How to Prepare Your Home for a Drought

by Cassandra McCullersJuly 20, 2016

Before a Drought

Most methods of preparing for a drought focus on water conservation and on minimizing the impact that a drought will have on your home. Many of these suggestions can also help lower your water bill.

water-conservation

Indoors

  • Get into the habit of not wasting water by pouring it down the sink. Instead use it to water your plants.
  • Repair dripping faucets. A faucet dripping at one drop per second will waste 2,700 gallons of water a year.
  • Check your plumbing for leaks at least once a year. Call a plumber to repair any leaks.
  • Install aerators with flow restrictors on all faucets in your home.
  • Install an instant hot water heater for your sink.
  • Insulate your water pipes. This will help prevent them from breaking and help reduce heat loss.
  • If there are minerals in the water that could damage your pipes, consider installing a water softening system. Turn the softener off while you are away on vacation.
  • Choose appliances such as dishwashers that are more energy and water efficient.
  • Consider replacing your toilet with one that has a lower gallons-per-flush (gpf). Federal restrictions have been 1.6 gpf or less since 1992, but the EPA guidelines are 1.28 gpf for more efficient toilets. Some states and local areas have their own guidelines and laws on maximum gpf. Dual flush toilets are especially good for conserving water.
  • If your current toilet is not efficient and you cannot afford a new one, you can install a toilet displacement device. Place a plastic jug of water into the tank. The capacity of the jug should be the amount you wish to reduce water needed to flush by. Never use a brick as a toilet displacement device, since the brick can dissolve and cause damage to internal parts.
  • Make sure that the toilet displacement device does not interfere with the operation of the toilet or any moving parts.
  • Consider replacing your shower head with an ultra-low-flow version.
  • Do not dispose of food waste using the garbage disposal, as it demands a large amount of water to operate efficiently. Instead throw out food waste in the trash or start a compost pile.

Outdoors

  • Check your well pump regularly. The automatic pump turning itself on and off even when water is not being used is a sign of a leak.
  • Consider practicing drought-smart landscaping. Plant native drought tolerant vegetation, such as grasses, flowers, shrubs, groundcover, and trees. Plants adapted to your climate do not need to be watered nearly as frequently, and they are much more likely to survive a dry spell. Plants will still need water to establish themselves after being planted.
  • Smaller plants need less water in order to establish themselves. For ease of gardening, group plants together based on similar water needs. Be careful not to overwater, which can cause plant roots to rot.
  • Install irrigation devices that are both water efficient and suited to your particular circumstances. Examples of water efficient irrigation devices include micro and drip irrigation.
  • Consider installing a smart irrigation controller. There might be a rebate available for purchasing a smart controller, so check with your local water agency.
  • You might wish to have multiple irrigation timers if you have a large garden with varying water needs.
  • Install any irrigation timers and controllers somewhere easy to access.
  • Use mulch to retain moisture in the soil, reduce evaporation, and help prevent overheating. Mulch will also help control weeds, which compete with landscape plants for water and space. Organic mulch can improve the soil quality.
  • Do not water after a heavy rain. Depending on your circumstances, a heavy rain can eliminate the need for watering for up to two weeks.
  • Do not purchase recreational water toys that require a constant stream of water, or firmly restrict their usage to non-drought months.
  • Ornamental water features such as fountains should use recycled water, or only be turned on during non-drought months.
  • Consider rainwater harvesting if it is practical for your situation and legally allowed in your community.
  • If you have a lawn:
    • Check your neighborhood guidelines for what types of grasses and groundcovers you are allowed. Plant drought tolerant grasses if permitted. If the only groundcovers permitted are not drought tolerant, you might consider petitioning your neighborhood association to have the rules changed.
    • Position sprinklers so that water lands on the lawn and shrubs and not on paved areas.
    • If your sprinkler is spraying a fine mist, have it repaired. Misting usually results from a problem with poorly regulated pressure.
    • Consider installing a smart sprinkler timer. Install it somewhere easy to access.
    • Check sprinkler systems and sprinkler timers regularly.
    • Raise the lawnmower blade to at least three inches, preferably to its highest level. A higher cut will encourage grass to form deeper roots, better holding in moisture.
    • Do not over-fertilize your lawn, since fertilization increases the need for water. Native groundcovers will likely need far less or no fertilizer.
    • If you fertilize, use fertilizers that contain slow-release water insoluble forms of nitrogen.
    • Irrigate less in fall and not at all in winter, unless you live far enough south that plant growth continues in winter.
    • In winter, water only as needed.
    • Do not overwater. Most lawns only need one inch of water a week for most of the year. You do not need to water after it rains.
    • If you have a pool or hot tub:
    • Install a more water efficient pool filter.
    • Keep pools, hot tubs, and spas covered when not in use to help prevent evaporation.
    • Contact your local water provider for further guidelines and for assistance.
    • Your state or municipality might have additional guidelines, requirements, and resources.

