How to Reduce Water Consumption at Home

How much water are you flushing down the drain? More than anyone else in the world if you live in B.C.

Credit: Courtesy California Faucets

Are you drinking your tap water? You should be

B.C. is one of the highest users of domestic water in the world, says University of British Columbia professor Hans Schreier, an award-winning expert in water resources management who’s taught water management courses in 17 countries.

Where do we use the most water in the home? 

Schreier: In the toilet, where one third of the day’s water, 27 to 32 per cent is used. About 19 to 25 per cent is used in the shower and bath, 16 to 19 per cent in running faucets, 14 to 22 per cent in the clothes washer, a whopping 12 to 16 per cent is wasted from leaks, and two per cent is [used] in the dishwasher.

How does B.C. compare in its water use?

Schreier: Our daily indoor water use is third-highest in Canada: British Columbians use 350 litres per person, per day. New Brunswick and Quebec residents use more (400 to 425 litres). Canada is second-highest for consumption, using just slightly less than Americans. Europeans use about 150 litres per day, half of what Canadians use. 

What can be done to ensure that we conserve water?


  1. Price water differently. Cost directly relates to amount consumed. Costs are lowest in Canada and the U.S., where we use the most water, and highest in Denmark and Germany, where they use the least water. Research shows that when using flat-rate pricing, residents use 450 litres per day, and when using a volume-based meter (paying for amount used) residents use only 260 litres, conserving to save costs. 

  2. Use more efficient devices. Low-flush toilets should be mandatory. Conventional toilets use 21 litres per flush. The average person flushes eight times per day, which is 168 litres. Low-flush toilets often feature two buttons that use three litres and six litres. Eight low flushes average 27 litres per day, which results in a savings per person, per day of 141 litres! Last year, 30,000 homes were built in B.C. and only 15 per cent installed [low-flush toilets]. (In Australia low-flush toilets are now mandatory in every household.) Communities such as the Capital Regional District are proactively launching successful installation programs. Front-loading washing machines can save tremendous amounts of water, too. Elsewhere in the world, roof water is collected to use not only to flush toilets but to wash clothing in washers. The technology can easily be installed in new homes here. 

  3. Change habits. Between 30 and 50 per cent of domestic drinking water is used for watering the lawn. This could be reduced to less than 10 percent by switching to roof water captured by barrel (easily installed for $75), and requiring 30 cm of topsoil to be placed before planting a lawn (to hold water). We need to rethink daily behaviours: showers take much less water than baths, especially with low-water shower heads that create a finer but powerful mist that provides an equal shower experience. Some municipalities are actually reducing the water pressure – the water doesn’t come on with as much pressure but then builds – to save water. Another habit requiring change is bottled water consumption.

Isn’t bottled water safer? 

Schreier: City water is classified under health regulations whereas bottled water is under food regulations. Under health regulations, city water has to be tested (and reported) daily for pathogens, nitrates and other chemicals, arsenic and heavy metals. Under food regulations, bottled water has to be tested and nutritional information reported once per year.

Bottled water does not have to disclose where it comes from (for example, Everest brand is from Texas; Yosemite brand is from Los Angeles municipal water). It doesn’t have to disclose what treatment is used, when and what testing is done, or list on the bottle (in Canada) chemicals such as nitrates, chloride, sulphates and fluoride. 

As soon as bottled water is open or water cooler dispensers are used, bacteria from hands, cups or breathing can get into water from the spout, which becomes a perfect incubation ground. B.C.’s city water is very well filtered; the latest system in North Vancouver will have multi-barriers including treatment filtration, UV treatment, and chlorination (certain bacteria can survive chlorination but not UV rays).

We pay 63 cents for 1,000 litres of tap water in B.C. and $1.50 for half a litre of bottled water.

Originally published in BC Home magazine. For monthly updates, subscribe to the free BC Home e-newsletter, or purchase a subscription to the bi-monthly magazine.