Simple strategies can cut water use and save money

From faulty flappers to sunken sprinklers, how small things can add to your water bill.

May 8, 2020 | By: Jay Adams

COVID-19 has caused economic hardships throughout our community, that’s why Denver Water wants to remind customers that making changes to your indoor and outdoor water use can help save money.

“The best way to save money on your water bill is to become more efficient at using water,” said Jeff Tejral, water efficiency manager at Denver Water.

Denver Water and the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program have several resources available to help save water and money.

From fixing leaks inside and outside to turning off the water when brushing your teeth, some of the following water-saving ideas are free or inexpensive and can be done quickly. Others, like revamping your landscape or replacing appliances, may require a more long-term approach.

Drips from a leaky faucet waste water.

Ten drips every minute from a leaky faucet wastes nearly 300 gallons of water every year according to EPA WaterSense. Photo credit: iStock.

Fixing leaks indoors

Across the U.S., Americans waste about 1 trillion gallons of water every year through water leaks and spend about 10% of their water bill on wasted water, according to the EPA.

“If you’ve got a leak, you are spending money on water that you’re not even using,” Tejral said. “Leaking toilets are often the biggest culprits for water waste. Some leaks are almost undetectable, while others are easy to spot.”

The biggest cause of toilet leaks are worn-out flappers. These are the rubber parts that seal off the tank from the bowl. Over time, the flappers decay and allow water to slowly leak into the bowl.

This toilet has a small, almost undetectable leak through its pink, circular flapper on the bottom of the tank. Some leaks can be detected by listening to hear if water is coming into the tank after it’s done filling. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

Another common cause of leaks is a float arm that is not set properly, causing water to constantly flow down the overflow/refill tube.

The EPA reports that an average leaking toilet can waste about 200 gallons of water every day.

For Denver Water customers, a leak of 200 gallons per day can add around $415 per year on your water bill.

Here’s how to check if your toilet is leaking.

Listen to hear if the toilet continues to run after a flush. Or, drop dye tabs or a few drops of food coloring into the toilet tank. If there is a leak, color will show up in the bowl after a few minutes depending on the size of the leak. Just make sure to flush after the test to prevent stains.

Fixing flappers and float arms are relatively simple and inexpensive repairs. Replacement parts can be found at hardware and home improvement stores and there are many resources online to help guide you through the fix.

Placing a few drops of food coloring in a toilet’s tank will leak into the bowl if there is a leak in the flapper. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

In addition to checking toilets for leaks, Tejral also suggests inspecting all water sources in your home, including faucets, showers, and water supply lines for dishwashers, washing machines, swamp coolers and ice machines.

Denver Water has tips for conducting a self-audit of your home’s plumbing on its website.

And remember, small leaks can add up over time. A leak of 10 drops per minute can waste 300 gallons of water per year.

Not only can these leaks again add to your water bill, they can damage your home.

Fixing leaks outdoors

Spring is a great time to inspect your irrigation system and outdoor hoses for leaks as you turn the system on in preparation for the summer irrigation season. Be sure to wait until it warms up to turn on the system, the last freeze in the metro area is typically around May 4, according to the National Weather Service.

Inspecting your sprinkler throughout the watering season is a good way to spot problems. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

Outdoor water leaks can be found in sprinkler heads, pvc pipes, backflow preventers, irrigation system valves, sprinkler heads and drip systems. Not only do leaks raise your water bill, they lower the performance of your entire sprinkler system.

Let’s run the math on how leaks can hit you in the wallet.

Irrigation system experts say it’s not uncommon for a sprinkler zone to leak one gallon per minute. If you run that zone for 18 minutes, three times per week, that’s 216 wasted gallons of water per month and roughly an additional $1.22 on your Denver Water bill.

If there are similar leaks on multiple sprinkler zones in your yard, and those leaks continue all summer and over many years, that’s a lot of wasted water that adds onto your utility bill.

And if you use a manual sprinkler, remember to check your hose connections for leaks too.

Wet areas around sprinklers can be a sign of a leak in a supply line or connection underground. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

Watering rules can save you money

The EPA reports that 50% of water put on lawns nationwide is lost due to wind, evaporation and runoff caused by inefficient irrigation methods.

That’s why following Denver Water’s rules for outdoor water use can help save money on your water bill.

