3) Fine-Tune Irrigation with Accessories
You may not need to replace your irrigation system if it's still in good condition. For a temporary solution with low input costs, consider using add-on devices to reduce outdoor water consumption.
Hoses: Shutoff valves allow you to cut off the water flow at the nozzle instead of at the water source. If you're using a hose or pressure washer to rinse hard surfaces, consider adding a water broom, Elvert recommends. The tool resembles a push broom, but instead of bristles, it has small water jets that aim water only where you need it.
Irrigation: A weather-based irrigation controller adjusts the timing of water depending on the previous day's weather and can cost $600 to $1,500, Vinchesi says. Some can also factor in evapotranspiration, a value combining the rates of evaporation and transpiration (how quickly the plant is absorbing water).
Look for a certification from the EPA's WaterSense program to ensure you're purchasing a water-efficient model, Tanner recommends.
"Compared to a simple clock timer, a WaterSense-certified controller can save you about 8,000 gallons per year," Tanner explains. "If everyone in the U.S. who has in-ground irrigation properly installed a certified irrigation controller, it would save about $435 million in water costs and 120 billion gallons of water annually."
Smart sensors: Areas vulnerable to periodic rain year-round, such as the Midwest, may benefit from rain sensors that shut off irrigation when they sense measurable rainfall, Lefstead says.
Soil moisture dispensers, on the other hand, keep the irrigation system off until they sense that the soil needs water. Pair them with the weather-based controller for best results, and if needed, look for a controller that will accept more than one sensor, Elvert adds.
4) Fix Your Fountains
There are several ways to reduce the amount of potable water needed to fill outdoor water features. Fountains, artificial waterfalls, and similar installations can use recirculated water or alternative water sources.
For example, the National Mall in Washington, DC, uses some potable water in addition to stormwater runoff from the ground. Rainwater catchment systems can also be a good match for water features, Vinchesi notes.
5) Look Closer at Water Use
To set benchmarks or figure out which fixture to tackle first, it might be helpful to request a water audit. Auditors typically take meter readings, measure the flow or flush rates of all water-using fixtures, and look for damage, then create a customized report on how to reduce your property's water usage.
For everyday maintenance, make sure you're using a professional who is WaterSense certified – the designation indicates a practitioner who is knowledgeable about water efficiency.
"Look at your occupancy. See who's there and what's being used and identify the areas where you'll get the most bang for your buck," Elvert says. "Any time of year is fine for an audit, but the late winter or early spring is ideal because it's before you can turn on your irrigation system, which increases water use. Make sure you're managing and operating it efficiently."
Janelle Penny email@example.com is associate editor of BUILDINGS.