Tag Archives: saving water

Should You Install Rain Barrels In Your Yard?

Should You Install Rain Barrels In Your Yard?

I’ll admit that this is something I haven’t done myself. We rent, and rain barrels just aren’t the kind of modification I’d try on a rental. But for the someday when we own, I keep looking at what it will take to install a rain barrel, especially with California’s rather desperate drought situation just now. A rain barrel can be a good way to collect rainwater and decrease your water bill, although probably not by much. Rainwater running off your roof can be collected for later use. But is it the right choice for you? Here are some factors to consider.

Laws and Regulations

The laws and regulations on rainwater collection vary quite a bit from state to state, and may change based on the part of the state you live in. Check with your state’s water resource agency before you start any rain barrel project to ensure that you can comply with the rules for your area.

How Much Do You Need It?

Given the size limitations of most rain barrels, it’s probably not going to make a big difference in your water bill. That doesn’t make rain barrels a bad idea, however. Most can hold anywhere from 20 to 150 gallons of water, depending on the size you choose, so if you really want to make a dent in your water bill, it will take more barrels. There are larger sizes available, but the costs and space required may or may not be worth it, depending on your situation.

When Will You Need to Disconnect It?

There will be times when it will make sense to disconnect your rain barrels. If you’re in a place where you get enough rain during fall, winter or spring that you don’t need to capture the rain, odds are you won’t want your rain barrels out at those times, even when they handle the overflow well. Make sure it’s not too hard to switch back to a regular roof gutter drain at such times.

Also, if it tends to freeze in your area, ice can damage your rain barrels. It’s best to put them away before cold weather starts.

Keep the Water Covered

Do not allow your rain barrel to become a breeding ground for mosquitos. It should be well covered, with a screen where the water goes in to keep insects and debris out. This will also help keep unwelcome critters such as mice or rats from using it as a water source.

Do Not Drink From Your Rain Barrel

Odds are very, very good, that the water from your rain barrel isn’t safe to drink. Rain water is lovely stuff, but what your barrel catches came down along your roof, through the roof gutters, and into the barrels. That means it has taken along any dirt, moss and so forth from your roof into the barrel, which itself is probably not all that clean. Keeping some of the debris out as mentioned above is good for your barrels, but it’s not enough to make it safe to drink.

Choose Which Plants to Water

You may or may not want to use rain barrel water to water edible plants. It really depends on the contaminants that get into your system. You can test the water to decide if it’s safe for your food garden, but when in doubt, let the decorative plants or lawn have it.

For More Information

If you want to learn more about installing rain barrels safely, here are some good resources:


11 Ways to Save Water and Energy While Doing the Laundry

When you have a family, you do a lot of laundry. Laundry uses a fair bit of water and energy, so I decided to share some tips to help you make it a more efficient process.

1. Don’t wash clothes more often than necessary.

Clothes aren’t dirty the instant you put them on. Something you’ve worn for only a short time during the day may not be dirty enough by the time you take it off to go into the laundry pile.

It can be especially hard to convince children that clothes don’t automatically go into the laundry. They may try a shirt on, immediately take it off and throw it into the laundry basket. If you have kids, work with them on that habit. Help them to see that it takes more time than that to get an outfit dirty.

Clothes are of course dirty if they look it or smell dirty. You can also go by the old “if it’s doubtful, it’s dirty” rule for those times you just aren’t sure.

2. Wash full loads whenever possible.

Most washing machines make the best use of water and energy when they’re running a full load. Do your best to wait for enough clothes or other items to make up a full load rather than wash a partial one.

If you need to wash a smaller load, make sure you adjust the water settings on your machine accordingly. There’s no reason to wash a small load of clothes with enough water for a full load.

3. Wash in cold water when possible.

Many times cold water will get your clothes clean enough. This saves on the energy required to heat the water. It’s also more gentle on your clothes. You should be aware that not all laundry detergents work well or dissolve properly in cold water. You can dissolve a powdered detergent in warm water and add it to the machine if necessary. If you’re getting a residue left on your clothes, you may need to continue washing in warm water or try a different detergent. I get good results with Country Save on my laundry. There are also detergents made to work well in cold water.

If cold water isn’t good enough, warm probably is. You should very rarely need to do a hot water wash.

Most modern washing machines always rinse using cold water because there is no reason to rinse the clothes out using hot or warm water.

4. Use an extended spin cycle in your washing machine.

Many washing machines offer an extended spin cycle, which removes more water from your clothes, so they will dry more quickly in the dryer. This takes less energy than running your dryer to get to a similar level of dryness, but you will still need to run them through the dryer to finish the job.

5. Sort clothes by drying time.

Some fabrics dry much faster than others. If you sort by drying time as well as by other factors, you can keep the load in the dryer for the right time for all the clothes, rather than overdrying the clothes that dry quickly.

6. Take advantage of the moisture sensor in your dryer if available.

Many dryers have a moisture sensor, and will dry your clothes only as long as it takes for the load to get dry. Use this option to avoid overdrying your clothes.

