DIY Home Projects to Save Money and Water This Summer

While reducing your water bill may not be too high on your list of ways to save money, water is a precious resource and the cost is rising all the time. According to a report by the American Water Works Association, infrastructure upgrades and improvements to our drinking water system are expected to cost at least $1 trillion between now and 2035, much of which will be passed on to consumers.

If you are under mandatory water restrictions like much of the western US, you do not have to say goodbye to your dream garden just yet. Instead, take some time this summer to get outside and try some of these water-saving strategies which can help eliminate inefficient designs or practices that send money down the drain!

Water and Money Wise Landscapes

Let’s get right to the point. If you are not irrigating your lawn, flower beds, and container plants using the most targeted, time-efficient methods, you are probably wasting water and money. So let’s get outside this summer and make a few changes or go for a complete overhaul on your yard and garden to ease the financial impact of your water bills.

Use Landscaping Techniques to Capture Water

There are a few things you can do around the yard when planting trees or mowing that you can do to retain moisture where you want it to stay. Take a look at the overall design of your garden and lawn to determine if there are some design upgrades you can do to save water, here are a few tips:

  • Plan “hydro-zones” by grouping together plants with similar watering needs: use plant water-loving species that suck up moisture in boggy areas and drought-tolerant species in sunny areas.
  • Use diversion drains and terraces to intercept water runoff and spread it out, so it seeps slowly into the ground where you want it rather than being lost into drains or causing erosion.
  • Build mounds around trees and shrubs to reduce runoff and allow moisture to soak slowly into the soil around the canopy drip line and roots.
  • Remove unnecessary lower branches and leaves from trees. Not only does this create a more structurally appealing tree by ‘lifting’ the eye up to the canopy, but with fewer leaves there is less moisture loss and this lowers the tree’s water requirements.
  • Limit the expanse of yard devoted to perpetually thirsty turf grass.
  • Cut back on fertilizer, mow high, and leave mulched clippings on the lawn to shade the soil and reduce evaporation.

Reduce the Impact of Water-Thirsty Plants

In general, plant species with low water needs will save you time and money in the garden. Conserve water in your garden by filling it with plants that need less of it to begin with, like drought-resistant succulents or shrubs, as these are generally better adapted and often less needy than imports. Swap out your tropical hibiscus bush for some coastal sage, or consider replacing some of your lawn with drought-tolerant buffalo grass. Visit a neighborhood nursery which specializes in local plants for inspiration.

While some homeowners under mandatory water restrictions are considering replacing their grass lawns with stone or concrete, it is important to seek the input of a water use expert. Your lawn may be helping to regulate heat and energy use around your home.

Mulch, Mulch, Mulch!

While mulching is not mandatory in the garden, it is one of the best moisture holding strategies you can employ. Mulch not only provides a layer of insulation that helps cut down on the need for watering, it also works as a weed blocker.

Up to 70% of water can evaporate from the soil on a hot day if you don’t have mulch as a protective layer on top. Avoid fine mulches that tend to clump and become water-repellent. Instead, use a coarser mulch which allows water/rain to move down through to the soil. A depth of 3-5 cm in a pot (depending on the size) and even deeper (8-10 cm) in a garden bed is ideal.

Start by putting down a thick layer of wet newspaper over the weeds and any new soil that needs covering, then top the paper with at least an inch of mulch. Eventually, the paper breaks down and builds up the soil.

Repair or Install a Drip Irrigation System

With sprinkler systems it can be hard to make sure water is being absorbed; you are likely to see runoff or puddles if you water too much, too fast. Drip irrigation systems are known for being much more efficient. Snaked through shrubbery and hooked up to a timer set for early morning watering, they can cut water use by up to 70 percent over conventional sprinklers.

Soaker hoses and drip systems consist of plastic tubing with tiny, targeted emitters (holes) that drip water at a set rate. These systems target just the plants you are trying to encourage, not the spaces in between, so you wind up using less water and nurturing fewer weeds.

