Tips to Save Water – No Water Wars on my account

rain water tank screened with plants g 250

5oooltr rain water tank screened with a creeper

Water saving tips at home.   We are an upper middle income household of  Mom, Dad, two adult children, guinea pigs, indigenous trees and a veggie garden.  We live in Cape Town where the municipal water supply is being outpaced by the city’s growing population and challenged by Climate Change induced fluctuations in rainfall.  So while the demand for water is growing the supply is constrained by droughts and no significant new water catchments to tap into.   Alternative water resources such as desalination have very high energy costs making it an expensive option.  Recycling of water from treated sewage effluent is increasingly being used in Cape Town for irrigation.  Recycling to the level of potable water also has high cost implications.  Efficient use of water is the least cost option.

To ensure the provision of a fair and adequate supply of water, the cost of purified water in Cape Town – ranked with the best in the world – is going to increase.  Right now homes in Cape Town get 6 kiloliters (6000ltrs) of water for FREE per month.  Thereafter households are charged per kiloliter for water consumption. What water efficiency measures can we put in place to reduce our demand and to ensure that the unique natural environment of the Western Cape also gets its  ecological quota?

At home we started with a water audit (for a water use table click here) to get an idea of what activities and appliances use water and how much is used.   Our biggest water consumers were the garden, the toilet (flushing away drinking water), the showers and the clothes washing machine in that order.  The last two provide opportunities to reuse water as grey water.

Specific Water Saving Tips for the Home.

Save water use rinse water basins g 250

Use rinse water in the garden.

In the Kitchen: 

We keep a plastic basin in the `rinse’ sink and use the rinse water to water the garden or flush the toilet.  When we wash fruit or our hands under the tap the plastic basin captures the water that would otherwise go down the drain. We also have a dedicated sink for washing fruit and veggies, tipping out cold tea etc which has an outlet pipe that directly waters the shrubs below the kitchen window. See photo.  On LHS is the grey plastic rinse basin and behind the partition, the dedicated rinsing sink or prep bowl.

Which saves more water the dishwasher or hand washing? This is an ongoing debate.  In truth the answer is highly dependent on whether or not the machine is an eco- rated one and how it is used.  Running a dishwashers with a full load on econo-wash uses less water than rinsing mugs and washing dishes a number of times a day.  However dishwasher water is not suitable for use as grey water.  This means that using the rinse water for the garden is not an option when using a dish washer.

The water from the washing machine – especially if you are using an eco-friendly washing powder with no chlorine bleach, fragrances and low phosphate – should be connected to a grey water system. Our washing machine water gravity feeds into a patch of shrubbery that responds by hosting families of white -eyes and sunbirds.

In the Bathroom: 

Shower Water: We are strict about short showers. If you can’t get family members to take short showers install a  low flow or aerated shower head.  The water from our DIY grey water from shower to gardenshower feeds into a grey water drum which in turn waters a shrubby part of the garden by gravity feed.  See the photo of our DIY grey water system.  It has a tap at the base of the old rubber refuse bin to allow water to be piped into the garden.  We can close the tap to catch the water in the drum and then scoop it out with a watering can.  Grey water must be used within 24 hours as bacterial action in the water can cause an unpleasant odour.  It is best to use natural soaps and cleaning agents if you plan to water your garden with grey water.  If you do not want to go DIY find out about commercial grey water systems which have filters and pumps.  E.G. A Water Rhapsody spokes person on Cape Talk (25 -11-2015) commented that they install grey water systems designed to water the garden with sprinklers for between R12000 & R18000 depending on the situation.  Depending on your water bill, the return on investment of a grey water system is typically 2 years.

Flushing the toilet:  The toilet cisterns in our home are  modern small ones (5-6ltrs) with dual flush mechanisms. Many older cisterns use between 8 – 11 ltrs.  In a typical home, flushing the toilet can account for  a quarter of water used in the house.  The thought of so much clean water being flushed away motivated us to think about alternatives. We keep a bucket in the bathroom which we use for washing feet & hands.  This water gets poured into the toilet cistern thereby avoiding the use of liters of potable each month.  The simplest way to save is to flush less.  “If it is yellow let it mellow” is a reminder not to flush after each wee pee.   Not for the squeamish but `Soil for Life’ recommends pouring your urine onto your compost heap.  No flushing required with this option and urine is a valuable source of mineral additives.

In the Garden: 

Rain tanks of various sizes, either JOJO tanks or rercyled drums collect rain water from our roof which we use to water the garden and to fill the bird baths.   Birds need water too especially in our long hot dry summers.

The garden comprises mostly indigenous water wise plants with small patches of lawn as well as vegetables and herbs.  We use grey water, rain water and a DIY well point to water the garden.  The water wise indigenous plants attract a menagerie of birds, chameleons, lizards, leopard toads, interesting insects and bats – even the odd slug eater snake.

In summer we often shower in the garden under a tree which has a shower rose attachment for the hose.  An enclosed garden shower with water piped from the solar water geyser is on our green home DIY list. 

Our cars are also washed on the lawn with eco-friendly soap using a bucket with rain water.

Paved areas are swept NOT hosed down.


Investing money in water tanks and time in behavioural changes has not  made us water independent.   We are however far less dependent on potable (City) water and resilient even when once again the water pipe in our street bursts. The increasing cost of water is also less of a concern as we learn to use less water while enjoying a flourishing garden.  Please share your water wise stories – and grow our learning.

Kim Kruyshaar April 2013