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The Green Blue Book: The Simple Water-Savings Guide to Everything in Your Life Paperback – Mar 16 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Rodale Books (March 16 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1605294713
  • ISBN-13: 978-1605294711
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.3 x 21.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 272 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,188,119 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

About the Author

THOMAS M. KOSTIGEN is author of You Are Here and coauthor of The Green Book. He writes the popular Ethics Monitor column for Dow Jones MarketWatch and hosts a weekly broadcast for the Wall Street Journal Digital network.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.



home is where the water is

I used to daydream in the shower, letting my mind fog over like the bathroom mirror fogged with steam. Then I became aware of how much water I was wasting with every extra minute I stood there. Now it's as if I shower at the Bates Motel: I'm in and out quickly.

Many of us mindlessly waste water, either because we are just fogging out or because we really don't know any better. A home-based education on water is what we need. And here's why: Our homes are where we use the most water in our lives. The average household in America uses about 400 gallons of water per day. That can easily be cut to less than 100 gallons by doing a few simple things.

But first I'd like to explain what the average home looks like. Sixty- thousand-square-foot mansions like Bill Gates's home (which is rumored to use about 5 million gallons of water a year, more than 30 times the average home's use, by the way) aren't what I'm describing. Rather, the average size of a new home in the United States is more than 2,500 square feet--780 square feet larger than the typical home built 3 decades ago. Picture a ranch-style home, which is uniquely American. It has 3 bedrooms, 21/2 bathrooms, a laundry room, and a 300-square-foot kitchen. The direct sources of water inside this house include fixtures, pipes, tubing, and toilets. From these taps all sorts of routine activities spawn. We brush our teeth, shave, wash dishes, shower, take baths, do laundry, bathe babies. But how much thought do we put into the means of our doings compared to how much we think about the action itself? We are careful not to cut ourselves shaving, but we usually aren't so careful about not leaving the tap running.

Our homes provide us with sustenance, yet we take much of this for granted. Water, especially, is expected. Until the mid- 1800s, water wasn't commonly available via indoor plumbing. People pumped it from underground wells or lived by rivers. It wasn't until the 1930s that the federal government started declaring a home substandard if it didn't have indoor plumbing.

The Romans may have built an amazing municipal water and sewer system as far back as 800 BC, but it took centuries for people to get used to flushing, washing, and drinking in the privacy of their own homes. This was mostly due to cost. The cost for a private home to install indoor plumbing in the late 19th century was more than $500--an enormous sum at that time. Back then the average home was less than half the size it is today.

Size, you might say, doesn't matter when it comes to water use. After all, an additional bedroom doesn't necessarily equate to more water consumption. But more bathrooms do. So do bigger kitchens. We've learned to pipe in more to feed our water frenzy in the name of convenience. Not that there is anything wrong with convenience. It's a marvel to turn on a faucet and have your choice of hot or cold water. Imagine just how awestruck a caveman would be by this magic.

Consciousness shouldn't have to take a backseat to luxury, however. We can lessen the profligate drain on our water supplies without sacrificing much, if anything. The average person needs about 13 gallons of water a day to drink, wash, and eat. We in America use almost 10 times that. In fact, the global population may have tripled in the 20th century, but water consumption went up sevenfold.

Using less doesn't mean we have to go backward in time, or do without anything. It means using water more wisely. And here's how.


Turn off the tap when you brush your teeth. Do as your dentist recommends and brush your teeth three times a day, and, tap running, you'll likely use about 5 gallons of water. Turn off the tap, and you could use as little as a few tablespoons. If every American did this, the savings after just 1 day would be as much as all the residents of an average-size state use in 21/2 days.

Install a low-flow or dual flush toilet. These types use less water per flush, and dual flush models give you the choice of flushing with more water or less depending on the, um, "action." If you can't install a new toilet, put a half-gallon jug of water in your tank--make sure it doesn't float--to reduce its volume. Toilets account for about 27 percent of the water we consume indoors. As a nation, we flush almost 11 billion gallons per day. Place a half-gallon jug in your tank, and your household of four could save about 4,400 gallons per year. Low-flows and dual flushes cut use in half--up to 3 gallons per flush--compared to older toilets.

Take a shorter shower. The average person showers for 8 minutes a day. Every minute uses about 21/2 gallons of water. So that's 20 gallons of water for the average shower. If everyone turned off the water 1 minute sooner, the savings across the country would total nearly 12 billion gallons.

Screw on a low-flow showerhead. These and low-flow faucet aerators (see page 9) can reduce your water consumption by 50 percent. That means your teenager can still spend twice as much time in the shower--but only use half the amount of water.

Skip baths. Filling the tub can use three times as much water as taking an average-length shower. This savings alone amounts to 12,000 gallons a year. That's about as much water as it takes to fill an average above-ground swimming pool.

Fill the sink instead of letting the water run when you shave. You'll save 90 gallons of water a month. We could fill a football stadium 1,370 times with the water saved if every US adult male did this.


Measure your coffee-making water more accurately, and the 1 extra cup you leave behind at the bottom of the coffeepot won't go to waste. The biggest single use of drinking water is for making coffee. The 48 percent of US adults, or 106 million people, who drink it every day can make sure it's good to the last drop. Savings: 2.4 billion gallons per year.

Don't always believe the box when you cook. It only takes 11/2 quarts of water, for instance, to cook a £d of pasta,whereas most instructions say it takes between 4 and 6 quarts. Considering that we cook a billion £ds of pasta per year in the United States, the water savings could equal a billion gallons as well.

