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Jul 01, 2023

How To Adapt Your Home for Drought Conditions

Desert residents are familiar with hot summers and seemingly endless dry spells. Some people love the dry air and the rare thunderstorms that refresh the land a few times each year. However, the American Southwest is currently in a megadrought that has lasted more than two decades — and is considered the worst in the past 1,200 years.

City and state leaders such as those in California are developing water conservation programs and encouraging residents to take steps to save water where they can. Fortunately, there are multiple steps you can take to conserve water and adapt your home to these conditions, all without giving up your favorite activities or making major changes to your lifestyle. Learn how to prepare for drought and how to live comfortably in the desert climate. 

Effects of Long-Term Drought

Long-term drought can have several ripple effects across a community. People need to adjust the plants they choose for landscaping and modify their indoor water usage. Here are just a few ways drought — like other extreme weather — can impact your home. 

  • Landscaping: Hot, dry summers will either drive up your water bills or limit your ability to maintain a lawn. This leads homeowners to install more desert landscaping (rocks, cacti, desert trees) while forgoing other gardening activities.
  • Air conditioning use: High temperatures will increase the need for AC in the home, driving up electricity costs. An energy-efficient AC can reduce your energy usage up to 50%.  
  • Unsafe outdoor conditions: Kids and pets are unable to play outside because of dangerous temperatures. This is particularly unsafe for pet paws on hot pavement
  • Shorter winters: Winter often brings rain and snow — especially in mountainous regions. The melting snow in the spring is essential for replenishing water reserves. Not only can short winters limit your ski trips, but they can also worsen an existing drought.  

Because drought affects multiple aspects of the lives of residents, they can take multiple steps to work around it. Many people work to improve insulation to keep their homes cool while taking advantage of cool mornings and nights to play with their kids and pets. 

What Areas Are Affected by Drought?

If you’re concerned that you live in a drought-prone area, check out the U.S. Drought Monitor. This map changes every week after measuring the current rainfall across the country compared to where it needs to be. 

Keep in mind this map isn’t an indicator of naturally dry places. Most of the American Southwest and Southern California have a desert climate. Minimal rainfall is to be expected. Even if this map doesn’t highlight that your area is in a drought, limited water reserves might lead to local restrictions near you. For example, Los Angeles homes need to restrict their water usage and adopt healthy habits (like sweeping the driveway instead of washing it) and make upgrades to their homes to increase conservation. 

Water-Saving Fixtures and Appliances

One of the best ways to conserve water on an individual scale is to install water-saving fixtures within your home. In some cases, you’ll immediately notice the difference in your water bill and in your electric bill (reduced water usage means your water heater works less). This conservation can add up. One home can’t end a drought, but if millions of homes cut back a little, there can be a huge impact on water usage. 

The best part is you don’t have to add these upgrades to an existing remodeling project. It’s possible to swap out your current appliances for more efficient models within a few hours.  

Low-Flow Fixtures

Between showers, toilets, and sinks, bathrooms are the largest source of water consumption in the home. It makes sense to start making remodels in your bathroom if you’re looking to cut back on water use. Fortunately, this doesn’t mean you need to shower less or stop washing your hands. Instead, you can install low-flow fixtures. 

A low-flow showerhead can save up to four gallons of water with each use — and you likely won’t notice any difference in your water pressure or shower experience. Adding aerators to your faucets can save up to 700 gallons of water each year without a noticeable difference in use. 

If you’ve been meaning to replace old hardware in your bathroom, consider switching to models that enable water conservation. 

Water-Efficient Appliances

You can also reduce your water use by upgrading appliances. Older models are less efficient and use more water than modern-day appliances. By investing in a new dishwasher or clothes washer, you can cut down on the number of gallons used with each cycle. 

Another option is to invest in a tankless water heater, which doesn’t keep water hot when it’s not in use. These models can be up to 34% more efficient, dropping your electricity costs while still providing you with hot water. 

Seal and Insulate

Through the long summer days, hot air from outside seeps into your home while the cool air your HVAC system creates escapes through cracks and other access points. You don’t want to continuously leak cool air from your home, otherwise, you’ll have to run air conditioning more and drive up your electric bills. Instead, look for ways to weatherproof your home. 

  • Upgrade your windows: Look for modern windows that block out heat and prevent the sun from heating your home. This way you can still enjoy natural light without turning your home into a greenhouse.   
  • Seal your windows and doors: Even small cracks drive up your energy bills throughout the summer. Focus on windows and doors to make sure cool air isn’t escaping.  
  • Check your attic insulation: A poorly insulated attic will let in the hot air while removing cool air from your home. It might be time for new insulation that drives better results. 

Depending on your area, some energy companies offer in-home consultations about insulation and energy use. Schedule one of these visits to learn how you can use less air conditioning while still enjoying a cool home. 

Drought-Tolerant Landscaping

You can still move to the desert even if you love gardening, you just need to learn about drought-resistant plants and which types of flora are native to your region. Here are a few tips for sustainable gardening in areas that don’t get much rain. 

  • Visit your local nursery: Look for nurseries that specialize in flora native to your area. These experts will send you home with the right plants. 
  • Research your water schedule: Some areas have limits for when they can water and at what time. Follow local guidelines as soon as you start gardening. 
  • Invest in drip systems: Smart irrigation systems will reduce your water consumption, prevent evaporation, and ensure water gets right where it needs to be.  
  • Consider alternatives to grass: Grass lawns use an excessive amount of water. Instead, look for rocky alternatives so you can focus your water use on other plants. Also, use mulch whenever possible.  
  • Think about the fauna: Look for flowering plants and ground cover that will bring bees, butterflies, birds, and other pollinators to your yard.
  • Weed frequently: Weeds soak up your precious water resources. Make sure they’re removed before they start taking over your yard.   

You can also check out regional landscaping guides in your area. The California Department of Water Resources, for example, has publications by region and covers topics ranging from sustainable landscaping to choosing plants. 

More Ways To Save Water and Keep Cool

When it comes to living in a drought-prone region, a lot of little steps can add up to make a big difference. Here are a few additional ways to keep cool while reducing your water use. 

  • Install shade structures: These overhangs can make sitting outside more pleasant while creating a cool space for your plants. Look into different shade structures to see which ones are best for your needs.
  • Collect rainwater: Check local city programs to see if they’ll deliver rain barrels to your home. You can use this water for your plants and yard.  
  • Greywater recycling: Use water from your shower or sink to water your plants and other landscaping elements. 

Many of the tips to save on water consumption are one-and-done solutions. Switching out your showerhead or faucet requires a one-time cost and can reduce your water use for years. Plus, many water-saving habits will be unnoticeable over time. Adopt a few of these best practices and see how your water bill drops.

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