Water saving home guide

Making your home water-efficient needn’t cost a fortune. You can do a lot with a few dollars, and even more with a few hundred.
 
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01 .Why save water?

Piggy bank floating in water

While we may have experienced plenty of rain during the summer just past, there are still plenty of environmental and cost advantages to saving water.

And despite a decrease in household water use over the last few years, a combination of population growth and climate change almost guarantees that water availability isn’t going to improve if we maintain our current patterns of use.

But there is hope. Some water experts say that by reducing water use by 50 litres per person per day, we could delay or completely avoid the need for new water provision infrastructure (for example, new dams or desalination plants), and even lift restrictions.  

If you're keen to help, there are plenty of steps you can take at home. In this report we explain how to limit your household's water use:

In the bathroom 

  • Toilet
  • Shower
  • Taps

In the kitchen

  • Dishwashers
  • Washing up by hand 

In the laundry

  • Washing machines

Be sure to check out our review articles on how to save more water, such as our buying guide on rainwater tanks.
 
 

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The shower

It’s easy to save water in the shower by making a few simple changes: ripple buckets

  • cut your shower time to four minutes or less
  • get a water-saving showerhead
  • install an easy on/off switch.

Water-saving showerheads

CHOICE had the Page family test eight showerheads costing $36 to $263. They weren’t told the showerheads were water-efficient. See our  Water-efficient showerheads report for the preferred models.

Note: instantaneous hot water systems (and some gravity-fed systems) may not have a sufficient flowrate for these showerheads to work properly. Check with the retailer to see if your system is suitable.

Flow restrictors

If you don’t want to change your showerhead for decor reasons, you can install a flow restrictor. Even getting a shower timer can help reduce the amount of time spent showering by making you more aware of how long you’re taking: the average shower is about seven minutes, but it doesn’t have to take that long to soap up and rinse off.

On/off switch

The Every Drop Shower Saver is an example of a on/off switch. It's a lever that you can install at the base of your shower stem, allowing you to stop and start the flow of water quickly and easily. The idea is that you can stop the shower running while you’re soaping up, shampooing or shaving, and then turn the water back on to rinse when you’re ready. The manufacturer's reasoning is since soaping takes more time than rinsing, you could save about half your normal shower water with the paddle-shaped device.

It costs $78 (plus postage and handling) and can be purchased from the company’s website. It doesn’t suit all showers, so check yours is compatible before you buy.

Of course, if your shower is simple to turn off your hands might take the place of this device - saving you the costs associated with purchasing one.

Quench shower

If you’re renovating your bathroom, you might consider installing a Quench shower. After you’ve soaped up and rinsed off, 4L of clean water is recirculated through the system for as long as you care to stand there. Quench showers retail from $2995. See Quench showers for more information. 

Top tips for showers

  • While waiting for the shower water to warm up, save the cold water in a bucket and use it for the garden, pot plants, laundry soaking, washing your hands or even flushing the toilet. Thelady holding razor in shower Ripple bucket is handy because it folds up for you to store out of the way. You can also use it to scoop water out of the bath and onto the garden. A pack of two (a 6L and a 9L bucket) costs $14.95.
  • Shaving your legs in the shower adds about four minutes to your shower — that’s 36L with a water-efficient shower head. Consider waterless hair removal, such as waxing or an epilator or lather up and shave your legs with the shower water off before rinsing. See our test of hair-removal products to pick the best option for you.
  • Take the No Shampoo Challenge. A few years ago, ABC radio personality and newspaper columnist Richard Glover set out to discover whether he could live without shampoo, thereby allowing the natural oils in his hair to regain their balance and give him lovely fluffy hair. Hundreds of listeners joined him in the challenge, using only warm water to vigorously rinse their hair as necessary. At the end of the six-week trial, 86% decided their hair was great. How long do you spend shampooing your hair, rinsing it out, then putting conditioner in and rinsing that out? Two minutes? Three minutes? Five minutes? By taking the No Shampoo Challenge you could save time, water and the money you’d spend on shampoo.

Top tips for taps

  • 11,000 litres water drop logoInstall water-efficient taps, known as aerators, which give the feel of a high flowrate with only half the water. They're simply screwed onto the end of a tap and reduce the flowrate while aerating the water.
  • Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth. It seems so obvious, but many people still leave the water running, wasting at least 5L per minute. That’s around 11,000L per person per year.

The toilet

Replacing your whole toilet may not be worthwhile unless you’re renovating the bathroom. But if you are going to install a new toilet, make sure you get a modern 6/3L (or 4.5/3L) dual-flush cistern and pan.

