Efficient Outdoor Water Use

Efficient Outdoor Water Use
Efficient Outdoor Water Use

A recent Metaefficient post offered some ideas for reducing water consumption in your home – but why stop there? Read on to learn about some tips and products that will help you manage water use in outdoor spaces like lawns and gardens. Best of all, you’ll reduce both your environmental impact and utility bills in the process.

Start With Your Lawn

A sprawling, lush lawn can be a major drain (literally) on water resources. Don’t worry, you can still have a beautiful and functional outdoor space – just be smart about it. Remember, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that in the US, landscape irrigation consumes over 7 billion gallons of water a day, and a whopping half of that is wasted thanks to over-watering and evaporation.

Water intelligently. Less frequent, heavier waterings will maintain a healthy lawn with less overall water usage. More importantly, this will also encourage deeper root growth, making grass more tolerant of hot, dry spells.

While you’re at it, make sure all that water is actually getting into the ground. Watering early in the morning or late in the evening will help minimize evaporation, as will skipping the watering on windy days.

The Gardena AquaZoom Sprinkler
The Gardena AquaZoom Sprinkler

If you’re using a sprinkler system, avoid overspraying onto sidewalks and driveways – they’re not going to grow any bigger. The Gardena AquaZoom sprinkler ($56.53 at Amazon) features adjustable spray length and width, up to 3,800 square feet of coverage, to help direct water precisely where you need it

Just maintain the lawn space you actually use. Unless you’re hosting polo tournaments, you probably don’t need to maintain huge tracts of grass. Lawn borders in particular are rarely used, but they add a surprising amount of square footage that must be watered and cared for. Consider shrinking your lawn area, and using other landscaping options for purely decorative spaces.

Consider xeriscaping. Xeriscaping is landscaping that requires little or no irrigation, other than natural rainfall. And this doesn’t need to mean “rocks & cactus” either – choosing plantings appropriate for your climate can let you enjoy a colorful, thriving, low-maintenance yard.

Xeriscape Handbook: A How-to Guide to Natural Resource-Wise Gardening
Xeriscape Handbook: A How-to Guide to Natural Resource-Wise Gardening

Two great guidebooks to learn about xeriscaping on your property are Xeriscape Handbook: A How-to Guide to Natural Resource-Wise Gardening ($16.47 at Amazon) and The Dry Gardening Handbook: Plants and Practices for a Changing Climate ($37.80 at Amazon).


If your landscaping does require some supplemental watering, make sure you’re watering as efficiently as possible.

Drip…drip…drip. A perforated soaker hose can be a great way to target the spots that need water, while minimizing overwatering and evaporation. The Colorite Earth Quencher Soaker Hose ($29.99 for 100 feet at Amazon) seeps water directly at the base of plants, and it gets extra efficiency points for its water restrictor and recycled tire rubber construction.

Colorite Earth Quencher Recycled-Rubber Soaker Hose
Colorite Earth Quencher Recycled-Rubber Soaker Hose

The power of mulch. A 2-4” layer of mulch spread around the base of trees and plants will help retain moisture and reduce evaporation, meaning less watering will be needed. Create a slight depression in the center to further help retain water and prevent runoff.

Rain Is Your Friend.

Rain beats a sprinkler any day. Rainwater is the ideal water source for outdoor plants – it’s free, and contains none of the chlorine found in tap water. Depending on the weather, you might not actually need to do any additional irrigation, so don’t risk over-watering if you don’t have to.

Taylor Precision Rain Gauge
Taylor Precision Rain Gauge

Simple tools like a rain gauge and a soil moisture sensor can give you a good indication whether or not you really need to get the hose out. The Taylor Precision Rain Gauge ($7.62 at Amazon) is simple and easy-to-read, and the Luster Leaf Rapitest 4-in-1 soil tester ($11.55) measures moisture as well as soil acidity, fertilizer levels, and sunlight.

Save it for later. A rain barrel is one of the easiest ways to collect rainwater from your gutters, and use it later when it’s needed. You can easily improvise your own, but the Algreen Cascata 65-Gallon Rain Barrel ($149.99 at Amazon) has a generous capacity, an integrated hose and spigot, and a design that’s downright attractive.

Algreen Cascata 65-Gallon Rain Barrel
Algreen Cascata 65-Gallon Rain Barrel

For even bigger applications, you can super-size your rainwater usage with a large-scale storage system like the Rainwater Pillow.

Carwash With Care

Using a commercial carwash is generally easier on you and the environment. Commercial carwashes are usually much more efficient than at-home washing, and they often recycle their water. A typical commercial carwash might use around 30 gallons per wash (roughly equivalent to a bath) instead of literally hundreds of gallons when someone lets their hose run in the driveway.

If you need to wash your car yourself, don’t let the water run into the gutter while you scrub. A sprayer like the Dramm 9-Pattern Revolver Hose Nozzle ($12.49 at Amazon) will cut water waste, and give you more oomph when it’s time to rinse. Bonus: its variety of spray patterns make it great for delicate plant watering as well as heavy-duty spraying.

Dramm 9-Pattern Revolver Hose Nozzle
Dramm 9-Pattern Revolver Hose Nozzle

And since you’re using a biodegradable soap (you are, right?) try parking your car on the lawn while washing. The grass will get a watering, and the runoff won’t run into the sewer or evaporate off the driveway.

Sweep, Don’t Spray

For paved areas like patios and driveways, resist the temptation to hose away debris like leaves. A plastic rake or wide push broom will get the job done just as well – and won’t waste a drop of water.

Do you have other suggestions for simple ways to cut household water consumption? Leave a comment below and let us know!

5 thoughts on “Efficient Outdoor Water Use”

  1. – Water in the early morning, as evening watering will promote fungus and mould growth.
    – Cut lawn in the evening, to protect the newly cut wounds from being sun scorched.
    – Reel mowers make a cleaner cut on the grass, reducing disease, and doesn’t cause strain on the grass roots (unlike the suction produced by other types of mowers).
    – Keep the lawn at least 3″, to increase moisture retention in the soil, and reduces weed growth through shading.
    – Sew fescue grass, which is slow growing, and drought resistant ( less mowing and watering).
    – Adding White Dutch Clover to the lawn will enhance nitrogen sequestration in the soil. Thus, less fertilizer needed.

  2. Much good advice. But do the math on rain barrels, and they turn out to be vastly more expensive than using your home water supply——so much so that for most, they will never pay for themselves. They are too small and sellers keep prices very high.

    It is a shame we no longer build houses with cisterns.

  3. This summer we set up four rain barrels on our house. We found a supplier that had 55 gallon plastic barrels which were originally used for shipping olives from Greece to the US. I added quarter stop faucets and the base and a sealed 3/4 inlet at the top. From Amazon.com I ordered Rain Reserve diverters for my gutters. Because of the design of my system, it is closed to mosquitoes (which makes a big difference in the south east). In the front yard I am using a watering can and a soaker hose to water my trees and shrubs. In the back yard I have rigged some 3/4 pvc pipe for irrigating my garden (gravity fed). All in all, the rain barrels with diverters and cinder blocks I used to elevate them cost me about $50 each. While not cheap, I read that just in the summer one rain barrel will save $35 – 40 if used during the dry spells. My hope would be to repay the investment in 2 years maximum. Also in my city, due to a drought in 2006 and 2007, the city restricted all exterior watering from the city water supply. I now have a great backup plan to keep my garden and 12 fruit trees alive.

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