Green Pages — Save Bucks in the Bathroom

Most high water bills are caused by leaking toilets and can waste up to 200 gallons of water a day. While many leaks can be spotted, some are silently draining your wallet. The culprit may be a bad flapper valve, flapper valve seat, a bad ballcock valve, an improperly positioned float arm or a defective overflow tube.

“Great,” you say. “I don’t know what any of that means or what to do about it.” Don’t worry. Take a trip down to the hardware store, act as clueless as I do when I’m in one of those stores and find a kindly person in the plumbing department. They may very well take mercy on you and help you find your way.

Also, many cities offer free home water-audit kits; but, even if yours does not, a quick trip to chat with that compassionate soul at your hardware store could take care of that. These kits include non-toxic dye tablets. Take one tablet, drop it in the tank and stir slightly, but do not flush. (Note that it goes in the tank, not the bowl. You may think this is obvious, but few things are funnier than walking into the bathroom, seeing a bright blue bowl, panicking because you think there’s a blow-hole-size leak in the john, and then finding out that your dear hubby dropped the tablet into the wrong place.)

After that, leave the toilet alone for 15 to 20 minutes. When you check back, look for color in the bowl. If there is any color, sorry, but you’ve got yourself a leak, which means one more trip to the hardware store.

Just as bad are annoying dripping faucets, which can waste 20 gallons of water daily. Fortunately, faucet leaks are easy to detect. If it drips or worse, continues to run after you shut it off, it needs to be fixed quickly. If the dripping water is hot, the situation is even more urgent, as it is wasting the energy used to heat the water.

A dripping or running showerhead is usually caused by a bad washer or seal. Be sure to check for leaks from the tub faucet when a tub shower is on, as it defeats the purpose of having a low-flow showerhead if the water you were supposed to be saving is actually heading down the drain.

Problems with plumbing fixtures are usually due to old age and corrosion or wear and tear, and replacement or repair parts can be purchased at a local hardware store or at a plumbing supply store. Save yourself some money in the long-term by making these repairs as soon as possible. By the way, if you’re a do-it-yourselfer with little ones, get them involved. Not only will you be teaching them about water conservation, but they’ll have fun helping out, while learning how to make home repairs like a big kid!

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Older toilets use upwards of three to seven gallons of water per flush and may account for up to 50 percent of your indoor water use. Add to that the number of goldfish burials you’ve performed over the years, and you can see why reducing the amount of water that goes down the drain makes a lot of sense.

Though they may cost a few hundred on the front end, low-flush toilets use only about 1.6 gallons of water per flush, and save about 8,000 gallons of water per household per year, which can save you a bundle on your water bill.

If you’re not in the market for a new latrine, however, you might consider adopting this Earth-friendly policy: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” Of course this policy is not in effect when company calls.

Yellow just not your color? Other alternatives include toilet dams, water-filled containers and a 1.6-gallon flapper.

Toilet dams make your tank “smaller” by using plastic barriers to prevent water from running out when you flush. Filling small, plastic containers with water and putting them in the tank will keep the water level high enough to flush well, but reduces the amount of water that actually flushes.

Low-flow flappers simply shut more quickly, thereby reducing the amount of water in the tank that is available for each flush. These devices displace water and can reduce outflow by up to 25 percent.


No doubt, we have to have toilet paper. But how much do we really need every time we go to the bathroom? In ancient China, where TP was first introduced, each square was a whopping 2’ by 3.’ My daughter seems to side with the ancient Chinese on this issue: You could make a few dozen mummy movies from the amount of TP she goes through in a single week.

Yes, Sheryl Crow got a bunch of flak when she proposed that we cut way back, but as a family or household you may want to consider it. Choose a realistic number of sheets that everyone can live with for various duties and pledge to abide by it. You’d be surprised by how simple this is once you get into the habit. Even better, you’ll save money and cut down the amount of paper that ends up in our sewers!

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I know water conservation isn’t top-of-mind first thing in the morning. Still, I put up little signs in the bathroom to remind everyone to turn off the faucet while brushing teeth or shaving.

It may seem like a little thing, but if you consider that five percent of a home’s water consumption—or 2,500 gallons per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency—can be traced back to the bathroom faucet, a quick shut-off makes good economic and ecoeffective sense!

In the beginning, a Post-It is fine, but after a few days, I tend to glaze right over them. Here’s where your or your kids’ creativity come in! Once a month (or every other month) make or get the kids to make new signs for the bathroom mirror. Humor counts. If you’re cracking yourselves up every time you brush your teeth, it means you’re actually seeing the sign!

Another way to save water is to fill a cup halfway with water for rinsing. Now before you gross out at the notion of one cup for all, the idea is that everyone in the house has their own cup. Even better, each family member can decorate his or her own! Hit your local Color Me Mine or grab some durable cups along with paint pens at the nearest arts and crafts store.

My husband, the shaver in the family—at least until I hit menopause—borrowed a nifty idea from the TV show “M*A*S*H.” Who said the boob tube couldn’t be educational? He has a specially designated cup for rinsing his razor so he hardly turns the sink faucet on at all. Too bad that method doesn’t work so well when I’m shaving my legs. My balance is good, but not that good.

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It happens all the time: Our darling, little germ sponges drag some nasty cold home from school—tissues start flying around faster than death stars in a martial arts movie.

After you dig yourself out from underneath the pile of used icky tissues, take a cue from our forefathers and invest in cloth hankies for the whole family. Not only will this keep oodles of tissue paper out of the cycle, but cloth is much softer on raw, little noses.

If the possibility of little Jenny using a hankie formerly employed by little Michael, creates too much of an “ew” factor, I suggest personalizing each family member’s respective hanky. Most craft stores carry cloth pens and such, so let everyone go to town creating their own unique pieces of art!

by Kristen McCarthy Thomas

Kristen McCarthy Thomas is a public relations specialist with an integrated marketing communications company in Southern CA. She leads the company’s Environmental and Sustainability Task Forces, and helps the company’s 70-plus associates “green up.”

Kristen writes the, which we’ll occasionally excerpt here. She is writing a book on how parents can reduce their family’s environmental footprint through inexpensive (if not money-saving), easy-to-understand steps, as well as pass the torch of environmentalism to the next generation, not only by action, but example.

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