If you have an old-style single-flush toilet, you can fit it with a 9/4.5L dual-flush cistern. Cisterns for 6/3L flushes can't be fitted to an existing 12L pan — they require one that's specifically designed for lower flush volumes.

If replacing your cistern isn’t an option, you could install a device to stop the toilet flushing when you take your finger off the button. This means you hold it down only for as long as it takes to flush the contents of the bowl away, saving any unnecessary flush water. They cost as little as $10 and can be installed by the home handyperson.

If you’re not very handy or you’re renting, you could just use the old ‘brick in the cistern’ trick: put a brick (or a plastic bottle full of water) in the cistern and you’ll use less water for each flush.

The Caroma Profile toilet has an integrated handbasin. Water flows from the tap when you flush the toilet, giving you enough time to wash your hands, then drains into the cistern ready for the next flush. It saves not only water but space — great for when the toilet is separate from the main bathroom. However, as the tap’s only activated when you flush, it doesn’t fully replace a bathroom vanity.

It costs $500 plus installation, and should be available later this year. Visit Caroma for more details.

Washing the dishes

Dishwashers these days generally use a lot less water than they used to — even less than washing dishes by hand in the sink. The average water consumption for the 50 machines CHOICE tested recently was 13.6L. Conservative estimates of hand washing show at least 20L is used. Less conservative scenarios go as high as 90L (presumably involving lots of running water being wasted).

If you’re in the market for a new model, check out the water efficiency of models in our most recent Dishwashers reviews and consider our Buying guide before making your next purchase.

Top tips for dishwashersSponge and dishes

  • You can save water by not rinsing plates before putting them in the dishwasher. CHOICE tests each dishwasher’s washing performance by getting it to wash a load of dishes and cutlery coated with food that’s been left to dry on overnight.
  • As most machines now effectively get these clean on a ‘normal’ program, there’s no need to waste water by rinsing plates before you stack — just scrape the food scraps off first.
  • If you do pre-rinse (because you don’t run the machine every day), try using the dishwasher on its ‘fast’ program, which uses less water. You’re likely to find it washes just as well.

Top tips for handwashing dishes

  • Rinsing dishes under a running tap isn’t necessary and wastes a lot of water. To rinse drinking glasses, wash them first while the sink is still filling and rinse them under the hot running water. When you’ve finished washing up, tip a pot of rinse water over the plates and cutlery as they stand in the dish drainer.

Hot water recirculation

If you have taps a long way from the hot water system, chances are you waste a lot of water letting the cold water run through before it warms up.

A hot water recirculation system intercepts the cold water before it goes out the tap and pumps it through the cold water inlet into the hot water tank. So when you want hot water, you activate the system (by pushing a button), and once the thermostat detects that the water is warm enough, the pump switches off, you turn the tap on and hot water comes out. The pump uses very little energy, as it’s only on for those few seconds when you need it.

We came across models ranging from around $450 to $900 (plus installation). They’re more elegant (though a lot more expensive!) than using a bucket

Washing machines

Washing machine full of clothesFront loaders typically use a lot less water than top loaders. They can be more expensive, but you may be entitled to water retailer rebates. See our washing machines reviews for information on water efficiency of all models.

Some washing machines rate well for water efficiency at the expense of rinsing well. If you chose a washing machine for its water efficiency according to the WELS label, you might be disappointed when you use it.

Luckily CHOICE comes to your rescue by testing the machines for rinse performance too. The models in the What to buy lists score well for both water efficiency and rinse performance.

Reusing washing machine water

We commissioned a chemical analysis of laundry detergents to determine their suitability for use on the lawn or garden in greywater from your washing machine.

The ones that got clothes cleanest were generally too high in sodium, salinity and pH (alkalinity) to be much good for your garden, especially over the long term. And unfortunately most of those safest for the garden didn’t wash clothes very clean.

So don’t use the wash water on your garden, just the rinse water, as the worst of it will have gone down the drain. And spread the water over a wide area, keeping it off your herbs and vegies, and your garden should be fine. See our report on Laundry detergents for more information. 

Washer/dryers

Combined washer/dryers may seem a great idea, especially if you’re pushed for space, but they use a lot of water for drying, thanks to their condenser technology. Instead of turning the water in the clothes into hot, damp air, they condense the steam back to water and send the lot down the drain — using a lot of water to do so.

The LG Combined Steam Washer and Dryer review, published in August 2007, used 107L to wash 9kg, and 74L to dry 5 kg (it can’t dry a full wash load in one hit).

A front loader with a normal dryer on top is just as space-saving, almost certainly more water-efficient and probably cheaper, but you need to be able to vent the hot, damp air from the dryer out of your laundry.

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