It's a fundamental requirement for life itself, and plays a role in nearly every aspect of our day‐to‐day lives as producers and consumers. But how much water do we really use — and how much of it is wasted?
The good news is that in the United States, total water consumption has declined by 5% — this after holding steady for more than a decade, despite population growth! Thanks to the efforts of conservationists, activists, industry leaders and legislators, water conservation has been a guiding light for new technologies and legislation for some time now. Below, we'll take a look at how much water we actually use each day — and offer a few tips on how to use even less!
Where We Use Water
Water use varies greatly, and depends on a large number of factors. Anywhere from 50–100 gallons may be used per person (per capita) each day. The average American household (of 2.54 people — basically 2 adults and a child) is estimated to use 110–138 gallons inside the house per day. But this figure doesn't include outdoor use, or indirect water use (the water used for our food, energy and industries) which, while harder to calculate, is equally important to consider.
In a typical home, toilets are the biggest water‐guzzler, accounting for up to a quarter of daily indoor water use. The oldest toilets can use up to 5–7 gallons per flush (gpf); those made up to the early 90s use either 2.5 or 3.6 gpf. Since 1994, federal standards have mandated a 1.6 gpf maximum — and some new toilets can use as little as 1.28 gallons. With the average person flushing five times a day, it's easy to see how the water adds up!
If you have a 3.6 gpf toilet, the average total water used per person per day is about 19 gallons. With an old 5.0 gpf toilet, assume 25 gallons per person, per day. Compare this to a new low‐flow toilet, which at 1.6 gpf adds up to only 8 gallons a day!
How to Save: Toilets using 3.6 gpf or more should be replaced with newer 1.6 gpf or better models. Consider dual‐flush models, which allow you to choose a low‐volume (usually half a gallon) flush for liquid waste, and the full flush volume for solid waste. Be careful with dual‐flush retrofit kits for older toilets — while there's a chance they could work in your toilet, there are no guarantees when you add a new part that the rest of the toilet was never designed to use. You may even end up needing to flush multiple times, defeating the intended purpose.
If you're unable to replace the toilet at the moment, displacement of water in the tank could be a temporary solution. You've likely heard of putting a brick in the toilet tank so that it doesn't need as much water to fill up, but this is something we don't recommend for a variety of reasons. However, a plastic water bottle filled with sand or pebbles is an equally effective substitute that doesn't run quite the same risks. Depending on the toilet, it's possible you'll see a decline in performance — but there's a decent chance you won't notice a thing except the water savings.
Did you know? A typical American family will pay more than $1,000 a year to their water supplier. Up to a third of this can be saved simply by replacing older, inefficient fixtures with WaterSense certified models. If you think low‐flow means low‐performance, think again: the WaterSense program maintains strict performance standards for all products, from the force and spray area of shower heads to the bowl‐clearing ability of toilets.
Baths & Showers
It's no surprise that bathing — either in the shower or the tub — is another significant use of water. The amount of water used for baths varies greatly between tubs, and depends on the preferences of the bather. Some tubs can hold more than 60 gallons of water, but they usually aren't filled to that point (unless you like water sloshing onto the floor). A typical bath will use between 20–40 gallons of water.
Depending on the shower head, you may not be saving as much water as you think. Shower heads from the pre‐efficiency era used 5 gallons (or more!) per minute — take an average 8 minute shower, and you've used just as much as a nice bath. However, federal regulations capped flow rates at 2.5 gpm in 1994, and newer low‐flow models use as little as 1.5 gpm — so chances are you'll save a lot of water each time you trade that relaxing bath for a refreshing shower.
It's easy to figure out how much water is being used in the shower: just multiply the flow rate by the number of minutes it takes. Going by an average shower length of 8 minutes, an old 5.0 gpm shower head will use about 40 gallons of water (much of it hot, bringing the additional cost of heating water into the picture). At 2.5 gpm (fairly common these days), it's cut in half to a much improved 20 gallons. Low‐flow shower heads can get you clean using as little as 12 gallons of water.
How to Save: We know baths are amazing, but try to keep them to a minimum (or use a little less water). When showering, set a timer or make a short playlist that will encourage you to wrap things up in under 8–10 minutes. Try out a "Navy shower", where you turn off or reduce the water flow while washing your body and hair (shower head flow controls make this easy). Replace old shower heads with WaterSense models for maximum efficiency.
If you have to wait longer than 10 seconds for hot water at the shower, use a bucket to catch the cold/lukewarm water that would otherwise go down the drain. You can use the water for your garden, house plants, water for pets, or even to flush the toilet. Combine this with the Evolve ShowerStart (which cuts off flow once water reaches 95°F) for the ultimate in shower efficiency!
They're everywhere and you use them constantly, but thanks to low‐flow aerators that keep the flow rate at/below the federal standard of 2.2 gpm, most of your home's faucets use very little water. But given their heavy use, they can still account for up to 20% of a home's daily indoor water use. The typical household will draw anywhere from 18–27 gallons a day from their faucets, encompassing all faucet use from handwashing to cooking. Bear in mind that faucets without aerators — usually kitchen or laundry faucets — can have flow rates beyond 3 gpm, which wastes a lot of water.
How to Save: Water‐saving aerators have been a standard faucet feature for some time now, but if you have a faucet that puts out a lot of water it may not have one — or it could have an aerator that only modifies the stream without restricting flow). Adding a low‐flow aerator is one of the easiest things you can do to save water.
If you feel like you have a low‐flow faucet that could use even less (usually bathroom/lavatory faucets, where all you really need to do is wash soap off hands and rinse toothbrushes), feel free to slap on a new, even more efficient aerator: 0.5 gpm is usually more than enough for a bathroom sink.
