Droughts that used to occur once a decade are now happening 70% more frequently, according to global scientists. Last fall, 92% of the American West was in drought status, and the arrival of La Niña is only making things worse. The Colorado River, which supplies water to 40 million people in the Southwest, has been in a 21-year warming and drying trend that’s depleting the nation’s two largest reservoirs to record low levels and jeopardizing their ability to generate hydroelectric power.

To put it bluntly: The ongoing effects of climate change on one of our most vital natural resources is putting us at risk.

The Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET®), whose HERSH2O ratings system measures whole-house water usage and efficiency, says the supply strain means water prices are increasing faster than energy prices. As water is indispensable for every aspect of life from household and commercial use to drinking, electricity, and crop irrigation, how can mortgage and other housing professionals help homeowners decrease water usage and ultimately save money?

Make Every Drop Count: Find and Fix Common Culprits of Water Waste

A professional home audit, which can be arranged through RESNET or the Department of Energy (DOE), is the most thorough method for determining water consumption, but a do-it-yourself audit can also help to identify sources of waste. Homeowners can check the meter before and after a two-hour period during which water wasn’t used; any change signals a leak. Damp walls, mold, cracks in the pavement, a noticeable drop in water pressure and an abnormally high utility bill are some additional tell-tale signs of leaks.

However, in addition to making sure water is flowing through the pipes and taps where it belongs, industry experts including the DOE suggest a variety of updates that can make a profound impact on both household budgets and dwindling natural resources, especially over the long term, including:

  • Appliances: Replace outdated models with ENERGY STAR™-rated ones that meet EPA standards. A front-loading washing machine, for example, uses half the water of a traditional top-loading one. Also avoid using the permanent-press cycle, which requires five extra gallons per load.
  • Toilets: These account for the largest household user of water, so replace models made before 1993, which use two to three times the amount as new low-flow or dual-flush models. Less expensive fixes include replacing a leaky flapper—which can waste up to 200 gallons per day—and installing a fill cycle diverter for displacement.
  • Sinks and showers: Faucet aerators can reduce flow by 30%, saving up to 700 gallons per year per faucet, while low-flow shower heads can save a family of four up to 1,200 heated gallons per month. Managers like automatic shutoff nozzles can curb family members who linger too long in the morning.
  • Hot water heater/pipes: The initial higher cost of a high-efficiency or tankless hot water heater can pay off in utility savings because it enables heated water to flow more quickly through the tap. Installing foam insulation on pipes, which also provides hot water faster and keeps it hotter longer, is a less-dramatic but more wallet-friendly retool.
  • Landscaping: Set mower blades two to three inches high to promote water-retaining shade and deeper roots. Install sprinklers with timers or rain sensors, or a drip irrigation system and a screened rain barrel, instead of using a hose. Replace some thirsty grass with native vegetation accustomed to the region’s rainfall, and cluster vegetation to maximize irrigation.

Green Mortgages Can Reduce Both Household Expenses—and Water Usage

According to the EPA, the average American homeowner consumes 100,000 gallons of water annually. As homeowners grapple with ways to upgrade or maintain their homes, lenders play a significant role in providing mortgage options that help finance energy-efficiency updates. In older homes with outdated appliances and high-flow plumbing fixtures, new entry-level homes with base-model fixtures and amenities, and properties with big yards and abundant landscaping, opportunities exist to help homeowners save money while remaining environmentally conscious.

Some of these water-saving fixes are quick, easy, and inexpensive. For others that are more costly and time-consuming, homeowners and homebuyers can use green funding like GreenCHOICE Mortgages®. This type of loan is designed for borrowers who want to finance the cost of energy-efficient installations during the initial purchase of a home or a subsequent refinance. Up to 15% of the as-completed appraised value may be used to fund and install the improvements, which must be completed within 180 days of the Note Date. An energy report is required if the project’s total cost exceeds $6,500. This type of loan can also be coupled with a HomePossible® or HomeOne® mortgage, low down payment options for first-time home buyers and low- to moderate-income borrowers.

The benefits of these types of improvements include lower utility costs, increased comfort, and peace of mind in conserving—not squandering—the country’s water supply.