7. Remove clothes from the dryer immediately.

Taking the laundry out of the dryer immediately and hanging or folding them promptly helps to limit wrinkling, which means much less time and energy spent on ironing your laundry.

8. Keep the dryer lint trap clean.

Cleaning the lint trap on your dryer after every load doesn’t just make your dryer work more efficiently. It’s also a safety issue, as lint burns relatively easily. You should also regularly check your dryer vent for lint.

9. Line dry when possible.

Line drying your laundry saves a lot of energy and it’s pretty kind to your clothes. It takes a bit of time, but I always chalk that up under “exercise” rather than “inconvenience.”

If you’re worried about crunchy jeans and such, take them in a little before they’re completely dry, and let your dryer finish the job. The fabric will soften up nicely.

10. Move each new load into the dryer as soon as possible.

If you move your freshly washed clothes into the dryer while it’s still warm from the last load, it will use less energy reaching the right drying temperature. It’s a small difference, but you may as well take advantage of it.

11. Buy an Energy Star washer when it’s time to replace your current washer.

No clothes dryers are rated as Energy Star at this time because they all use similar amounts of energy.  Washers, on the other hand, can be Energy Star rated, and that’s something you should consider buying a more efficient machine when you need a new one.

Front loading washing machines are very efficient with their water use, which is a large part of why they have become so popular.

Are You Watering Your Garden Efficiently?

In most places in the United States we’re lucky. Clean water is readily available. It means we can easily garden and not worry so much about if we’re being efficient about it. But many areas are increasingly dealing with stressed water supplies, and it’s expected to get worse in years to come.

Now is a great time to get into the habit of watering efficiently in your garden.

A simple way to water garden plants more efficiently is to use a soaker hose. Rather than spray water up into the air, it delivers water directly to the ground. It’s slow, of course, but you lose much less water to evaporation. You turn the water on a very low setting, so even though it takes more time to water the plants you’re using less water. Just set a timer so you don’t forget what you’re doing.

Another step you may be able to take is to catch rain water. Some states have very strict rules about rain water capture, so you have to do research to ensure that your rain barrel system is legal. But if you can legally capture the water, it’s a wonderful way to keep watering your garden.

It’s also a good idea to look at garden plants that are right for the climate in your area. You don’t want a garden that needs tons of water if you live in an area that is prone to droughts or water restrictions. Know the planting zone you live in and pay attention to that when you buy seeds and plants. And don’t ignore any local issues that may make it wise to be still more cautious with your garden.

Mulching the soil around your plants also allows you to water less. The mulch will help slow evaporation, so once again you can save water.

If you’re planting a food garden, there’s only so much you can do about water use. There aren’t many people who can successfully plan a xeriscape vegetable garden. You’re probably going to need to use water to get a good harvest.

But if it’s more decorative, take a good look at native plants. Look at drought resistant plants if you live where that’s likely to be a problem. Really think about what’s going into your soil.

This kind of planning is a help in decreasing how much water you use for the more decorative parts of your garden. Plants whose water needs are more in line with what comes naturally to the area will thrive with much less effort on your part. You can find beautiful native plants in most areas.

Don’t give up entirely on gardening if you have the space just because you want to save water. Gardening is a wonderful way to keep in touch with nature and to help children to really appreciate nature. You can maintain a lovely garden and be wise in your water use.

I Guess My Attitude Toward Watering Will Be Different from the Neighbors’ in Our New Home

According to the realtor managing the house we’re renting, there aren’t any watering restrictions in our new neighborhood. That surprised me, since it’s still southern California.

I could quickly see that many people there aren’t too worried about water. They were watering in the heat of the day, with lots of overspray onto sidewalks and the street.

The watering timer in our house was set to water twice a day, 15 minutes at each spot. Yikes! And the lawn still has brown spots because not all the sprinkler heads are adjusted right or working.

I’ve managed to fix the programming part at least. We don’t quite have the time yet to fix the broken heads.

Still, the idea that there aren’t any water restrictions amazes me. I still intend to limit our water use, no matter what the neighbors are doing. Even when you’re stuck with a lawn, there’s only so much watering needed.

Really Pleased With Our Water Usage

Let’s face it. I’m normally not that excited to get my water bill… any bill really. Where’s the fun in that?

But with all our efforts to conserve water around here, I was really excited to get our bill over the weekend.

We used just 16 units of water for this two month period. That’s down from 19 units for the same time frame last year. Pretty good, especially considering that average residential usage in our area I’ve seen quoted as 30 units per month.

I won’t say our lawn is thanking us for our efforts, but that’s been done in as much by gophers as by lack of water, I think. We have one really pretty weed with purple flowers that I hope continues to spread.

The garden, which I will truly miss when we move, has been one of our big outdoor water changes. The ugly watering solution really seems to be helping us cut down on how much water that needs.

Overall, I hope we can do so well wherever we end up living when we move. I just had to share my delight at seeing how well we’re doing, though.