“The summer watering rules are in effect from May 1 through Oct. 1. They can really help customers save money by encouraging them to water efficiently,” Tejral said. “We see a lot of inefficiencies with sprinkler systems and small problems that can add up.”

One basic rule is to water between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m. This avoids watering in the heat of the day when water can be lost to evaporation before it ever lands on the grass.

It is also best to avoid watering when it’s windy, so water doesn’t blow off your yard.

Also, check to make sure sprinklers are not aiming onto the street, driveway or sidewalk.

Homeowners should also check the weather forecast and look for rainy days when they can skip irrigating and let your lawn soak up Mother Nature’s rain.

Check to make sure your sprinklers aren’t accidentally watering the sidewalk or street. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

Setting the control clock

The watering rules can help your lawn by providing guidelines for how long to run sprinkler zones based on various types of sprinklers. Denver Water recommends watering only two or three days per week.

Tejral reminds homeowners to check their irrigation system’s control clock throughout the watering season, avoiding the “set it and forget it” approach.

Common problems with control clocks include sprinklers going off in the middle of the day, zones not running for an appropriate length of time and run times that are not adjusted during the watering season as weather conditions change.

Properly programming your irrigation control system will improve the efficiency of your sprinklers and improve the health of your yard. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

“Understanding your control system is one of the most important things you can do to make sure you are watering efficiently and not wasting water,” Tejral said.

Tejral also recommends setting controllers to “cycle and soak.”

This means splitting the total run time for each sprinkler zone in half. For example, instead of running each zone for 18 minutes all at once, run each zone for nine minutes and then wait a bit before running the same zone for another nine minutes.

“Cycle and soak practices give the ground more time to absorb water like a sponge,” Tejral said. “If the sponge is full, it can’t absorb any more water. The ground works the same way.”

When customers do not follow these guidelines, they often think using more water is the best way to get a greener yard. But that often adds to the bill and does not help the grass.

“Cycle and soak” is a watering technique used to break up sprinkler run times to give water time to soak into the ground. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

Another tip is to monitor each sprinkler zone because some zones need less water than others.

For example, grass in a backyard that has several trees will need less water than grass in a front yard with no trees that is in the full sun all day.

The watering rules also provide guidance for adjusting sprinkler zone run times throughout the watering season. Less water is needed in May and September, when the weather is cooler, than in June, July and August, when the weather is warmer.

Avoid overwatering

A common mistake that leads to higher water bills is overwatering the yard when brown spots or dry areas appear.

“Often, homeowners see brown spots and immediately think they need to run their sprinklers longer, when in fact the brown spots could be due to a variety of problems,” Tejral said.

Sprinkler-related reasons for brown spots include heads that have sunk into the ground, broken heads, sprinklers that are not aimed properly, water pressure issues and poor coverage. Doing a visual inspection when the sprinklers are running is a good way to spot problems.

Some problems can be easily fixed.

Note the leak on the sprinkler after it’s hit by a lawnmower. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

“Plastic sprinklers can crack in the winter and break easily in the summer if they’re hit by lawnmowers or stepped on, so it’s important to check them throughout the summer,” Tejral said.

A comprehensive approach to checking how much area your sprinklers are reaching is to do a catch can test.

This involves spreading cups across each sprinkler zone to see if water from the sprinklers is dispersing evenly and reaching target areas.

Tejral says if you are a customer with a water bill that is over $200 per month during the irrigation season or if you are considering installing or retrofitting your irrigation system, you may benefit from hiring a professional who has earned their Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper certification.

Landscape and irrigation professionals take part in Qualified Water Efficiency Landscaper certification training at Castle Rock Water in February 2020. Photo credit: South Metro Water Supply Authority.

 

A list of certified landscape and irrigation experts can be found on the QWEL website. The experts provide a number of services including sprinkler system audits, water efficient irrigation system designs, water-saving landscape designs and installation. Services are provided for residential and commercial customers.

“A QWEL certified professional may cost money up front, but the savings will add up over time,” Tejral said. “A water efficient landscape will also hold up better in times of drought.”

WaterSense also provides links to qualified professionals.

Landscape change

Changing the kind of lawn and landscape you have in your yard also can reduce water use.

If you want a different look for your yard, consider different types of turf grass or other landscape changes.

“Kentucky bluegrass requires more water,” Tejral said. “Homeowners who like the look of grass but are open to something different can look at buffalo grass, blue gramma and fescue.”

