How to Conserve: Outdoors

Outdoor water use can account for 30-60% of a household’s daily water demand, and well over 50% in arid climates.  That adds up to approximately 9 billion gallons of water being used each day to irrigate residential landscapes in the U.S.  Inefficient irrigation can be responsible for wasting up to a 50% of the water used outdoors.  Read on to learn how you can improve your outdoor water use.

Replace Grasscactus garden

Using plants native to your area (or an area with a similar climate) saves time, money and water.  Native plants are already adapted to withstand the temperature and water conditions in your region.  Native plants also provide urban wildlife habitat and attract more birds, butterflies and bees. 

In the desert Southwest turf requires approximately 60 inches of irrigation each year.  At this rate, 500 square feet of turf uses 18,700 gallons a year.  In contrast, native plants require little to no water inputs after they are established.  Many cities offer turf grass removal and xeriscaping rebates as a financial incentive for homeowners to replace turf grass landscaping.  Another benefit: no more mowing the lawn.

Drip Irrigationsprinkler

Drip irrigation is a water delivery system that increases water use efficiency by supplying water directly where it is needed at a relatively slow rate.  In contrast, sprinklers broadcast water through the air and often onto leaves or the sidewalk where evaporation or runoff occurs.

Hose Nozzleshose

Typical garden hoses flow at up to 12 gallons a minute and it’s an easy mistake to walk away from a plant being watered with a hose.  Putting an automatic shut-off nozzle at the end allows you to easily control the flow and turn the hose on and off as needed to reduce your water use.  Many nozzles also allow you to adjust the water pressure and directionality so you can use less water while gaining functionality.

Swimming Pool Covers

swimming poolDepending on your local climate, swimming pools can lose a quarter inch or more of water each day during the summer!  For the average size swimming pool, that means 10,000 to 20,000 gallons of water evaporated each year.  Using a cover when the pool is not in use can prevent 90% of that loss.  Pool covers also retain warmth saving on energy costs for heated pools and extending your swimming season.

Fix Leaks

epa water waste outdoors

Source: EPA (

Common culprits of outdoor water leaks include swimming pools, automatic sprinkler systems, and dripping spigots.  Main service lines are also subject to leaks.

Swimming pools.  Watch for swimming pools that drain too quickly—this may indicate a leak in the plaster of the pool or a problem with the pool machinery.  If you have an automatically filling pool, monitor the function of the shut-off valve.  Malfunctioning valves can allow the pool to fill continuously while simultaneously draining excess water.  Pools that require excessive amounts of chemicals to maintain proper pH and chlorine level may also indicate a problem with the auto-filling mechanism. 

Irrigation Systems.  Monitor your yard for soft spots, especially near sprinkler heads or other water emitters, which may indicate a leak.  Overgrown or overly green areas of turf are another signal of a malfunctioning system.  If your landscape is watered with an automatic timer, periodically observe a watering cycle to ensure there are no broken or jammed emitters wasting water.  Valves failing to close completely are another common source of irrigation leaks. Learn how to correct common household leaks here (external website).puddle

Dripping spigots.  Spigots that do not completely turn off should be replaced.  You may need to call a plumber to help if the pipe is corroded and requires soldering of the new spigot.

Service Connecting Line.  Underground water lines that deliver water to your home can be damaged or begin to leak over time—a hole as small as 1/32 of an inch will leak more than 6,000 gallons each month.  Often the evidence of an underground leak will be an elevated water bill, but also watch for unexplained wet spots in your landscaping.  Leaks that occur between the water meter and your home are typically your responsibility (as is the cost of the leaking water) and usually require a plumber to repair.

Collect Rainwaterbucket

For cities in the American Southwest, a dwindling renewable water supply is of increasing concern.  Ironically, during large storm events these same cities often experience widespread flooding leading to a temporary surplus of water.  Harvesting rainwater can be a part of the solution to both of these difficult problems. 

Rainwater harvesting involves capturing water runoff from roofs, sidewalks, and other hard surfaces.  There are two types of rainwater harvesting: passive and active.  Passive rainwater harvesting involves slowing and capturing rainwater runoff using basins, rain gardens, and swales that direct water toward vegetation.  Active rainwater harvesting involves the use of man-made tanks to store water for later use and can be connected to a drip irrigation or sprinkler system for easy use.  Both types of water harvesting reduce the demand for municipal water supply and help to curtail flooding.  There are some states that do not allow rainwater collection; check the rules in your community before investing in rainwater harvesting infrastructure for your home.

Use Gray Water

washer dryer

Gray water is a byproduct of washing within the home—generally shower and bath water, clothes washer water, and bathroom sink water—and is an excellent way to supplement outdoor irrigation.  Water with anything more than soap (e.g. toilet water and dishwater containing food waste) is called black water and sent to the sewer system.  Rules regarding gray water vary by community with some, like Tucson, Arizona, requiring new construction to have a dual plumbing system that automatically separates gray water from black water.  Tucson Water estimates that applying gray water to the landscape saves 13,000 gallons of potable drinking water at each household per year.  Homes can be retrofitted to retain gray water onsite, but those built on a concrete slab are more difficult to re-plumb.  One solution to this is placing your washing machine outdoors to reduce the need for additional indoor plumbing.