Water saving devices like new fixtures can make a big difference in your utility bills and are a must as drought conditions become more common around the country.
As long as water flows from the tap, cycles through the clothes washer, and warms up your morning shower, it's easy to forget that water supplies are dwindling. In fact, recently the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) reported that about 43 percent of the contiguous United States fell into moderate to extreme drought categories. On top of that, the EPA tallies our typical per-person water consumption at an average of 100 gallons per day, which is enough to fill 1,600 drinking glasses.
Considering those numbers, anything you can do to conserve water seems like a good idea. But do so-called water-saving fixtures and appliances really make a difference? The answer is yes, if you know where most of your household water use is spent and what to look for when you shop.
Following are the biggest household opportunities for water conservation. Address them and you'll help maintain water supplies today and for future generations.
Toilets. Toilet flushing is a major point of water use in the home, and old, leaky toilets can be big water wasters. Regularly check for and repair toilet leaks, and if you have a unit dating to before 1994, consider replacing it with one of the WaterSense-labeled high-efficiency toilets  (HETs) now on the market.
Operating at 1.28 gallons per flush vs. the 3.5 gpf of older, inefficient models, a water saving HET can reduce water usage by 60 percent and save you at least $55 annually in water bills. Some water providers, utilities and cities also offer incentives in the form of rebates or free toilet replacement.
Clothes washers. Laundry day is the second biggest occasion for household water use, and switching to an Energy Star qualified clothes washer is a water saving device that can make it less expensive for you as well as the environment. You'll keep 7,000 gallons of water from washing away every year, and can also trim an average of $50 from annual utilities bills. As you shop for a new washing machine, look for a unit with a low water factor: the lower the factor, the less water used by the machine.
Outdoor irrigation. Landscape care is one of the first things to go when local drought conservation alerts kick in, so planning water-saving changes before the expensive and potentially rationed spring and summer months is a smart move. A well-maintained, timer-operated drip irrigation system is one way to conserve, and the network of WaterSense-certified irrigation professionals can help you to design and install one that'll help to cut back on the 1.5 billion gallons of water wasted every day in the great suburban outdoors. Redesigning your landscape scheme to include less turf and more native, water-wise plantings also helps to guarantee a great-looking garden through every season.
Showering typically accounts for around 17 percent of indoor household water use, and installing a low-flow showerhead can help you clean up in the water savings department without having to change your personal routine. Units that meet the U.S. standard of flow of 2.5 gallons per minute are inexpensive, easy to install, and can save your family over 500 gallons of water per week. Also watch for high-efficiency showerheads, now in development but soon to be available sporting the WaterSense label.
Household faucets. Used all day long throughout the home, faucets can also be an easy drain on the water supply. Tending to leaks is one way to keep resources from dripping away, and installing faucet aerators and high-efficiency bathroom faucet devices is even better, enabling you to reduce water flow by over 30 percent without sacrificing performance.
Increase your water saving by training the members of your household to use water wisely every time they step up to a sink: rinse quickly, avoid leaving the water running while shaving or brushing teeth, and only use as much water as is really needed.