Across the Northeastern states, water levels are low. The message is clear: Conserve. New York State officials, including those who monitor stream flows and reservoir and groundwater levels, have been concerned about the freshwater supply for several months.
For most residents, conservation can be relatively simple. Limit dishwasher and clothes washer use to full loads, take shorter showers, don't leave tap water running while washing dishes or brushing teeth. The question, however, is: Why not conserve water, our most precious resource, all the time?
For a few dollars and some hand tightening, you can install water-saving aerators and showerheads that will increase water pressure and save money.
These gadgets, available at home centers, plumbing supply stores and hardware stores, limit water flow to 2.5 gallons per minute while increasing water pressure.
For water-saving tips or products, visit these Web sites:
* American Water Works Association
* Water Efficiency Clearinghouse
* Energy Technology Laboratories
* Alsons Corp.
(for Resources Conservation Inc. products;
I've had water-saving showerheads in my homes, from Kansas to Michigan to Long Island, since the early 1980s. In fact, I've moved some of these heads from house to house, and they still deliver high-pressure showers. Most flow rates are 2.5 gpm, but some purchased recently are as low as 2.2 gpm. (Over the years, my water bills for a family of seven have been consistently lower than most of my neighbors.)
Some manufacturers, including California-based Energy Technology Labs (800-344-3242), feature showerheads with flow rates of 1.5 gpm from about $16.
Older aerators and showerheads (manufactured before 1992) typically have water-flow rates between 4 and 10 gpm. According to independent studies, water-saving devices can reduce the annual cost of water by 40 percent, and more savings can be realized in the energy it takes to heat water.
"We've got quite a few of these types of items, and they are inexpensive and easy to install," says Tony Intagliata of Home Depot in Elmont. "Manufacturers claim that a family of four can save $250 a year in energy and water using one showerhead."
The Incredible Head showerhead (all brass) by Resources Conservation Inc. of Stamford, Conn., runs about $7 at Home Depot stores and delivers high-pressure showers at a 2.5-gpm rate. Another version of the Incredible Head features a toggle switch. Once the water temperature has been adjusted and the person has been soaked, the toggle switch is flipped to stop water flow. The person can lather up, then flip the switch to resume water flow at the desired temperature. This head runs about $9, and another , an adjustable power-massage model (plastic with brass fittings) runs about $12. Aerators that fit on kitchen and bathroom faucets also reduce flow to 2.5 gpm. They run about $3, and fit inside- or outside- threaded faucets.
Replacing existing heads and aerators is easy. Usually, you can remove and tighten them by hand. If you must exert more pressure, use a set of pliers, but be sure to cover the chrome with a rag so you don't scratch it.
Among my favorite items is an aerator with a toggle switch ($5) that can be installed on kitchen and bathroom faucets. In the bathroom, it allows shaving or brushing teeth under the desired temperature without letting the water run. Adjust the temperature and the flow on the faucet, then flip the toggle to turn the flow off or on.
There are other ways to conserve water, including fixing leaky faucets and toilets. Intagliata says one easy repair is testing the flapper on toilet tanks. The flapper is the rubber stopper that fits inside the tank and allows clean water to enter the bowl during flushing. A replacement flapper runs about $3, and the average time to make the repair is 2.5 minutes.
"We've all heard the toilet running at odd hours, releasing that rush of water," he says. "When that happens, we know we have a bad flapper, but flappers go bad way before we hear that running sound."
To test the flapper, put two or three drops of food coloring into the tank. Don't flush for several hours or even overnight. Check the bowl periodically. If the dye leaks into the bowl, the flapper should be replaced.
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