Living Green in the Dorms: Water, Water Everywhere!

The average American uses 100 gallons of water per day. Most of that goes into:

  1. Flushing the toilet
  2. Bathing
  3. Laundry
  4. Watering the lawn

(Herman 2015).

Lucky for us first years, we don’t have to water the lawns outside our dorms (and for some, judging by the traffic jam in the laundry room during the third week here, don’t have to do laundry, so they think). Even without such water expenditures, we still use about 70 gallons of water each day (see water use calculator here). What’s the big deal? Why should we even save water?

To make drinking-safe water (and all of the water piped into our dorms is drinking water), it must be pumped from the groundwater supply, piped to a water treatment plant, heated in the home, and treated after our use. Some numbers to throw around: running a faucet with hot water for five minutes uses as much energy as a 60W bulb left on for 14 hours; to treat 300,000 gallons of waste water, it can require anywhere from 475-1400 kilowatt-hours; and to transport 125,000 gallons of water from 100 meters below ground you need 200 kWh (2011 Alliance for Water Efficiency).

All that energy has to come from somewhere: coal burning plants, natural gas plants, nuclear plants, or (very unlikely) hydro plants. We know that these nonrenewable forms of energy production are damaging to our planet (that’s a discussion for another day). Reducing water use reduces our energy consumption, and thereby reduces our carbon footprint. Cheers all around!

How can we reduce water use in the dorms? Shorter showers, first and foremost. Time yourself by listening to music–three songs and your time is up! Secondly, if you need to get laundry done and your washer is not the recommended 2/3 full, ask your friends in the dorm if they want to combine loads. Similarly, if you have plenty of room in your dryer (which are larger than the washers), combine loads with friends there as well! You’ll save money, too. I won’t tell you to go to the bathroom less, but I will suggest the usual, “turn off the faucet while you brush your teeth,” tip. Also, if you are washing your hands for more than a few seconds (20 seconds is recommended, or the length of “Happy Birthday”) turn off the faucet then! Every little bit adds up.

Happy washing, flushing, and drinking!


Herman, J. (2015). Water Use [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from UVaCollab

Home Water Works. Water & Energy Conservation: Water & Energy Relationship. (2011) Alliance for Water Efficiency. Retrieved from


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