Water conservation is fast becoming a priority for many homeowners.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that leaks account for 9,400 gallons of water wasted each year. That’s about the amount of water needed to wash more than 300 loads of laundry.
Whether your reason for conserving water is mandated because of a drought or to combat high utility bills, adopt these simple water-saving measures to dramatically cut your home’s water usage.
Here are the 5 hot spots to tackle.
1. Home Infrastructure and Appliances
To conserve more water in your home, start at the source.
First, check for leaks in the pipes. A visual inspection can quickly reveal any problems that need repairs.
In addition, read your water meter when no water is being used, then look at it again after a few hours to see if the gauge has changed.
Fixing the leak could be as simple as replacing a faucet washer, or you may discover a more serious problem such as an unseen leak in a pipe.
Here’s a win-win solution: Installing foam insulation on hot water pipes saves both water and energy by providing hot water faster and keeping it hot longer. This reduces the water wasted from running the tap to heat it up.
Finally, when replacing appliances like dishwashers or washing machines, look for models that have earned the U.S. government’s Energy Star rating, certifying they use less water and energy.
Plumbing fixtures such as faucets and toilets that carry the Environmental Protection Agency WaterSense label use, on average, 20 percent less water than conventional fixtures.
2. Your Bathrooms
Toilets are the largest users of water in the home — but some of them are more efficient than others. Look on the bottom of the tank lid, or inside the tank wall, to find the date your toilet was manufactured. Toilets made before 1993 use two to three times the water of new ones.
If you have an older model, consider replacing it with a new low-flush or a dual-flush toilet that can use as little as 1 gallon per flush for maximum water conservation.
If replacing a toilet isn’t in your budget, add a few inches of gravel or sand to a plastic soft drink bottle, fill it with water, screw on the cap, and put it in the tank away from the float and flapper. The increased volume from the bottle reduces the amount of water in the tank, so less is used per flush.
If you notice your toilet refilling periodically when it hasn’t been flushed, it’s a sure sign your toilet has a leak. These leaks can waste thousands of gallons of water if not repaired.
A constantly running toilet, weak or incomplete flushing and a slow-filling tank aren’t just frustrating — they can also increase your water usage.
The DIY-friendly kit comes with a toilet fill valve, flush valve with stainless-steel bolts, Tank-To-Bowl Gasket and color-coded tools for the fastest installation possible and, if necessary, a complete tank rebuild. It eliminates the need for extra trips to the store for an unknown part or tool — and that saves time, money and frustration.
To conserve more water, change up your hygiene routine. Reducing time spent in the shower can save 2 to 5 gallons of water per minute, or GPM. Installing a water-saving showerhead will prevent thousands of gallons a year from going down the drain.
To see if you need a new showerhead, put a 5-gallon bucket in the shower and turn on the water. If it fills in less than two minutes, consider replacing the showerhead with a water-saving model that uses two GPM or less.
Finally, leaving the faucet running while you shave or brush your teeth wastes water. Turn the water off while you brush and fill the sink to rinse your razor.
3. The Kitchen
A few changes in the kitchen can significantly cut down your water usage. For instance, thaw frozen food in the refrigerator overnight instead of using a running tap of hot water — it’s not necessary.
When used properly, a dishwasher uses less water than hand-washing. Run your dishwasher only when it’s full and use water-saving settings for more efficiency. Doing this saves the average family nearly 320 gallons of water annually.
If you hand-wash, fill one side of a double sink with soapy water for washing and the other with clean water for rinsing. Letting your faucet run for five minutes while washing dishes can waste 10 gallons of water.
Also, install low-flow aerators on faucets — these reduce water flow to one gallon per minute or less.
Finally, do you drink a lot of tap water? If so, don’t keep the water running until it cools off for drinking. Instead, fill a pitcher or bottle and keep it in the fridge.
4. Your Laundry Room
Washing clothes accounts for the second-largest water use in the home. Put off doing laundry for the sake of water conservation.
