Reducing water use
- Reducing water use in your home reduces your environmental impact and saves money.
- New water-efficient taps, showerheads, toilets, and appliances can significantly reduce your water use with no change to your lifestyle.
- Reducing your hot water use saves energy as well, and can significantly reduce your energy costs.
- Investing in new appliances may save you money in the long run because of reduced water and energy costs.
- The Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards scheme allows you to compare the water efficiency of similar products. Check the label to choose the most efficient product you can afford that suits your needs.
- Dripping taps and leaks can rapidly use a lot of water. Ensure drips and leaks are fixed promptly.
- Small changes to your habits can also save water. You can:
- take shorter showers and not leave taps running unnecessarily
- only use the washing machine or dishwasher when they are full, or adjust your load settings for smaller loads
- use eco cycles on machines where possible
- scrape dishes before washing, instead of rinsing.
Understanding water use
Reducing water consumption in the home is a simple and easy way to decrease water and energy bills and lessen your household’s impact on the environment.
Conserving water resources, even in areas without shortages, reduces the need to build dams or extract water from rivers, decreases wastewater produced and treated at sewage plants, lowers energy requirements for treating and transporting water and wastewater, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
The amount of water that your home uses will vary depending on the number of people who live there, and the size of your garden. But almost every household can cut down water use, often for very little cost. Lots of water utilities have calculators on their websites that allow you to work out how much water you should be using to be considered water efficient.
This chapter focuses on reducing water use inside the home. Reducing water use outdoors can also have a significant impact.
Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards scheme
The national Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme gives consumers information about the water efficiency of various products. By choosing water-efficient products, an average house could save around $120 in reduced water bills each year and $120 in energy costs by reducing hot water use.
The WELS scheme requires certain products sold anywhere in Australia to be registered, rated, and labelled for their water efficiency in accordance with Australian Standard AS/NZS 6400:2005 Water efficient products: rating and labelling.
The water efficiency rating is displayed on WELS products on a blue star water rating label. Products that must display the rating include showerheads, dishwashers, washing machines, toilets, and taps. Labels for different categories of products differ slightly, but all show 2 key pieces of information:
- the WELS star rating
- the stars indicate water efficiency: the more stars, the greater the water efficiency
- the water consumption or flow figures
- the average water consumption per use (dishwashers, washing machines, toilets, urinals)
- the average water flow per minute (taps, showers, flow controllers).
The WELS website has further information about products and the labelling scheme. The scheme also sets minimum water efficiency standards for washing machines and toilets. The plumbing code sets a minimum standard (equivalent to WELS 3-star rating) for showerheads installed by a licensed plumber. Some local government development control plans specify water-efficient fixtures in new developments and renovations. Check with your local government on its requirements.
Reducing water use
There are many ways that you can save water around your home. The easiest is to choose water-efficient showers, toilets, taps, and appliances.
Consider upgrading your taps and appliances even if they still work. Appliances that use less water and energy will save you money, and can quickly pay for themselves with lower energy and water costs.
Depending on where you live, you may be eligible for rebates, subsidies or free offers on some water-efficient or water-saving products. Check with your local government and water utility, or search for ‘water’ on the Australian Government energy website.
You should also check regularly for leaks or dripping taps around your home. Leaks are not always noticeable, but can end up wasting lots of water. The simplest way to check for leaks is to look around your house. You can also compare your water bill each quarter to monitor for any rapid changes in usage. If you do not want to wait for your next water bill, you can check for leaks by taking a photo of your water meter before you go to bed and comparing it to the reading first thing in the morning. Most water utilities have information on how to check your meter and how to check your bills.
It is also important to consider your water use outdoors, which can be responsible for an average of 40% of a household’s water use. This figure can be much greater if you have a pool, a sizeable garden, or live in a dry climate. For tips on how to reduce water demand outside the home, refer to Outdoor water use.
The shower is one of the easiest and most cost-effective places to decrease water use:
- Replace your showerhead with a water-efficient model. An inefficient showerhead can use between 15L and 25L of water every minute, whereas an efficient WELS 4 star rated one uses as little as 5L every minute, which can save a 2-person household at least $160 annually on energy and water bills. The reduction in hot water means less energy is needed for water heating, which also reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Look for the water flow rate on the label. Fitting a water-efficient showerhead takes about 5 minutes for a plumber or handy person.
- Install mixer taps in showers. They can reduce the potential for scalding and avoid water being wasted by running the shower while trying to get the right water temperature.
- Buy a shower timer and aim to keep showers under 4 minutes. Spending less time in the shower saves water and money. Even with an efficient showerhead, spending 2 minutes less in the shower each day can save over $30 per person per year.
