Americans are using less water in their homes like never before, according to a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report released this month.
In per capita terms, domestic water use has dropped significantly from 112 gallons used per day in 1980 to just 82 gallons used in 2015. This drop represents a 27 percent reduction of water usage. In tangible terms, that means that in 2015 the average American is using 30 gallon-sized milk jugs of water less – each and every day – than someone would have used thirty five years previously. That is a lot of water conserved on an individual level and even more so – actually a half a ton of water – that is saved for a household with an average of four people.
For the study, the USGS considered domestic water use to include all use of water in and around the home. These usages in the home, for example, include water used for food preparation, bathing, cleaning, flushing the toilet, and washing clothes. Outside the home, some common activities using water are gardening, landscaping, washing the car, and maintaining swimming pools.
According to the Environmental Protections Agency (EPA), the majority of water gets used inside the home, about 70 percent, while the rest is used outside. Of course, the numbers vary depending on the area of the country and at the state level. Households in dry regions, for instance, spend much more water on maintaining the lawn and garden, compared to households in regions where rain and precipitation is much more prevalent.
The massive reduction in water consumption over the years by Americans can be attributed to many factors. The USGS report sites the enactment of federal policy interventions with significantly reducing the amount of water used for domestic activities. For example, the National Energy Policy Act of 1992 established new standards for toilets, bathroom faucets and shower heads. In 2005, the bill was expanded to include standards for other appliances like dishwashers and washing machines.
In practical terms, this policy meant that manufacturing companies producing water using appliances had to figure out how to get the maximum use out of the least amount of water, forcing the industry to become much more efficient. In turn, much less water is needed nowadays for the same tasks.
For example, more than 47% of water use in the average American home occurs in the bathroom, with nearly 24% being literally flushed down the toilet. Newer more efficient toilets do the same job as older inefficient toilets but use much less water. Older model toilets can use 3.5, 5, or even up to 7 gallons per flush. New toilets must have a Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme star rating to show how water-efficient they are with the more stars indicating higher efficiency. In America, federal plumbing standards now specify that new toilets can only use up to 1.6 gallons per flush, and very high efficiency toilets use only up to 1.28 gallons per flush.
As such, a typical household can significantly curb its toilet water usage by installing new toilets with flushing systems that are more efficient, as well as checking for leaks and retrofitting older toilets that can not be replaced.
If the prices for water use do increase as some speculate will happen, it’s a good thing that there are increasingly more ways to use water more efficiently. While installing a new high efficient toilet, for example, could cost between $100 – $400, the toilet will pay for itself in six months to five years, depending on various other factors, in the amount of water it saves the household. Multiply this saving across all water using appliances and it is easier than ever both to conserve water and save money.
Yet, the data is not all positive. While the average per capita home water use in America has declined over the years, it is still much higher than in other comparable countries. For example, In the United Kingdom only 37 gallons of water are used per day and in Germany, even less, at just 32 gallons per person per day. The reason can partly be explained by the cost of water in the United States; water is very cheap compared to other countries, which has led some authorities to call for increasing the price on water as another conservation technqiue to encourage and incentizize conservation of water in America. Whether that will be done or not, remains to be seen.
How much water toilets use per flush
Toilets use a lot of water and the water we flush away is usually valuable tap water. Switching to a more water-efficient toilet will make a big difference to your household’s water use and will help protect our future water supplies.