Only run the washer with a full load of clothes and use the shortest cycle for lightly soiled clothing. And if you really want to reduce water use, avoid the permanent press cycle, which uses up to 5 gallons more water per load.
While washing clothes in cold water saves energy by reducing water heating, it uses the same amount of water as warm or hot settings.
5. The Yard
Every year, we waste billions of gallons of water to keep our lawns and gardens green. Much of this water is lost due to overwatering, evaporation, poor sprinkler design or lack of maintenance.
Use a drip irrigation system or a soaker hose to reduce water use. These methods deliver water slowly and directly to the plant’s roots, and much less water is lost to evaporation.
If you have a programmable irrigation system, install a rain sensor. It will interrupt the program cycle when it rains, so you won’t overwater your lawn.
Better yet, start at the ground level to keep your water use at a minimum. Choose native and drought-tolerant plants to create a water-smart landscape that’s beautiful and efficient.
Here are some other water conservation options for the yard:
Sweep driveways, sidewalks and steps rather than hosing them down.
Wash the car with water from a bucket, or consider using a commercial car wash that recycles water.
If you have a pool, use a cover to reduce evaporation when it’s not in use.
Following these water-saving tips can reduce household water use by 30 percent or more.
Start simple by changing wasteful habits and fixing leaks, then move up to installing water-saving fixtures and appliances.
Not only will it save money, but you’ll also reduce the needless drain on one of our most precious resources.
What are some of the steps our listeners should take when planting shrubs?
Sid: Before you plant shrubs, follow these three steps:
Have a plan. You need the right type of plant for your environment in the right location. Think about space, sunlight and water, then ask yourself these questions: Where will the plants go? Will the area have too much or too little water? Are they the right plants for the right place for the sunlight they need?
Lay out the bed. Use spray paint to outline the bed line, then rent a sod cutter to remove the turf and vegetation.
Add soil: Make sure to build the soil up. You can use top soil, bagged soil or an organic specialty blend. The main goal is to add some kind of amendment to the existing soil so your plants will have the nutrition they need.
When digging holes for your plants, go wide. The hole should be three times the width of the container. Giving it that space to grow out is much more important than how deep the hole is.
However, you don’t want to dig the hole too deep to where water settles around it. Plant it level to the ground or about a half inch above the soil level. You want water to drain away from the base of the plant.
Then add natural mulch, like pine straw, bark and hay. It will create a mat that will prevent weeds from growing. Weeds sprout from seeds that can be spread through the wind. If you create a thick layer of mulch, it will prevent the seeds from reaching the soil.
Landscape fabric also does this, but personally, I don’t use it because of the climate I live in. It stays hot almost year-round in south Alabama, so landscape fabric tends to trap heat underground and damage roots. Also, it can push water to low areas and lead to root rot.
Mulch also insulates the roots, preventing them from getting too hot and cold. And it keeps moisture in the soil from evaporating too quickly. As natural mulch breaks down, it adds organic matter to the soil.
Best Time to Prune
What are some general tips about pruning? When is the best time and are there different steps for different plants?
Sid: All plants require some pruning to keep them in shape and promote healthy growth.
There’s lots of nuance in pruning but a general rule for flowering plants is you want to prune the plant after it blooms.
Many people have strong opinions on trimming and pruning crape myrtles. What’s your opinion?
Sid: A crape myrtle blooms off new growth. So, some people hack away at the branches to stimulate this new growth. But this isn’t necessary — you can still produce new growth and keep the shape of the plant with selective pruning.
Select pruning eliminates an ugly knuckle from forming and maintains full foliage. Here’s how to do it.
First, prune cross branches — branches that are rubbing together and growing across from each other. You want the tree to grow up and out, so trim the branches that are growing toward the middle.
Then, prune broken branches and any branch that’s smaller than your pinky.
Making your house look great at the first glance doesn’t have to be a costly investment. These simple and affordable curb appeal ideas can update your home while boosting its appeal to visitors and potential buyers.