Tejral said it is a good idea to evaluate your outdoor living needs every year and determine if grass is the best fit.

Hardscapes, patios, vegetable gardens and shrubs may be more practical and require less water than grass.

The owners of this home in Denver created a diverse backyard with with a mixture of grass, shrubs and patio space. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

Rebates

Denver Water offers rebates for customers interested in reducing water use indoors and out.

Rebates are available for some high-efficiency toilets, smart irrigation controllers and high-efficiency sprinkler heads. Be sure to check the Denver Water website for details about which models qualify for rebates.

High-efficiency rotary spray heads deliver water at a slower rate to give water more time to soak into the ground. They also provide a stream of water that is more likely to fall to the ground compared to a spray head that sends out a mist of water that can be swept away by the slightest wind.

High-efficiency sprinklers deliver water in streams and at a slower rate than fixed-spray head nozzles. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

Replace old fixtures and appliances

While many water-saving fixes are free or relatively inexpensive to do, the EPA says the average family can save 13,000 gallons of water annually by investing a bit more to save money down the road.

When buying new appliances and fixtures, purchase products that carry an Energy Star or WaterSense label, an indication that the product uses less energy or water compared to products that don’t carry those labels.

This includes washing machines, dishwashers, showerheads, faucets, toilets, irrigation controllers, sprinkler parts and more.

Installing WaterSense fixtures reduces water consumption and saves money on water bills. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

High-efficiency shower heads use about 1.75 gallons per minute compared to older ones that use 2.5 gallons per minute.

Replacing an older washing machine with an Energy Star model can save 30 gallons to 40 gallons per load.

Newer dishwashers can save 3,870 gallons of water annually.

Replacing faucet aerators is an easy way to save water at home. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

Replacing faucet aerators is another way to save money and water.

New aerators for bathroom sinks dispense just half a gallon of water per minute compared to older ones that use around 1 gallon to 1.5 gallons per minute.

The TAVA Waters community in southeast Denver shows how advancements in technology allow water efficiency products to save money and water without loss of performance.

Crews from Ecosystems install 2,500 high-efficiency toilets at the Tava Waters community in Denver in 2017. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

Other easy changes

There are other simple actions that don’t cost anything to do but will save money on your water bill.

These include taking shorter showers and turning off the water when brushing teeth.

Running dishwashers and washing machines when they are full is another way to save water.

You can also use a spray nozzle with a shut-off handle when washing the car or cleaning windows and patios.

Directing downspouts to landscapes is another way to help plants without increasing water consumption.

Even small amounts of extra rainwater add up over a season and can help keep trees and shrubs healthy. Just make sure the water drains toward the landscape and not toward the home’s foundation.

Aiming downspouts away from the house and onto landscapes is a good way to take advantage of rain and snowmelt. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

Another free tip to improve your lawn’s health is to make sure you don’t mow the grass too low.

Lawn experts at Colorado State University’s Extension office recommend keeping your grass height at 2.5 to 3 inches to make it more resistant to heat, drought and insects.

And remember to cover up your pool or spa when not in use, this prevents water loss due to evaporation.

Billing

Denver Water encourages customers to review their monthly water bills. Unusually high bills could indicate a leak.

Customers should also watch their email for Denver Water’s summer watering efficiency reports.

The monthly report, sent June through October, shows if you are using water efficiently. If you want this report, make sure your Denver Water account is updated with your email or call Customer Care at 303-893-2444 to sign up.

Denver Water sends out water efficiency reports to customers during the summer watering season. Image credit: Denver Water.

 

Develop a plan

While there are a wide range of ideas, Tejral said it’s perfectly OK to start small, or to make a plan that takes on manageable changes that will help save water in your home and landscape.

The key to saving money, watering efficiently and having a healthy landscape is to develop a plan either by yourself or with a professional. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

“Many of these ideas save small amounts of water, but when you combine them, it can add up and result in significant savings,” Tejral said. “The good news is that saving water at home not only helps lower water bills, it also creates healthier lawns while reducing the impact on rivers and streams in the mountains where we collect our water.”

For this story, the cost of water lost through leaks is based on $5.69 per 1,000 gallons, the average cost of water for Denver Water residential customers, both those inside and outside the city. The amount of money saved by changes suggested in this story are general amounts, as individual monthly bills include a range of factors that were not part of the calculations in this story.

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