Water Use in Homes
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82% of homes in the U.S. have their own washing machines. And about 21% of an average Texas home's indoor water use is from this appliance. New efficient clothes washers can save over 71% of the water used by a machine sold only a few years ago.
Dishwashers did not appear in people's residences until after W.W. II. Today they are are in 2/3 of America's homes. Water use in the best machines made today has plummeted almost 90% from the wasteful models of the 1960s.
To save even more water on dish cleaning, run the machine as fully loaded as possible, or use the "Smartwash" function for lightly soiled dishes.
Toilets can use about 28% of an average Texas home's indoor water consumption. New efficient models can save about 2/3 of the water used in models sold prior to 1994. Given how long porcelain fixtures last, there are still many of these old units still in existence.
Faucets and showers can use about a third of an average Texas home's indoor water consumption. Low-flow showerheads, aerators, and new efficient WaterSense fixtures can save about 12% of this.
Almost 60% of all indoor water use in an average Texas home can be reused as gray water for irrigation of lawns and trees without health concerns. In a typical home, this can be over 45,000 gallons a year.
In a normal year, a Central Texas home with 2,500 square feet of roof can provide all of its indoor water needs for 3 or 4 people with rainwater. Appliances and pipes can last longer because they are not exposed to mineral sediment.
About 1/3 of Residential water consumption in Texas is used outdoors, most of it on lawns.
If starting a new lawn, choose drought-tolerant or native grasses. Put down at least 6 inches of soil, though the more the better. (18 inches is not out of the question.) And make sure you put down quality soil with organic matter that will supply nutrients and retain water.
For new and existing lawns, water grass as little as once every 5 days. This conserves water by forcing grass to form deeper roots. Consider using soaker hoses to saturate the ground and reduce water waste. And water during the evening or early morning instead of the heat of the day to reduce evaporation.
Don't water the trunk! Water the feeder roots, starting at 1/3 of the distance between the trunk and the canopy, up to 3 feet outside the canopy. Saturate to a depth of 6 to 8 inches, watering 40 to 90 minutes in one place at a time. Consider using a soaker hose to eliminate sprinkler losses. A mature 30-inch diameter tree only needs about 165 gallons a week. And water at night or early morning to limit evaporative losses.
With mulch, cover the feeder roots, not the trunk.
Did You Know?
- The best dishwasher on the market in 2019 saved 84% of the water used in the average unit sold in 1993, and 75% of the water compared to the minimum requirement for a unit sold in 2010, when the first federal standard took effect.
- The best dishwasher on the market in 2019 saved 57% of the energy compared to the minimum requirement for a unit sold in 2004, when the first federal standard took effect. Find the most water- and energy-efficient dishwashers at the Consortium for Energy Efficiency Web site.
- You can save even more water and energy on dishwashers by: 1) Running as fully loaded as possible; 2) Using the air-dry setting instead of the electric-heat dryer; 3) Using the Smartwash function for lightly soiled dishes; 4) Avoiding Sanitize and Superwash cycles when possible.
- The best clothes washer on the market in 2019 saved 71% of the water used in the average unit sold in 2010, when the first federal standard took effect. It saved 75% of the energy compared to the minimum requirement in 2004, when the first federal standard took effect. Find the most water- and energy-efficient clothes washers at the Consortium for Energy Efficiency Web site.
- The best toilet in 2019 saved 84 to 89% of the water used in toilets built before 1985. Since toilets are made of durable porcelain, some of these old units are unfortunately still in use today. Find the most water-efficient and effective toilets at the Maximum Peformance (MaP) Web site.
- About 1/3 of Residential water consumption in Texas is due to outdoor use. Texas has the most turf of any state in the Continental U.S., with as much as 5,100 square miles of grass in the year 2001 (4-1/2 times the area of Travis County). Roughly 180 square miles of this was in Austin. About 80% was irrigated.
Today’s water consuming appliances save huge amounts of water and energy compared to those sold in the 1980s and 90s. And by saving water, you are also saving on energy used for heating water.