1. Dress Up Your House Number
First on our list of curb appeal ideas is stylishly displaying your house number. Not only does it add curb appeal but it also clearly shows your house number for first responders and ensures packages get delivered to the right home.
This house number wall planter project is a two-for-one – you get a wall planter that also prominently displays your house number. Plus, it can be built in less than half a day.
First, measure and cut the wood for your house number wall planter. For this project, we used cedar because of its scent, but you can use any type of wood.
Here are the cuts you’ll need:
Three 1x6s at 24 inches
Two 1x4s at 3.5 inches
One 1×4 at 12 inches
One 1×4 at 13.5 inches
Choose whether you want the rough side or the smooth side of your cedar facing out, then drill pocket holes on the backs of two of your 1×6 boards.
Apply wood glue and drill wood screws to attach the three 1×6 boards together to form the wall planter panel.
Drill the D-ring hangers to the back of the panel.
To assemble the planter box, use the 12-inch piece for the bottom, the 13.5-inch piece for the front and the two 3.5-inch pieces as the sides. Apply wood glue and then nail them together.
Use a scrap piece of wood to hold the planter box three-quarters of an inch from the bottom of the panel. Then, attach the planter box to the panel using wood screws from behind. Sand the house number planter box. If you want a glossy look, apply a wood sealer.
Lay out your house numbers and mark the holes’ locations. Drill mounting holes with a 3/16-inch drill bit and attach the elevated numbers.
Hang the wall planter up on your house before adding the dirt and plants.
2. Replace Your Mailbox
While we’re on the subject of house numbers, give some attention to your mailbox!
Mailboxes serve a dual purpose: they collect your mail, but they also send a message about the homeowner’s attentiveness to their dwelling.
A tattered old mailbox suggests a lack of care. Don’t risk sending the wrong message: install a sparkling new mailbox.
From traditional to polished-nickel options, choose from dozens of styles and sizes. Consider whether you’ll need to enlist help for installation: a wall-mounted mailbox will only require some screws and a screwdriver, but roadside mailboxes that sit on posts might require an expert’s help.
If you have to dig a post hole for your new mailbox, call 811 before you dig to ensure that you stay clear of any utility lines.
Next on our list of curb appeal ideas is spruing up the front porch.
Here’s an easy formula to improve your front porch’s appearance: furniture, plants and wreaths.
Front porch furniture — like gliding, lounging or rocking chairs — welcomes guests and invites them to sit, take a load off and enjoy some conversation.
You can find nice, inexpensive furniture at a thrift store to add character. Shop for something that looks good but doesn’t require refinishing.
Plants offer a nice break from your home’s hard features (such as windows, doors, roofing and siding). To add texture and soften your home’s exterior appearance, purchase plants at the home and garden center and place them in pots made for outdoor use.
Just get one or two planters — most hardware stores or gardening shops sell inexpensive faux terracotta ones — to arrange near your front entrance. Place two planters on either side of your front door or cascade multiple down the front steps.
Here’s a suggestion for a starter plant: hardy and beautiful hibiscus! These slow growers provide abundant greenery with massive (up to 10-inch) blooms.
When the weather turns colder, move the pots indoors to enjoy them through the winter months.
When you’re picking out your plants, one simple phrase should be the key to your planter or window box: “fillers, spillers and thrillers.”
Fillers: Leafy greens will fill the space and complete the look
Spillers: Flowers like Creeping Jenny flow over the container’s sides
Thrillers: These plants offer the “wow” factor. Pops of color will draw the visitor’s eye
To fully capture the senses, add some aromatics to emit a gentle fragrance as guests enter your home. Keep in mind that your climate will also play a role in what you should plant.
Check the online version of the Farmers’ Almanac to learn what will and won’t grow well in your area.
Who says door wreaths are just for winter holidays? Make any door look great with a year-round wreath. Embellish the wreath based on the current season and add or remove accessories — such as a large initial of your family’s last name — as needed.
Scan the web, shop around and purchase these items in advance and you can move them into position and dress your front porch in less than an hour!
