Yes, says Alexandra Bennett, sustainability coordinator at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. Bennett is piloting a water-saving program at the college, which despite its proximity to the ocean lacks many local water sources.
By following the school's example and recycling gray water--waste water generated from domestic activities such as laundry, dishwashing and bathing--homeowners can conserve thousands of gallons every year. Nine to 12 gallons a day, on average, disappear down the bathroom sink for such activities as hand-washing, tooth-brushing, shaving, and makeup application and removal.
Here's how you can save some of that water--and your money--from going down the drain:
Use gray water to flush the toilet
One way to save water is to use it for flushing the toilet. For instance, the AQUS system being tested at Point Loma Nazarene reuses water diverted from the sink drain to fill the toilet tank. The water is piped through a disinfecting chamber and particulate filter before enters the tank, where it provides 65 percent of the water needed for flushing.
Says inventor Mark Sanders, "A two-person household can save between 5,000 and 6,000 gallons of fresh water. The system works on almost every kind of toilet." At $279 retail, it doesn't cost much to reap those water-saving benefits.
Use gray water to irrigate your lawn
A whole-house gray-water system can capture water from bathtubs, showers and clothes washers and divert it outside, where it can be used to irrigate the landscape. The setup is more complicated -- it requires a network of pipes, filters and pumps -- and expensive, but in drought-prone climates it can be a way to ensure that valuable landscaping remains healthy.
If your bathroom remodeling budget doesn't include installing a gray-water system, there are many other simple, low-cost ways to save water in the bathroom. Here are a few other good ideas.
Install a low-flow toilet
New model low-flow toilets use a meager 1.6 gallons per flush, saving the average household as much as $100 a year, according to plumber Terry Love's consumer toilet reports. For even greater savings, consider a dual-flush toilet, which has a standard 1.6-gallon flush and a smaller, 0.8-gallon option for liquid waste.
Install a low-flow showerhead
Like toilets, new showerheads must adhere to a federally-mandated standard for water use, in this case a flow rate of 2.5 gallons per minute. While many early low-flow models put out what felt like a trickle of water, new technologies have led to showerheads that meet the standard but still feel powerful.
Make sure existing plumbing fixtures don't leak
The easiest way to save water is to stop faucets from dripping and toilet tanks from running continuously. To check if your toilet is leaking, take toiletology.com's dye test: Put some food coloring in the tank and wait 30 minutes. Don't flush the toilet during that time. In 30 minutes, if any of the colored water has seeped into the bowl, the toilet is leaking.
Bennett says it's still too early to tell how much money and water is being saved through gray-water recycling on the Point Loma Nazarene campus, but she's optimistic about results so far. "Installing an AQUS gray-water system in the dormitory was a small, but visible, commitment to reduce water usage on campus. We hope that [by highlighting the system and its use] we will instill additional behavioral changes and earth-friendly lifelong habits."