The disease-preventing capabilities of modern sewage systems are fairly confusing without a historical perspective. This article notes how various civilizations have dealt with this problem over several thousand years. It then goes further and tells readers where they can buy the most water-efficient toilets, showerheads, and faucets.
America’s lawn covers an area larger than the state of Georgia. While different crops thrive in different climates, if America’s irrigated lawn area (59% of total lawn area) were concentrated in the Corn Belt, there would be enough land to feed 362 million people on a calorie basis. Reduced watering can be achieved by: types of grass and plants; amount and type of soil; amount, frequency, and type of water; and irrigation system delivery.
Want to know the best grasses in Central Texas for watering requirements, drought, cold, and pests? Analyze 20 popular grass species grown in this region in these specially prepared charts.
When faced with hard decisions in a drought, it is the better course to water trees and ignore turf. The best things you can do to get trees to survive through a drought and reduce water use in the process are using correct watering techniques, applying mulch, and adding nutrients to the soil to prevent stress and retain moisture.
In Central Texas, if you have a roof area of 2,500 square feet and a yearly average rainfall of 32 inches, you can collect most or all of the annual indoor needs of a water-conserving household of 3 to 4 people. Among the many benefits are: water supplies with few pollutants or treatment chemicals; elimination of scale in pipes and appliances (lengthening life and maintaining energy efficiency); and availability if emergencies curtail normal water service.
The flow of water across soapy hands, the splashy fun of a bubble bath, or clothing swishing back and forth in the washing machine; all of these are gray water. This water could nourish geraniums or flush the toilet, but instead we treat it like sewage.
Texas – Where the Water Runs Uphill
If there is a central message to this article, it is to point out the near-impossible task of providing for the water needs of Texas without either large increases in costs or creating a water-efficient economy. Exploding population, erratic climate, expensive and insufficient infrastructure, and prodigal lifestyles have created a situation where Texas can no longer provide for the insatiable thirst of all who come here.
Providing the water supply and infrastructure for the State of Texas is an immense undertaking. It is an area 269,000 square miles in size. The climate in much of the state is dry, or erratic, or unforgiving, or all three at once. Texas’ municipal water utilities have roughly 85,000 miles of mains and pipelines. Texas has 21.5 million acres of producing cropland, enough to provide food for 59 million people, about a quarter of which is irrigated.
There have been eight water plans issued by the Texas Water Development Board since 1961 when the process first started. As a general rule, the plans came extremely close in their predictions of population increases. There was never a prediction that was off by more than 10% from the U.S. Census, and some projections came within 2% of the Census numbers. However, they have usually overstated the water necessary to meet demand.
For today’s Texas, it’s urban vs. rural, region vs. region, state vs. state, and even international conflicts with Mexico. Under the surface, there is also the conflict of nature vs. people, when rivers and aquifers are deprived of the life blood of entire ecosystems.
Texans are privileged to reside in one of the most temperamental regions of the U.S. The state is blessed with hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts that can last years broken by torrential rainfalls, numerous lightning bursts, hail, debilitating heat, and even fierce blizzards in the northern part. These extremes have contributed to the character of the people, and by extension, the state’s history, in several major ways, including the massive infrastructure needed for its water and electric systems.
Water is a heavy, bulky, clumsy substance to transport to cities, agriculture, and industry. It has been estimated that electricity needed to transport and treat Texas municipal water supplies, and then transport and retreat municipal wastewater, is about 1.1% of total electric consumption. Nationwide, it is close to 4%.
Just like the theory of peak oil, where oil gets more expensive as it gets harder to find, peak water is confronting water planners. The truth is that most of Texas’ “easy water” has already been claimed, and future supplies will generally be more expensive, both economically and politically. They will also usually be more energy intensive.
It seems fitting to end this article with a set of predictions. Not all these prophesies are original. Several have been observed by water wonks and utility professionals long before this article was written. The predictions are, rather, stated as a group to outline the rugged path that Texas has ahead of it.
SBCA was founded in 1979 in response to community concerns about the impact of development on the Edwards Aquifer. Today, SBCA continues our commitment to conservation, advocacy, and education for the Edwards Aquifer, Barton Creek, and Barton Springs.