4. Paint the Front Door
A new paint color is the most budget-friendly of this list of curb appeal ideas. Don’t underestimate the power of a fresh coat of paint. The average gallon of paint costs between $15 and $30 — a reasonable investment that packs a punch when it comes to improving the look of a home.
Options for front door colors are as endless as your imagination. However, choose one that complements the color scheme of your home’s exterior. For a monochromatic color scheme, choose darker and lighter shades within the same color. To add eye-catching contrast, pick a door color that’s on the opposite end of the color wheel as your home’s main color.
Playful pops of colors are very on trend when it comes to door updates. But classic colors and stains never go out of style. A simple coat of faux mahogany finish can give instant curb appeal and won’t cost you a boatload.
Get the most mileage out of your paint job with these tips:
1. Remove any hardware. This includes knockers, kick plates and door handles. By taking these off, you avoid getting paint on your hardware, and you can ensure that you cover the whole door with paint.
2. Clean it. Soap and water should do the job, but if there’s years’ worth of build up, use a pressure washer to power wash the grim away.
3. Lay it flat. Taking the door off its hinges is an extra step that most likely means a two-person job, but removing the door makes it easier to apply the paint in even coats.
4. Sand it. By sanding your door before you paint, you can remove dust, debris, and old paint layers. Sanding can also help your paint stick better, giving you a cleaner, crisper fresh coat.
5. Change the locks. Now is a great time to invest in some new home security. Replace your old deadbolt and handle with a brand new set and consider installing smart locks for keyless entry.
Number five on our list of curb appeal ideas is upgrading your front door’s hardware.
It’s a simple, cost-effective and you can choose from a variety of colors and metal types, like silver, gold, satin nickel, copper, and oiled bronze.
Plus, hardware comes in many shapes and sizes, so before heading to the home center, consider the look and function you want — for instance, do you want knobs or levers? Do you want to turn, pull or push the handle to open the door?
With all of these options, you can easily find hardware to match your personal style and enhance your home’s aesthetic on a budget.
Just consider how the new hardware will look compared with your interior doors’ hardware. You may not want, say, an oiled bronze lever on the front door if brass knobs are on two close-by interior doors.
Or you may want to replace all your interior knobs with levers to match the front door for a consistent look throughout the home. Or at least spray the existing knobs with an oiled bronze finish to match.
Either way, it’s your home, and it’s your decision.
6. Install Concrete Borders
Lawn borders contain your mulch and define flowerbeds and pathways, giving your landscaping a finished look.
It doesn’t cost much to install concrete borders — expect to pay an estimated $2 per linear foot for materials. Out of all these curb appeal ideas, this is the most hands on, do-it-yourself project, so keep in mind the time and labor it will take.
Expect to dig a trench, build and install wood forms, pour in some gravel and then top that with concrete mix. Add just a few extra steps if you want to color the concrete mix, and give this project about three days to cure.
In a week, your flower beds will look better than ever and your front yard will have a sense of order to it — all thanks to a simple border!
While we’re on the subject of lawns, here’s another home curb appeal idea: install exterior lighting.
Adding a few lights to your front yard allows you to literally shine a spotlight on your home’s best features.
Landscape lightsare easy to install, and solar varieties are self-sufficient, so they won’t put a strain on your energy bill.
First, light walkways with garden lights or bollard lights, then move on to accent lighting. Use spotlights or up/down lights to highlight features like a large tree or a flag pole.
Want to add some ambiance to your patio? Hang some string lights!
Before you install landscape lighting, test the layout and determine the focal point for the brightest light. Simply tape flashlights to stakes and position them around the yard at night to see how halogen or incandescent landscape lights will look.
You can also place luminaries – composed of a white bag with sand and a candle inside – around your yard at night to mimic the look of solar-powered landscape lighting.
The positive impacts of gardening are almost endless, especially when it comes to our mental and physical health. These benefits fall into two main categories: “active” and “passive.”
Active benefits are all about getting to work and doing something in your garden, helping you clear your mind while getting your hands dirty. Gardening, and similar physical activity outside, does your body wonders.
