Ojai needs to conserve water now more than ever, so don’t let a little rain convince you otherwise. As we move deeper into the rainy season and start getting a few showers here and there, it might be tempting to ease up on your water conservation efforts and enjoy just a few extra minutes in a hot shower or run your sprinklers an extra day to try to keep your lawn green. But all you need to do is take a drive out by Lake Casitas to be reminded that every drop counts.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), American families use an average of 300 gallons of water at home every day. Nationwide, about 70 percent of residential water use occurs inside the home and about 30 percent is used outdoors.
Ojaians have really come together on this issue and most of us have taken steps to significantly reduce our water use. Unfortunately, we all know that we are beyond the point where installing low-flow showerheads or turning off the water when we brush our teeth is going to save us. Therefore, we can not slack off as we head into winter and hope for rain.
To help you keep conserving water throughout the year, here are 11 ways you can save water in winter.
11 Ways to Save Water in Winter
1. Check for water leaks regularly and fix them quickly.
Even a small leak can waste a huge amount of water. Toilets are the most common source of indoor water leaks, so start here if you think you may have a leak. You also should not ignore dripping faucets and showerheads, since one drip per second wastes five gallons every day that you do not get that leak fixed.
For most homes here, the most common source of outdoor water leaks is automatic irrigation systems. It can be difficult to know if you have a small leak in a drip system, so you will need to check your lines, emitters and sprinklers regularly, while also keeping an eye out for any areas that look wetter than they should be. If you have gardeners, ask them to add checking your drip system or sprinkler system to their regular tasks. This can help detect leaks faster so that you can repair them quickly.
If you think you might have a leak and you know where your water meter is, you can confirm your suspicions by making sure all of the water is turned off on your property, and then looking at the meter. If your meter is moving while the water is turned off, you have a leak.
To make it even easier to stay on top of leaks, install a water monitoring system, which will watch your water meter for you and alert you to leaks.
2. Fix leaking swimming pools.
Swimming pools lose water to evaporation every day and need to be refilled at least a couple of inches every week. Because of this, it can be difficult to determine if your pool is leaking. Now, if you are adding several inches of water each week and it is not the middle of a scorching summer, you can be pretty sure you have a leak and should call a professional out for testing. But, if you are losing between two and four inches per week, it is more difficult to determine if the water loss is just from evaporation and your kids splashing around or if it is from leakage.
Before you pay a professional to test your pool for leaks, you can perform your own test with a bucket, a permanent marker, and a tape measure or ruler. Take a five-gallon bucket and fill it almost to the top with water from the pool. Set the bucket on one of the steps leading into your pool so that it is partially submerged. Use your permanent marker to mark the level of the water inside your bucket and to mark the level of the water on the outside of the bucket. Make sure no one uses the pool during the test, since that could disturb your bucket of water or cause excess water to leave the pool through splashing.
Make sure you leave your bucket out for at least one full day before you check the water levels. When you return to see how much water you have lost, use your tape measure or ruler to measure the distance between the water level you marked on the bucket the day before and where the water level is now. If the two water levels dropped the same amount, then your water loss is likely from evaporation. If the water level on the outside of the bucket has dropped more than the water level inside the bucket has, it is time to call a leak detection company to assess the situation.
Winter is the perfect time to address pool leaks, since you likely are not using your pool as much anyways, so it will not be as much of an inconvenience to have it out of commission during the repair.
3. Cover your pool.
Since we know that swimming pools generally lose between one-quarter and one-half inch of water to evaporation every day, it makes sense that anything we can do to reduce this water loss is a good idea.
You will probably not be using your pool quite as much during the winter months, so – even if you do not cover it in the summer (which you should) – you can more conveniently keep it covered in between uses in the winter. Just making this one change could help you save thousands of gallons of water every year.
4. Insulate your pipes.
Pipe insulation is generally associated with colder parts of the country, but it is still a good idea to insulate exposed pipes even in areas where pipes bursting from freezing temperatures is not a common occurrence. Frozen pipes that burst are obviously big water wasters, so if there is any chance of your pipes freezing in winter, you should insulate them as part of your water-saving efforts.