Keep your drip irrigation systems running efficiently by checking for leaks, cracked pipes, or clogged emitters. A spraying leak is a sign that water pressure is too high.

Tap into Mother Nature’s Water System

Install a rain barrel system to collect and store lots of FREE water for later use. There are several ways to install a rain barrel; you can place a barrel under the site of a roof runoff or you can get super technical with gutters, downspouts and filters. Bonus: rain barrels come in many designs so you can customize it to blend into the house or buy a multi-purpose barrel which doubles as a pot for plants.

Recycle Household Greywater

This process can range from the simplest method, collecting water in a dishpan while you hand wash dishes, to DIY laundry-to-landscape systems which can harvest 10 to 40 gallons of water from your laundry machines for $75 to $200, and professional systems which capture and filter all of your homes reusable water for upwards of $2000 and more. More complicated greywater projects are expensive, complex and require a higher level of maintenance, so they may be best suited for larger applications, such as apartments, schools and commercial buildings

You can use greywater on edible plants, but only fruit trees or crops such as corn or raspberries, where the edible part is off the ground. Don’t use it to water root vegetables. You will want to also consider the detergents you use in the home since bleach or boron in your greywater may damage your plants.

Conserving and managing water efficiency will keep your dream garden alive through the summer and extended droughts, and may put some money back in your pocket. In addition to these gardening tips and home improvements, municipal districts, water companies and even local TV stations in your area are offering rebates and incentives for water wise tools, systems and more. So whether you own your own home and want a discount on rain barrels or you own a small apartment complex, there are incentives for everyone.

Rebates and Incentives

Your local water provider and/or city may be offering rebates for water efficiency improvements by residential and commercial customers. Rebates are usually available on a first-come, first-serve basis, until funding is exhausted (note: amounts may change without notice).

Residential Incentives

  • Turf (grass) Removal Incentive
  • High-Efficiency Clothes Washer (single & multi-family) – $50 to $135 (based on provider)
  • High-Efficiency Toilets – $100
  • Rain Barrels – $75 per barrel (up to 4 barrels, minimum size of 50 gallons)
  • Soil Moisture Sensor Systems – $80 (or $35 per irrigation station for sites > 1 acre)
  • Weather-Based Irrigation Controller – $80 (or $35 per irrigation station for sites > 1 acre)
  • Rotating Water Hose Nozzles – $4 (one-time rebate for site, 15 nozzle minimum)

Even local TV news stations and businesses are offering contests to have your water bills paid or get a drought-friendly landscape makeover for your dead grass lawn. Visit your local news website or Facebook page for more information.

Commercial Incentives

Real Estate investors, apartment owners and landlords, listen up! There are incentives for you too.

  • Turf (grass) Removal Incentive
  • Weather-Based Irrigation Controllers – $35/station
  • Large Rotary Nozzles – $13/set (minimum of 8 sets)
  • Rotating Nozzles for Pop-up Spray Head Retrofits – $4 (minimum of 15)
  • In-stem Flow Regulators – $1/regulator (minimum of 25)
  • Soil Moisture Sensor Systems – $35/controller station
  • Urinals (Zero Water Use and Ultra-low Water Use; 0-0.25 gal/flush) – $200
  • High-Efficiency Toilets – $100 to $145
  • Cooling Tower Conductivity Controller – $625 (pH controller – $1,750)
  • Plumbing Flow Control Valves – $5/valve (minimum of 20)
  • Dry Vacuum Pumps – $125/0.5 horsepower (up to 2 HP max)
  • Laminar Flow Restrictors – $10/restrictor (minimum of 10)
  • Connectionless Food Steamer – $485/compartment
  • Air-cooled Ice Machine – $1,000

Other regional programs including free landscape workshops, site water use evaluations, and resources may be available for residential or commercial property owners in your area. Visit your municipal water district website for more information.
Water is a precious resource and it’s going to cost you a lot of money over the course of being a homeowner. Why not save some of those dollars for other financial goals and have a beautiful garden by employing some water-wise landscaping this summer

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