The planet’s covered in blue stuff, but globally, water needs are outstripping supply.  Additionally much of the nations potable water supplies are being contaminated, complicating matters even further. Since we need water to survive, it’s becoming a critical issue in many regions of the world, from California, where people are struggling with drought, to Britain, which practically drowned in floods earlier this year.

Ask the average American how much water they use and most won’t have a very good idea. A recent study took a look at perceptions of water use, looking at how much people estimate they use and comparing it against actual use. Not surprisingly the researchers found that people underestimate their water use  dramatically – this is human nature to think you can do more with less – but the study concludes that most people underestimate by 50%. People also have uncertain perceptions of the level of impact caused by various activities, including bathing, washing clothes, cooking, swimming, and more; in other words, despite substantial outreach campaigns from nonprofits and government agencies, many people struggle to understand water use.

Guess what? 70% of your personal water use is accounted for under your own roofing, says the EPA, and of that guess which household activity uses up the most water? We try not to talk about it around here, but it’s flushing the toilet, which accounts for a whopping 27% of indoor water usage.

The most important finding in this study shows that people don’t understand the best ways to cut down on water use. Many people are under the impression that they need to change their personal habits to do right for the planet.  This is a step in the right direction but is it the most efficient way to keep household water usage down? Unfortunately, to the detriment of the environment the over promotion of the individual action approach has resulted in the exclusion of educating people about the real way to cut down on water use: revamp the plumbing.  Most people are set in there ways and while they value the importance of conserving the environment and being green people are hesitant to change because they think they will have to drastically alter their way of life or standard of living.  But this is not the case.

Toilets in particular are a real problem and are very wasteful.  Because many older models use significant volumes of water per flush, and they really don’t need to a lot of water is wasted. In regions like the Pacific Northwest and Europe, many people are using dual flush toilets, which allow you the option of selecting between a small or big flush, depending on the level of need. Furthermore, their toilets use less water either way, cutting down on overall household water use related to flushing the toilet. See this is prime example of a situation where technology not necessarily personal use decisions can save the environment.  You will use the bathroom either way – the question is do you care enough to install a low flow toilet?  You don’t need to stop going to the bathroom you just need the right toilet.

Similar efficiency moves are important for washers and dishwashers. While its a step in the right direction it’s not enough to make sure they’re never run with partial loads and the right cycle is selected. It’s also important to upgrade to equipment that will actually use less water, and is designed to operate as efficiently as possible. These are steps that don’t involve any changes in your routine, but make a huge difference in your water usage habits.

If you still want a habit to change, though, you’re in luck: stop running water and waiting for it to get hot before you wash your hands. Washing with cool water is actually more effective, and far less wasteful. Not only will you save water, you’ll also cut your down on your water costs!  Another option is to stop daily watering of outdoor landscaping and grass.  Get a zero scaped yard or even install a turf yard to save water.