…And we know you've heard this one before: shut the faucet off while brushing teeth and shaving! Leaving it running can waste up to 8 gallons a day brushing, and 10 gallons a day shaving — thousands of gallons a year.
Clothes washers used to be right up there with toilets as the biggest users of water — and sometimes still are — but for the most part, water‐saving innovations have made them far more efficient than in years past. Doing laundry is still a water‐intensive task though, and comprises about 16% of a typical home's daily indoor water use. Older machines will use 40 or more gallons per load; new front‐loading models cut that in half to about 20 gallons.
How to Save: Always do a full load of laundry — although washing machines have various settings and levels, they're at their most efficient when washing a full load. If you don't have enough to fill it up, just make sure you're using the appropriate settings for the load. Whenever you can, upgrade to a front‐loading washer, which will use 15–30 gallons per full load (vs. 40+ with traditional top‐loading machines).
For as important as it is, dishwashing uses surprisingly little water on average. This is no doubt due to the prevalence of dishwashing machines in a majority of American households. While the oldest dishwashers will use 10–15 gallons per load, the average machine in a house these days uses about 6 gallons; the newest Energy Star certified models can use as little as 4! If you're doing dishes by hand, the total amount of water used can be anywhere between 8 and 20 gallons for a similarly sized "load" — it all depends on how refined the technique, and how conservative you are with the faucet.
How to Save: Older dishwashers should be upgraded to water‐efficient, Energy Star rated units, which use less energy and as little as 4 gallons of water.
Need to wash dishes by hand? If you haven't already established efficient dishwashing habits, it's time. Scrape scraps and stuck‐on food into the garbage, compost or dog dish; soak dishes in soapy water for a few minutes before washing (use one bowl of the sink, or buy a plastic basin); turn the faucet off while washing, and rinse dishes in batches instead of rinsing each piece immediately after washing — or use another bowl or basin for clean rinse water.
It used to be you were lucky to have a big yard full of thick, green grass. But in these days of limited supplies and frequent drought, the thirsty green lawn has largely fallen out of favor. In dryer regions, watering a large lawn can account for more than half of a household's total water use! To make things worse, many irrigation systems are terribly inefficient, with only half of the water used actually making it into the soil (the rest lost due to wind, runoff, evaporation and poor design). To reach the recommended weekly penetration depth of 1", you'll need to use about 0.62 gallons per square foot. With a typical lawn measuring anywhere from 2500–8000 square feet, you're looking at 1550–5000 gallons of water a week!
How to Save: Always be on the lookout for leaks in your sprinkler system, and try to keep watering to a minimum. Install low‐flow sprinkler heads, and make sure that water isn't running into the street or to an area of the yard it doesn't need to be. Take the time to watch your sprinkler system at work — if you see lots of mist being carried off by the wind, you'll need to either regulate the water pressure, or use different heads. Use soaker hoses and/or drip irrigation wherever possible.
A typical swimming pool will hold at least 10,000 gallons of water, with larger pools holding well over 20,000 gallons. In an arid region, evaporation can easily remove up to 1/4" daily — in a 14' × 28' pool, this works out to over 60 gallons a day!
How to Save: If you have a pool, cover it! Hundreds of gallons a month could evaporate otherwise — not to mention the leaves, bugs and other fun things that can find their way into an exposed pool.
The average home loses about 10 gallons a day from leaks throughout the plumbing system, including at fixtures (like leaks in the toilet). Ten percent of American homes have leaks of 90 gallons or more per day! Leaks can waste thousands of gallons a year, adding to your bills and even putting your home at risk of serious water damage. If you have a pool, leaks can be exponentially worse: even a tiny hole in a pool's plumbing system can release nearly a thousand gallons a day!
How to Save: If you do nothing else, take care of those leaks! If you don't think your home has any leaks in its fixtures or plumbing, you probably just aren't looking hard enough. Perform a thorough leak check in your home and fix any problems immediately — especially if you have a leaking swimming pool.
Thirsty for more water‐saving tips? We have just the page for you.
Indirect Water Use: Food, Energy, Industry
Not all of the water you "use" is actually accessed by you — in fact, much of your personal water footprint is made up of water used far away, long before you ever reap the rewards. Water is needed for agriculture, livestock production, transportation, energy production, and industrial manufacturing. While it's rather difficult to assess just how much of this "indirect" water goes into your day‐to‐day, it is worth keeping in mind that whatever you're doing, using, or buying…water has probably been involved!
- To produce a day's worth of food for the average American, it takes about 1,000 gallons of water. Sound like a lot? It adds up quickly! Consider that a single cup of coffee takes about 55 gallons of fresh water to make it from farm to cup; 10 gallons is required for just one slice of bread; a serving of chicken requires 90 gallons of water; and a pound of beef requires 1,800 gallons of water to produce.
- Water plays a big role in energy production, whether it's in the steam turbines that produce electricity, injected into shale to retrieve natural gas/methane ("fracking"), or as part of the oil refinement process. Just one gallon of gas requires 13 gallons of water before it makes it into your tank!
- American industry uses quite a bit of water — about 5% of all water used in the country goes to industry, particularly manufacturing. Water is used in all aspects of goods production, from the harvesting of raw materials, to cooling, to cleaning, and even machine operation. The textile industry is a perfect example of intensive water use: bleaching, cleaning, dyeing and more all require the use of clean water. One pound of "finished" cotton — the most common textile — requires 100 gallons of water to produce (not counting the additional transportation costs) — and we go through nearly 35 pounds of it a year!