Typical household water use (2016).

Household water use is on the decline

By Karen Mancl, Professor Food, Agricultural & Biological Engineering, The Ohio State University

Household water use is on the decline, which is good news. This is reversing a trend started in the 1950s of families steadily increasing their water use. Household water use peaked in the late 1990s. The required use of low-flush toilets and the introduction of low-water using washing machines is making all the difference. Water use per person has decreased 15% over the 17-year period 1999 to 2016, from an average of 60 gallons to 51 gallons per person per day. The biggest reductions were in water used to flush toilets and wash clothes. Figure 1 shows the typical household water use.

Household water leaks remain a problem and have been found to increase water use by 9.5 gallons per household each day. Efforts to fix a leaking faucet or running toilet can have a big impact for both the water supply and the wastewater treatment system.

The amount of water used by fixtures has changed over the years. The most significant changes were in toilets and washing machines. The current federal standard for toilets is 1.6 gallons per flush down from the 5 to 7 gallons per flush of older fixtures. WaterSense labels show the fixture has passed third party testing for performance and efficiency. Some new toilets use even less water at 1.28 gallons per flush. 

The biggest household water savings come from washing clothes. New machines use less water per load with front-loading washers having the biggest water savings. It is worth replacing an old appliance or fixture to save water.

To improve the performance of their septic system and extend its life, encourage homeowners to install water saving fixtures and fix leaks. A useful handout is the new OSU Fact Sheet “Household Water Use – AEX-420.” You can find a link to the fact sheet on the SETLL.osu.edu website.

Karen Mancl is a Professor in the Ohio State University Department of Food, Agricultural & Biological Engineering. This column is provided by the OSU Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, OSU Extension, Ohio Agricultural Research & Development Center, and the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. For more information, Mancl can be reached at 614-292-4505 or Mancl.1@osu.edu.

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