Photo: Getty Images
You can reduce the amount of water used by your toilet:
- Use the half-flush button when appropriate. If you have a single-flush toilet, engage a plumber to adjust the flush volume. You can also adjust the flush volume yourself by inserting a water displacement device (purchased, or a plastic bottle filled with water) into the cistern, making sure it does not obstruct the mechanism. Do not use bricks because they can crumble and stop the system working properly.
- Replace your toilet with an efficient dual-flush model. Replacing a 12L single-flush toilet with a 4.5/2.2L WELS 6-star toilet in a household of 4 people could save more than 60 000L of water a year.
- Consider replacing your toilet with a waterless toilet. A range of models and types are available. They work with no odour and little maintenance while providing compost.
- Fix leaking toilets immediately. A slow, barely visible leak can waste more than 4,000L a year. Visible, constant leaks can waste more than 96,000L. Check for leaks by placing a couple of drops of food colouring or dye into the cistern. If colour appears in the bowl within 15 minutes without flushing, then a leak exists and the system should be repaired.
What leaking toilets cost
Severity of leak
Slow leak, barely visible
Leak visible in bowl, no noise
Visible leak, just audible
Visible leak, constant hissing sound
* Based on a water price of $2.50/kL of water
Photo: Maeli Cooper
Simple measures can ensure your taps are not using more water than necessary:
- Turn taps off when they are not being used. A running tap uses about 16L of water a minute. By turning the tap off when you brush your teeth, you could save over 11,600L a year.
- Fix leaks immediately. A tap leaking at the rate of one drip a second wastes more than 12,000L of water a year.
- Do not over-tighten taps. It can wear the washer and cause leaks.
- Install a flow regulator on existing kitchen and bathroom sink taps.
- Ensure that all new taps are water efficient. Check the WELS star rating and choose 4 or 5 stars for bathroom basins and 3 or 4 stars for the kitchen sink.
- If you do not need hot water, move the mixer tap all the way to the cold position rather than leaving it in the centre. Mixer taps can increase hot water use as they mix hot and cold water together in the centre position. Installing separate hot and cold taps in basins and sinks can avoid this.
The laundry is a great place to reduce water consumption and is a potential source of water for your garden. Improve the efficiency of water use in the laundry by taking these steps:
- Try to wash only full loads of laundry and use the economy cycle if you have one. Also use a water-saving setting or suds-saver function if your machine has one.
- Adjust the water level on the machine, if you can, so it is appropriate for the size of load.
- Consider upgrading to a WELS 5-star front-loading washing machine. This can save 50L or more with every load and also uses less detergent, which is a further cost saving.
- Divert the wash water from your laundry to other uses, such as flushing the toilet or watering the garden. Check with the local government to discover if this is allowed in your area, and make sure it is installed to comply with regulations (refer to Wastewater reuse).
Photo: Getty Images
Try these simple ways to use water more efficiently when washing dishes:
- Do not rinse before washing. Scrape food remains off dishes and dispose of them in the compost or garbage bin rather than rinsing them away.
- Try to fully load the dishwasher before using it, and use the economy cycle if you have one.
- Consider upgrading to a WELS 5-star machine. Some of the most efficient dishwashers can use less than 1L per place setting, which is less water than many people use washing dishes by hand.
- If you wash dishes by hand, always use a plug in the sink rather than letting the tap run continuously
Other water-saving tips
Storage hot water systems release some water through a pressure release valve when they are heating water. Have a professional check the release valves on your water heater. The amount of water used can be minimised by setting the release rate to the minimum recommended by the manufacturer.
Evaporative air-conditioners drain off some water while in use to reduce the build-up of impurities. Ensure that the drain-off rate is set to the minimum required for the air-conditioner to work with your water supply. Make sure the air-conditioner is turned off when you go on holidays or you are not at home.
Avoid using in-sink waste disposal units. Such units use water when operating and also mix wastewater with food scraps. From an environmental viewpoint, well-managed home composting is the most favoured option for food waste disposal.
References and additional reading
- Fane S, Schlunke A, Falletta J, Chan A and Prentice E (2019). Evaluation of the environmental and economic impacts of the WELS scheme [PDF], Institute for Sustainable Futures, prepared for the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Canberra.
- Madden C and Carmichael A (2007). Every last drop counts: the water saving guide, Random House, Milsons Point.
- Mobbs M (1998). Sustainable house: living for our future, ChoiceBooks, Marrickville, NSW.
- National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS).
- Smart Approved WaterMark.
- Water Efficiency Labelling Standards (WELS).
- Water usage calculator.
- Windust A (2003). Waterwise house and garden: a guide for sustainable living, Landlinks Press, Collingwood.
- Read Outdoor water use to find ways to reduce water use on gardens and other outdoor areas
- Explore Hot water systems to discover how you can reduce hot water and energy use
- Visit Designing a home for more information on what to think about when designing a water-efficient home
Principal author: Rachel Watson 2020
Previous and contributing authors: Kaarina Sarac, Dana Cordell, Geoff Milne