dried-up-lake

During a Drought

Follow your local, state, and municipality guidelines for maximum water usage.

Indoors

  • Do not flush the toilet if you do not need to. Dispose of tissues, dead insects, and other similar waste in the trash rather than flushing it.
  • Take short showers rather than baths or long showers. If the drought is severe, turn the water on only long enough to initially get wet and then again to rinse off.
  • Do not let the water run while brushing your teeth, shaving, or washing your hands.
  • Place a bucket in the shower to catch excess water to use in watering your lawn, garden, and household plants
  • In the kitchen:
    • Do not operate dishwashers unless they are fully loaded. Use a “light wash” or similar setting if your dishwasher has it to reduce water usage.
    • If hand washing dishes, fill two containers, one with soapy water for washing and one with plain water with a small amount of chlorine bleach for rinsing.
    • Clean vegetables in a pan or bowl filled with water instead of under tap water
    • Do not run the tap while waiting for water to cool. Consider storing drinking water in the refrigerator if your tap water takes a while to run cold.
    • Do not run the tap while waiting for water to heat up. Either capture the water for other purposes, such as watering plants or storing to drink later, or heat the water yourself in the microwave or on the stovetop.
    • Do not rinse dishes before placing them in the dishwasher. Only remove large food leftovers. Most dishwashers can handle cleaning soiled dishes thoroughly
    • Do not use running water to thaw out frozen foods such as meat. You can instead thaw frozen foods using the ‘defrost’ setting on your microwave or overnight in the refrigerator
    • Only use automatic washing machines for your laundry when fully loaded, or set the water level properly for the size of your load.

Outdoors

  • Wash your car only if absolutely necessary and when permitted as per local drought restrictions.
  • If you need to wash your car, a commercial car wash that recycles water would be the most water-efficient option.
  • If you wash your own car, use a shut-off nozzle that can be adjusted down to a fine spray.
  • Water your lawn and garden only as needed.
  • Check soil moisture levels before watering, using a soil probe or manually with a spade or screwdriver. Your lawn does not need watering if the soil is still moist.
  • If grass springs back when stepped on, it is not in need of water yet.
  • If you have a lawn:
    • Water early in the morning or late in the evening when temperatures are cooler, to reduce evaporation.
    • Water in several short sessions rather than applying a lot of water at once to increase absorption of water by the soil, avoid runoff, and reduce evaporation.
    • Check your sprinkler system frequently for leaks and pressure regulation problems. Adjust your sprinklers so that all water falls on your lawn.
    • Use a leaf-blower or broom to clear sidewalks and driveways of debris rather than a hose.
    • Do not leave sprinklers or garden hoses unattended.
    • In extreme drought, consider prioritizing trees, large shrubs, and any vegetation that takes more than a year to fully establish itself over your lawn. Lawn grass is typically easier to reestablish if it dies and will recover more quickly.
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About The Author
Cassandra McCullers
Cassandra is a writer with a background in engineering, enjoying the rural life in the Virginian Appalachians. When not working, she enjoys writing fiction, running a blog, camping, working in the garden, and tending to her flock of chickens! In addition to writing, she has a passion for art and graphic design. Her interests include disaster preparedness, homesteading, landscaping, cooking with natural ingredients, history, and animal husbandry.

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