Our top 10 tips for saving water at home

The roll-out of water meters around the country is putting the focus on the looming charges, due next year. John Hearne offers tips for saving both water and money

DESPITE ongoing resistance, the water meter roll-out continues. Metering is already underway in Cork, Kildare, Kerry, Meath, Wexford, Dublin, Limerick and Mayo.

If you’re on the mains, you will get two weeks’ notice before the installers show up. They’ll also send you an information pack about the process ahead of time.

The good news is that you won’t be charged anything up-front for the installation.

The bad news is that the cost will be spread over a number of years, and is likely to appear as a standing charge on your water bill when the first of them issue in January 2015.

Industry sources say the average customer bill will be around €350 per year, but the rates and pricing structures for domestic customers have not actually been decided yet. One thing we do know, however, is that if you do get metered, what you pay will depend on what you use. As it stands, each of us consumes an average of around 150 litres of water per day. We could get away with a lot less.

Here are 10 ways of cutting down on water use.

* Fix your leaks.

Average household water use is estimated at 500 litres a day but a recent study by Galway City Council found that some homes are using as much as 61,000 litres. That’s 122 times more than they should be. This is not because some westerners spend their lives in the shower, it’s due to leaks. Research from Dublin City Council suggests that 6% of homes in the capital have leaky pipes, while Limerick City Council has also been alerting householders that their pipes need attention. Don’t pay for water you don’t use. Check your pipes and cisterns and fix any leaky taps.

* You don’t need fresh water from the tap for potted plants.

Use water left over from the nightstand, or what’s left after cleaning the vegetables. The same goes if you’re changing your pet’s water. In fact, think twice before pouring any water down the drain.

* Find out where your stopcock is and make sure you know how to turn off your water. This could save huge amounts of hassle and money when it comes to preventing frost damage. Keep an eye on water infrastructure and replace rusty or corroded fittings.

* Instead of letting the tap run cold before taking a drink, fill a jug of water and stick it in the fridge. And try to get out of the habit of cleaning vegetables under a running tap. Use a basin instead.

* Stop boiling a full kettle. Fill as much as you need and no more. You’ll also save on electricity costs if you don’t boil a pot when all you need is a cup.

* A washing machine on full load consumes 65 litres of water, while a dishwater uses around 20. Don’t turn them on unless they’re full.

* You can make the biggest impact on your bill with simple behavioural changes. The most obvious one is not to let the tap run while you’re shaving or brushing your teeth. This measure alone could save up to 7,000 litres of water per person per year.

Up to a third of all household water use goes down the toilet, most of it perfectly good drinking water. While many of us now have dual flush toilets, there are still many large old cisterns in use which flush away far more water than necessary. A displacement device is one way of dealing with this issue. The Hippo water saver is a specially-designed water bag which sits in the cistern and reduces the volume of water used in each flush by three litres. The bag is available online for around €2. Alternatively, a plastic bottle full of water does the same job.

* Are you really so dirty that you need to stand in the shower for 20 minutes? Getting out faster will save you a packet over the year, in both water and energy terms. It’s estimated that a regular shower will use 35 litres of water in five minutes, while a power shower will get through more than three and a half times that.

* You can reduce the amount of water you use in the kitchen and bathroom by installing flow restrictors and aerators. These little screw-in devices cut the flow of water from the tap, and can save energy by reducing hot water use. You can pick these up online for between €6 and €7. It’s also worthwhile installing a low flow shower head, which again offers substantial energy and water savings. These retail for under €20 at watersave.ie.

Saving water in the garden

* Hoses are huge water hogs. Your hose will spit out more water in an hour than an entire family will use in a full day. Use a bucket to clean the windows and wash the car. Similarly, if you must water the plants, use a watering can fitted with a sprinkler. And don’t power-hose the driveway, use a brush and shovel instead.

* Harvest rainwater with a water butt. This connects with the downpipe from your gutters and collects water which can then be used around the garden. Water butts have fallen substantially in price in recent years. Aldi currently offer a 210L butt kit for €39.99 while Woodie’s DIY offers a slimline 100L kit for the same price.

* Mulches made from bark, gravel and woodchips are an essential part of the garden’s water conservation strategy. For one thing they suppress weed growth, which means that any water used will get to your plants and not your weeds. In addition, mulches help prevent evaporation and are especially effective in flower beds and around shrubs. While you’re at it, only plant shrubs and plants that like our climate, and remember that established trees and shrubs typically don’t need watering.

* It’s not an issue at this time of year, but millions of litres of water went last summer on trying to keep lawns looking healthy. Dry weather rarely kills grass, so no matter how yellow it becomes, it will quickly regain its colour when the next shower arrives. It’s also a good idea to raise your lawnmower blades when the weather gets hot. This leaves more vegetation to withstand the heat and prevents unsightly scorching.

* Finally, enlist the children as water conservation police. There are loads of great online resources where they can learn how to reduce household water use, then use pester-power to make sure all of those no-cost behavioural changes happen. Check out taptips.ie for more info.

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