You don't have to drink that much water to be hydrated. It's a myth that you need eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day to stay healthy. Four 8- ounce glasses will do for the average healthy human being. And even that is generous: We get most of the water we need to survive from the food we eat. Cut the myth in half, and we'd save more than 300 million liters of water a day, which is almost as much as all the bottled water sold every day throughout the world.

Only freeze ice cubes you'll use within a month, especially if you have a frost-free freezer. The water "in" ice cubes evaporates after several weeks because of sublimation, when H2O goes from its solid state to a gas. Your freezer fan and opening and closing the freezer door speed up this process. It takes about 11/2 cups of water to fill a tray. Evaporate a tray from every household in America, and we lose some 10 million gallons into thin air.

Compost instead of running water to clear your disposal. Five gallons of water per minute are being wasted as your food goes down the drain. Compost by turning your food waste into fertilizer and at the same time save almost 2,000 gallons of water per year.

Soak your vegetables instead of rinsing them with the tap on. You'll need only about a cup of water for a £d of vegetables versus the 80 cups you'd use by letting the tap run.

Have designated drinking glasses for family members that they can use throughout the day--or across multiple days--instead of having them take a new glass each time they get thirsty. This will cut down on the washing (and the water) required for no good reason except a "fresh glass."

Scrape excess food into the trash can or compost bin instead of rinsing dishes before placing them in the dishwasher. Why rinse-wash-rinse when you can just wash-rinse? Sticky food lovers: Wet a sponge and use that instead of letting the tap run.

Use your dishwasher, and you'll use half as much water as you would washing by hand. The average dishwasher uses about 11 gallons of water per load. At four loads a week, you'll save 2,300 gallons a year.


If you wash clothes by hand, don't. It's the 21st century. Washing and rinsing just one garment by hand can use as much water as a whole load in an efficient washing machine: 20 gallons.

Use a front-loading Energy Star washing machine and cut down on the water used for your wash cycles. A front-loader uses 13 gallons less, on average, than the typical top-loading washer. Considering that there are 80 million washing machines in the United States, more than 400 billion gallons of water per year could be saved. If you are stuck with a top-loader for now, reduce your wash times. Depending on the machine, you can save about 5 gallons per minute.

Cut down on the number of loads you do. Wash full loads and you'll achieve maximum efficiency with your washing machine. A typical household uses 15,000 gallons of water to wash clothes each year, which is about 15 percent of the total indoor water use. Double your loads and save 7,500 gallons of water a year. If you were to bottle the savings, you could fill more than 28,000 liter-size containers, more than enough for everyone in a small town.


The number one plant killer is overwatering. Professional gardeners claim that most indoor plants are overwatered by 90 percent. Most plants only need to be covered in 1 inch of water per week. The savings from just one plant in every household could flood the country.

Check the house for leaks. A dripping faucet can waste up to 20 gallons of water per day. That's as much as 7,300 gallons a year. A leaky toilet can waste up to 100 gallons a day, or 36,500 gallons a year! To check the toilet, put a drop of food coloring in the tank at night. If by morning it's in the bowl, you've got a leak. To check the faucet: Look or listen.

Use low-flow faucet aerators. They're not expensive and are easy to attach. A family of four can save more than 8,000 gallons of water per year, or roughly a whole summer's worth of showers.

Choose a refrigerated air conditioner instead of an evaporative cooler. Evaporative units cool air by bringing it into close contact with water and can account for 30 percent of total annual water consumption if they're used constantly in the warmer months. (They can require up to 10 gallons or more an hour.) Air conditioner units use refrigerants to cool the air. These use more energy, but they save water.

Go tankless. Tankless water heaters (also called on-demand water heaters) instantaneously save water because they heat water directly without the use of a storage tank. Considering that it can take a minute or two of running the tap before hot water from a traditional water heater gets to you, an awful lot of waste--at least 5 gallons per awaiting-hot-water episode--can be avoided. Tankless water heaters are also up to 50 percent more energy efficient.

Water meters, just like gas and electric meters, sometimes lie. Check the reading on yours (it's typically located in an easy-to-spot place on the outside of your home), then fill a bucket with a few gallons to see if the reading is accurate. For obsessive types, smart water meter monitors have been developed that transmit signals to a little screen you can place inside your house (there are even little magnet ones for your refrigerator door). It's simple to determine individual use: Divide the total amount of water used by the number of people in the house. Other monitors come equipped with leak sensors and send out an alert. Yup, a blue alert!

Wrap your pipes. Installing piping insulation is a relatively easy fix for preventing hot water from cooling off on its way to the tap. When you get the water temperature you want sooner, you waste less. Insulation is inexpensive and can be found at most hardware stores. If you are in for the big fix, think about a direct plumbing plan. Long, winding pipes are inefficient. Brain teaser: Why is it that when you turn on the hot water, the volume of cold that comes out before the water warms up is one and a half times the volume of the pipes? You first have to push out all the cold water in the pipe before it flows hot. Then, once the hot water enters the pipe, you lose some of the initial heat to the cold pipe itself.


Check the time. Every minute a faucet runs, you use several gallons of water. If it's an older device, you're likely using three times that amount. No matter, get a low-flow device and save about half the water you'd normally use.

More accurately measure the amount of water you use. Whether it was for a plant, some pasta, or a pot of coffee, leftover water can't be saved for another day; it's wasted. Bad math is bad for the planet. Count the drops correctly.

Embrace technology. Sure, you save more when you use a dishwasher versus washing by hand, and the same holds true for your car; go to an automatic car wash and save 100 gallons compared to your own hose-and-bucket job.

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