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Family Finances

Slash Your Utility Bills: Make Every Drop Count

Conserve your water and your wallet.

Use water more efficiently and you could cut your annual water and sewer bill by two-thirds (the average U.S. household pays $500 annually). Your local water utility may even pay you to cut back (check its Web site for rebates and other incentives). Here are the top three ways to stem your home’s thirst:

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Fix leaks. Every drip from a leaky faucet means 35 gallons of water wasted annually. Toilets are the biggest water guzzlers in most homes, and, worse, up to a third of them leak, often unnoticed. To check, place a dye tablet or food coloring in the tank; if water in the toilet bowl colors within 15 minutes, you have a leak. For more tips on identifying and repairing household water leaks, visit www.h2ouse.org.

Wean your lawn. We dump about a third of the water we use on our grass and shrubs, much of it wasted by inefficient automatic irrigation. If you have such a system, make sure it’s in tip-top shape and reprogrammed monthly to reflect your yard’s changing water needs. An irrigation audit (about $200 to $600) will identify problems. To find an auditor visit www.irrigation.org or www.epa.gov, and search “landscape irrigation services.”

You can largely avoid watering by planting drought-tolerant native species. If you must water, install a drip system, which uses 20% to 50% less water than a conventional system.

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Upgrade equipment. Replace your home’s oldest toilet (especially one made before 1994), or the one that’s used most, with a WaterSense-labeled model (www.epa.gov/watersense). It typically costs $130 to $410, and can save a family of four more than $90 annually on their water bill -- $2,000 over the lifetime of the toilet. And instead of springing for a more expensive dual-flush toilet ($300 to $500, plus installation), retrofit your model with Perfect Flush ($99; www.brondell.com), a device that halves water volume for lighter jobs.

Time to replace a dishwasher or clothes washer? New Energy Star standards for dishwashers set the limit per load at 5.8 gallons, just over half what a typical machine used 15 years ago. A new, more stringent standard for clothes washers will apply in 2011. But even if you replace a clothes washer made in 2000 with an Energy Star front- or top-loading machine made since 2008, you’ll save about $100 annually in water and electricity (based on 392 loads a year).