The average American household uses 400 gallons of water per day. In just four and a half years, one household uses enough water to fill an Olympic-sized pool! Additionally, our houses, driveways, buildings, and parking lots all reduce the permeable land that can absorb rainfall. Instead of continuing the water cycle, much of the rain that falls in Highland Park is channeled directly to the sewer system which can quickly reach capacity during heavy storms.
As the stewards of one of the Great Lakes – home to 84% of North America’s surface fresh water – the people of Highland Park take care to use only the water we need, and to not waste a drop.
Indoor Water Conservation
At one drip per second, a faucet can leak 3,000 gallons per year. Toilets and clothes washers consume the majority of residential water, at 27% and 22% respectively. Fixing leaks and replacing older fixtures and appliances can reduce household operating costs and protect potable water sources. Consider these options for reducing water use indoors:
- Replacing a conventional showerhead with a low-flow fixture will save the amount of water it takes to wash more than 70 loads of laundry over the course of one year.
- Heating water also takes energy, so the same fixture swap will also save enough electricity to power a 60-watt light bulb for eight hours.
- If every home in the United States replaced existing faucets and aerators with WaterSense labeled models, we could save nearly $1.2 billion in water and energy costs and 64 billion gallons of water across the country annually - equivalent to the annual household water needs of more than 680,000 American homes.
- Save bottled water for emergencies, not every day use. “Almost 60% of all bottled water sales are single 16.9 oz bottles [costing] about $7.50 per gallon, according to the American Water Works Association. That’s almost 2,000x the cost of a gallon of tap water and twice the cost of a gallon of regular gasoline."
- A fair amount of water is wasted by running the tap in order to draw hot water for showers, washing hands, and washing dishes. The easiest solution is to install an insulating blanket on your water heater. This helps the tank retain its heat, and with an average cost of $20 recoups the cost very quickly. If your water heater is reaching the end of its life, consider replacing it with a high-efficiency model  or even a tankless water heater. In addition to taking up a lot less space, tankless water heaters “provide hot water only as it is needed. They don't produce the standby energy losses associated with storage water heaters, which can save you money.”
Outdoor Water Conservation
The average US household uses about 30 percent of its water outdoors for watering the lawn, using the hose to wash the car or clear the driveway, and filling swimming pools. Consider these options for reducing water use outdoors:
- Less grass, more plants: Covert a portion of your lawn area to perennials, shrubs, or even new trees. Once established, these plants require less water and less maintenance than conventional grass.
- Rain Barrels: Conventional gutter systems direct rainwater from the roof directly into the sewers. Disconnecting the downspout and re-directing it into a rain barrel not only reduces the amount of water discharged to the sewer, it also allows that reserved water to be used for irrigation during dry spells. SWALCO occasionally offers rain barrels for sale, click here for more information.
- Rain Gardens: A rain garden combines the above features by directing rainwater from the downspout into a planted area designed to absorb a higher volume of stormwater than conventional grass.
- Pool covers: The average swimming pool loses .25” of water each day. Covering the pool when not in use cuts that loss dramatically. Pools also leak, so try this bucket test to determine if your pool needs serious maintenance.
Water Conservation for Business
Many of the points presented for residents apply equally to businesses and institutions. Swapping turf grass for perennials, storing and reusing rainwater on site, replacing fixtures and appliances, all contribute to a dramatic reduction in the use of potable water. There are other steps that commercial enterprises and large facilities can take to further reduce their need for water.
Case Study: Low-Water Laundry
Ozone is a powerful oxidant and when it is injected into the washing cycle it decomposes substances and kills 99.5% of viruses and bacteria compared to 97.5% with standard washing techniques (i.e., hot water with detergents and bleach). When a washing machine is reprogrammed to use less hot water and more cold water injected with ozone, less water is needed overall. Additional cost savings are realized due to reduced consumption of energy to heat the water.
- Review all of the water uses across the company’s operations. Identify unnecessary uses and fix leaks, and revise processes to use minimum amounts of water to accomplish the task. This review can also identify alternative processes that are less water-intensive.
- Install meters on high-flow processes and equipment to track and reduce water use.
- Consider equipment modifications and new technology that might eliminate "once-through" cooling of equipment with municipal water by recycling water flow to a cooling tower or replacing with air-cooled equipment.
In one case study where a hotel laundry system was converted to use ozone, the system saved almost 190,000 gallons of water over the course of one year and 70% of the natural gas previously required to heat its water. The new technology used slightly more electricity, but overall realized a simple payback period of less than four years. The pilot project was conducted by the Nicor Gas Emerging Technology Program, more information can be found here. Highland Park businesses are served by NorthShore Gas; information about its rebates and programs can be found here.