so I will be continuing with it next year.  I will also be looking to see if there are other easy savings to be made.  My Christmas present wish list was a water butt (or two), and we’ll be looking out for and installing something suitable over the next few months (two because I want an additional one for the garden, plus one to fit on the greenhouse on the allotment).

Work is also ongoing to apply the learning from this exercise to my work with Bath City Farm, and we continue looking at ways to reduce our reliance on (and expenditure on) mains water there as well.





About deborah @ the magic jug

Now I've passed 60 I'm still doing all sorts of things I haven't done before, as well as carrying on with the things I already love. I live a happy life with my long term love Malcolm. In my blog I explore local and low tech ideas, food, growing, making, reading, thinking, walking, and lots of other words ending in 'ing'.
This entry was posted in 2019 goals, Climate change, Do what you can with what you have, Frugal, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to How did it go? – reduce water use

  1. Nella Logan says:

    Well done on reducing your water. We too have been collecting rainwater in barrels in the garden. We have 4 barrels which give us enough water for watering the garden and flushing two loos. It seems to me madness to use fresh, clean water to flush the loo if there is an alternative. People who cannot collect rainwater must follow your example and only flush when necessary


    • That’s really interesting. And I agree, the flush toilet may have been good for disease reduction, but it’s been a disaster for water use. I’m sure that there must be better ways for the future. But much harder to achieve for those who live in rented properties or flats. What I do find depressing is that we aren’t insisting on providing water harvesting on all new buildings.


  2. I’m so glad you saw a noticeable reduction by using rainwater… it is a really simple solution and so satisfying.


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