To save water throughout the year, insulate your hot water pipes. You know how you turn the faucet on in your shower and watch the water run down the drain while you wait for it to get warm enough to step in? Insulating your hot water pipes can shorten the amount of time water is being wasted while you wait for it to warm up.
This will make more of a difference in the winter, but it can help you conserve water all year by getting hot water to your faucets faster.
5. Keep buckets on hand.
Another way to save water while waiting for your shower to warm up is to use a bucket or two to catch the cold water during your wait. You can then use this water to flush your toilet or irrigate landscaping. Keeping a shallow tub or bowl in your kitchen sink allows you to save even more water by capturing the water you use to wash fruits and vegetables.
Of course, you can do these two water-saving tricks throughout the year, but, to save even more water in winter, you can take all of your buckets outside whenever the forecast calls for rain.
6. Set plants outside when rain is expected.
Your houseplants may not be able to live outside during the winter, since they are accustomed to the cozy temperature inside, but you can set them out to be irrigated by Mother Nature when rain is in the forecast.
Rainwater is untreated, slightly acidic and naturally soft. Most plants prefer it to tap water, and watering your plants with rainwater is an easy way to conserve water during winter and spring when we get the majority of our annual rain.
So, if rain is coming our way and is not expected to be a heavy storm that could damage your plants, set out your houseplants and any outdoor plants that are under cover but easily moveable.
7. Open your compost bin when rain is coming.
This one is not going to save a ton of water, but every drop counts, so it is still worth doing. If your compost bin is too dry, it will take longer for your kitchen scraps and yard clippings to turn into usable compost. So, if your compost pile is a bit on the dry side, uncover it before the next rain to let it get some much-needed moisture that didn’t have to come from your garden hose.
Since you do not want your compost bin to stay too wet for too long (to avoid unwanted smells), you probably will not need to do this every time it rains. When it is not the winter rainy season, you can save a few gallons of water by saving your cooking water to add to your compost bin.
8. Install one or more rain barrels.
If just 1,000 square feet of your roof drains into your rain barrel system, you can collect between about 225 and 300 gallons of water every time we get one-half inch of rain. Most rain barrels sold at garden centers hold between 50 and 70 gallons of water, so you can easily collect enough rainwater to fill four to six barrels in a single storm.
This makes winter the perfect time to install a rain barrel or two to collect water you can use to irrigate ornamental landscaping during the dry season.
You may even qualify for a $35 rebate per barrel from SoCal Water$mart for up to two barrels, which helps offset the cost of this winter water-saving idea. To see if you qualify, visit the SoCal Water$mart website – where you can even apply online.
9. Install a tankless water heater and a recirculating pump.
There is nothing quite like a hot shower on a cold, winter day, but waiting for the water to warm up wastes gallons every time you shower. Even with a low-flow showerhead, you could be wasting up to 2.5 gallons for each minute you let it run before stepping in.
A tankless water heater and recirculating pump, together, will give you almost instant hot water to help you save water in winter and throughout the year.
10. Install a rain sensor.
It may not seem like we get much rain in Ventura County, but we do get some. During the rainy season, we get enough to reduce our irrigation needs – at least during weeks when we have had rainfall. Therefore, a rain sensor can help you easily conserve water during the wetter months of winter and early spring.
Simply connect the rain sensor to your automatic irrigation system, and this rain-sensing switch will automatically shut off the system when it rains.
11. Allow faucets to drip.
I know this one does not sound like a good idea when we are trying to save water, but, in certain circumstances, you can potentially save hundreds of gallons of water by sacrificing a few. Here’s the deal: If you haven’t had a chance to insulate your pipes and the temperature drops below freezing where you live, it is possible that a pipe could break. Most folks in the Ojai area are not going to need to worry about this, but, if you do, letting your faucets drip can help you avoid a big water leak from a busted pipe.
To save the water dripping from your faucets, simply place a bowl or bucket under each faucet. This will allow you to catch every drip to use for other purposes, such as watering plants or rinsing recyclables.
AimeeJo Davis-Varela is a freelance writer specializing in real estate, sustainable home improvement, eco-friendly landscaping, green living and travel writing. She is also the owner of Mind Your Manors, which provides second home management services.
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