Studies show spending more time outdoors leads to fewer long-term health problems, according to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. These benefits include improved heart health, flexibility, strength, and dexterity — all leading to better mental health.
Contrarily, backyard gardening’s passive benefits are about simply being in nature or outdoor space. It provides a positive distraction from stresses in your life.
Many studies show just being in nature has a positive impact on our stress levels and brain chemistry, according to the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.
Backyard gardening also helps you “feel alive,” letting you take your mind off work while giving you a new sense of purpose outside of the daily grind.
Backyard Gardening By Your Senses
The goal of backyard gardening is to create a yard and garden that reflect how you want to live outside. Doug recommends designing your mental health garden according to your five senses.
Sight: The simple sight of a breathtaking array of plants, an arrangement of your favorite flowers, or interesting objects in your garden is bound to boost your mood.
Taste: Growing your own fruits, veggies and herbs will provide you an incredibly rewarding harvest, in more ways than one. Not only are you able to enjoy the produce you have grown for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but you get the personal satisfaction of a job well done.
Hearing: Creating habitats for birds and other animals will add the sounds of nature to help you relax in your garden. Also, add wind chimes and water features that’ll produce soothing, stress-relieving sounds.
Touch: From the light, feathery textures of flower petals, to the rough surfaces of tree bark or bush stems, touch goes a long way in giving you a deeper sense of connection to your garden. This all ties back to a combination of active and passive benefits of backyard gardening, helping you establish a deeper sense of purpose.
Smell: Certain smells can bring back forgotten, happy memories. Add fragrant flowers and herbs to your garden bed, so you can literally “stop to smell the roses.”
Tips for Designing Your Mental Health Garden
When designing a garden, create “rooms” connected by meandering paths that let you get away from it all. These rooms provide mini spaces that you can retreat to, so you can rest, unwind, and feel restored.
However, your outdoor spaces don’t always need to be quiet and sedentary. If you enjoy being outside with others, creating gathering spaces in your yard is a great idea. And, if you have an outdoor hobby like exercising, painting, or writing, you can create spaces to do just that.
You shouldn’t get ahead of yourself and start creating a ginormous garden right off the bat. Start small, simple, and stress-free, and grow your garden out from there. Pick easy-to-grow plants that require little maintenance or start a simple vegetable garden in a raised bed.
So, start backyard gardening today — your mental health will be better off because of it.
Looking for more tips to breathe new life into your outdoor spaces? Check out Exmark’s Done-In-A-Weekend project series, featuring simple, budget-friendly DIY projects.
You’ll need two hollow half foam balls for each garden sphere you want to create. I’m making two spheres at a time, so I’ve got four half foam balls.
First, use a hot knife foam cutter to make a 2- or 3-inch-diameter hole in the tops of two half foam balls. (These will serve as the spheres’ tops, in which you’ll pour the concrete — but we’ll get to that later.)
Then, set the other two half foam balls in planters or containers filled with dirt to hold them steady. (These will serve as the spheres’ bottoms.) Stick toothpicks into the rims of each bottom half foam ball and apply caulk all along the rims. The toothpicks keep the top foam ball from shifting, while the caulk creates a seal so no concrete mix seeps out.
Place the other two half foam balls on top of the bottom half balls, ensuring the toothpicks connect the bottom halves with their tops, all the way around. Wait for the caulk to dry. Most silicone caulk takes 24 hours to dry, but some fast-drying caulks only take one to three hours.
For easier removal, cut long triangles along the balls with the hot knife to help leverage the form off the concrete sphere.
Sand Any Imperfections
Once you remove all the foam, sand the entire sphere with 120- or 150-grit sandpaper for a smooth finish.
Sealing concrete is always a good idea — it will keep the garden spheres from getting moldy, and it will add a slight sheen. Use Quikrete Acrylic Cure and Seal once the concrete has hardened and the surface sheen has disappeared.
Now, all that’s left to do is decide where you want to show them off in your garden!