Updated May 11, 2015
Hanging out in the yard can be carefree summer fun, but saving water is serious business. As a devastating drought stretches over large parts of the United States this spring and summer, it’s easy to see that no section of the country is immune from drought or water scarcity.
Summer is peak season for home water use, which can go up two to four times higher than the typical winter water use. The big increas is driven by activities like car washing, filling swimming pools and (the real biggie) lawn and landscape irrigation. In fact, in some urban areas of the Western United States, outdoor water use can range from half to a whopping 80 percent of all home water use. (It makes sense that July is the annual Smart Irrigation Month.)
Conserving water doesn’t have to be a drag. Here are some cool outdoor water-saving tips you can use when the temperature heats up.
- Xeriscape! Reduce or eliminate your lawn watering altogether by creating a landscape that doesn’t need as much water. That could mean switching to native plants and trees – like succulents and cacti – that can survive entirely on rainwater, or installing rock gardens. Learn more about xeriscaping.
- Be water-smart with your lawn. "Turf painting" is all the rage this year, but if you really must water your lawn, do it during the cool parts of the day – early morning or late evening – to reduce evaporation. Gusty winds also increase evaporation, so avoid watering on blustery days.
- Water, don’t waste. When you set up your sprinklers, make sure you're not watering the sidewalk or driveway. Not only does that squander already strained water supplies, it can also carry fertilizer and pesticide pollution into streets and sewer systems. Even better, install a drip irrigation system to save water and knock some dollars off your water bill. Over time you’ll recoup your upfront investment.
- Have a swimming pool? Use a pool cover! Have a swimming pool? Use a pool cover! If you cover your pool when you're not using it, you'll prevent the loss of thousands of gallons of water a month from evaporation, and (bonus!) you won’t have to clean it as often.
- Rainwater collection. If you can, set up a rain barrel under a rain gutter outside your house. You can catch hundreds of gallons each summer to use for watering the lawn or washing the car. Just don’t drink it, and make sure to keep it covered with a fine-mesh screen so it doesn’t breed mosquitoes. Check your local municipal regulations to see if a rain barrel is allowed.
- Don’t let the hose run. When you water your plants (or wash your car by hand), don’t let the hose run when you’re not using it. Buy a squeeze (pistol grip) nozzle for your hose so you don’t have to use the tap to start and stop the flow.
- At the car wash (yeah). Do you wash your car? If so, the best way in terms of water use is a self-service car wash, since they use the least amount of water because of their high-pressure hoses and easy-to-turn-off pistol grips. If you prefer a drive-through, automated car wash, seek out those that conserve and recycle their wash water.
- Driving down your water footprint. It takes a lot of water to make gasoline, so plan out your day and don’t make unnecessary driving trips. Better yet, ditch your car and carpool, walk, ride a bike or take public transportation. Not only will you shrink your water footprint, but you will shrink your carbon footprint, too.
- Pack your own bottle. When you're on the go, out about town or traveling on vacation, avoid bottled water purchases by filling your own bottle with tap water. Not only will it you save money, but you'll save water (and energy) because it takes about three liters of water to produce a one-liter bottle of water.
Want to be water-saving savvy? Check out the over 100 Water-Saving Tips with ways to cut water waste outside and inside the house.