Outdoor Water Use at Home

In water use, water use outdoors

  • In some suburban areas, outdoor water use is as high as 80 percent of all home water use, primarily from watering the lawn.
  • An uncovered pool can lose thousands of gallons of water a month to evaporation.
  • A self-service car wash with a pistol-grip nozzle is the most efficient way to wash a car.

Lawn Care Uses a Lot of Water

In some urban and suburban areas in the Southwest US, outdoor water use can reach up to a whopping 80 percent of all home water use. This is a serious concern considering the region’s primary water sources like the Colorado River and Sierra Nevada Mountains are already over-allocated and, during times of drought, can be stretched very thin.

Residents of the Southwest aren’t alone, though. Many people across the nation water lawns during dry spells and droughts, drawing from already strained water supplies. This is especially concerning considering that no section of the country is immune from drought or water scarcity and state water managers anticipate water shortages in 40 of 50 states over the next 10 years.

No matter where people live, it’s important to think about outdoor water conservation, especially in lawn care. A well-managed yard not only uses less water, it can also significantly cut down on downstream water pollution from using too much fertilizer and pesticides.

Swimming Pools Can Waste a Lot of Water

Swimming pools are major outdoor water users. The average pool takes about 18,000 gallons of water to fill (find out how to calculate pool volumes) and an uncovered pool can lose thousands of gallons a month from evaporation in arid areas. Over the course of a year, that could add up to 30,000 gallons (and a high water bill) if it is refilled each year. If a pool seems like it is losing a lot of water, it might have a leak (here’s an easy way to find out).

Covered pools  save 30 to 50 percent of the water that would otherwise evaporate and 50 to 70 percent of the heating energy lost from a heated pool that isn’t covered. Heated pools use even more water, because the energy used to heat a pool would most likely come from a thermoelectric power plant. These plants withdraw billions of gallons of water each year across the US for their cooling systems. Covered pools save water and energy, and they save dollars, too.

Car Washes Use Less Water than Garden Hoses

Washing a car can help preserve its life, but it takes a lot of water – about 100 gallons, on average – to get a car clean if it’s washed at home with a hose. In addition, the accumulated dirt and grease that comes off a car goes into gutters and can end up in local waterways. Automatic and full-service car washes are a better option all around because they use much less water (15 to 60 gallons) and anything that comes off a car will go down a drain and into a wastewater treatment plant. Some car washes even recycle their water. The best car wash in terms of water use is a self-service car wash. They use the least amount of water because of their high-pressure hoses and easy-to-turn-off pistol grips.

Cars use water in other ways besides car washes. It takes a lot of water to make gasoline – approximately one to 2.5 gallons of water for one gallon of gasoline – which means that unnecessary driving trips waste water. Instead, ditch the car and carpool, walk, ride a bike or take public transportation.

Remember: Saving water saves energy, too! A little bit of planning can curb outdoor water waste, and save both energy and money.

What You Can Do

  • Consider xeriscaping your landscape: Reduce or eliminate lawn watering altogether by creating a xeriscape that doesn’t need as much water – consider native plants and trees that can survive entirely on rainwater, or rock gardens.
  • Capture rainwater: Set up a rain barrel under a gutter to catch hundreds of gallons of rainwater each summer that can be used for watering the lawn or washing the car. Cover it with a fine-mesh screen so it doesn’t breed mosquitoes. Be sure to check local municipal regulations first to see if rain barrels are allowed.
  • Learn about saving water outdoors:  There are lots of ways to cut outdoor water use on the lawn, garden and pool and while washing the car.