In a rental, or when you can’t afford to invest in greywater systems and rainwater tanks, there are still many things you can to do save water in your household. Our house, garden included, runs off a single large rainwater tank. No mains, no dam water. Last summer I came very close to running out, during an extra long dry season. I don’t know what the weather will do this year, so I’m playing it safe and continuing our water thriftiness all through summer.
I was so excited when my tank finally filled up in early summer! Watching the water level drop down to the ground last summer in my concrete water tank (I marked the water levels on the outside wall in chalk) was sobering and provided sufficient motivation for a dramatic reduction in water usage.
How to save water without installing special systems: you’re going to need a lot of buckets!
Save all your laundry water. Hook the washing machine hose onto a bucket in the laundry sink. Switch buckets while the water drains out (I press the pause button on the washing machine while I slip an empty bucket under the hose). Mine fills about 6 buckets on a short cycle. Tip the water into the toilet cistern or onto the garden or lawn. Use greywater-friendly detergents, and rotate the areas that receive it to minimise salt build-up. If you use it straight away, the bacteria will not grow in the water. If you leave the buckets standing around, they might start to smell, bubble or grow cloudy or stringy. It’s very obvious when there’s bacterial action happening. Then I tip mine onto ornamental areas, or lawn where kids won’t be playing, or the compost heap. Wash hands after handling scummy water. To avoid bacterial growth, just use the water immediately.
Flush the toilet less. The toilet was our highest water use last summer. It’s not a modern low-flush one, and it uses a lot of good drinking water when it’s connected to the mains. Ours also leaks, which makes the electric water pump run every half hour day and night. I turned the intake tap off behind the toilet bowel. I have been bucketing water into the cistern for the last year, from either the laundry or bath water.
We’ve been following ‘if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down.’ I also encourage my boy to wee outside, preferably on the compost heap or the passionfruit vine (lemon trees also love the high nitrogen in urine). If you’re not comfortable weeing outside, collect it in a bucket and dilute with water (about 90% water) before tipping it onto hungry plants.
Or half fill a bucket with sawdust and wee into that, before adding it to the compost heap where it will quickly break down. The sawdust absorbs the liquid and reduces odour, as well as providing bulk and carbon to balance with the moisture and nitrogen in the wee.
You can also build your own indoor composting toilet, which can handle both wee and poo. I know this might be a challenging idea, but it can be worth the water savings and produces bonus fertiliser. You will still need a garden to use these ideas.
Wash less, or wash elsewhere. Go to the beach, swim in a river or dam. Last summer when our water tank was almost empty, we sometimes showered at the surf club in town. This doesn’t use less water than showering at home, but it got us through a tight spot. We also saved every bath and shower by plugging the bath underneath, and bucketing it into the toilet or onto the garden. Catch the cold water from the hot tap before your shower in a bucket. Hang your clothes to air and wear another day, instead of washing every time. Wash the car less, or use greywater or dam water (especially for the first rinse), and use buckets instead of the hose.
Save all your handwashing and vegetable rinsing water in a tub and bucket it onto plants outside. Wash up in a tub instead of the sink and throw it onto the garden afterwards. Give really dirty dishes a pre-rinse in saved water, or wipe them on grass in the garden first. If you use a dishwasher, find out how many litres it uses and compare that to handwashing. Make sure it’s full when you run it.
In the garden, the best way to keep plants watered is to build wicking beds or adapt the idea to pots. You can make all sorts of designs, but the simplest is to sit a pot in a shallow container of water. This catches all the water you pour into the pot, and it will slowly wick up the soil so the roots never dry out. These containers are cut from recycled 5 litre water containers that I picked up at the tip. You can easily add liquid fertiliser to these, but make sure it’s weak because anything too strong is stuck there without being washed through. For in-ground garden beds, group plants according to water usage and mulch all your beds well. Form depressions around plants to help the water sink in.
Coming soon: 5 ways to have a 5 litre shower!