Reducing Water Consumption in Historic Buildings

Posted on: October 16th, 2007 by Barbara Campagna
  1. Plant Only Native Plants - Naturescaping
    Native plantings typically reduce maintenance costs over their lifetime by minimizing inputs of fertilizers, pesticides and water. Whenever you are planting flowers or vegetation in non-historic landscapes, utilize native plantings - this is called “naturescaping”. Contact your local nursery or go to Have you heard about Xeriscaping? It’s a comprehensive approach to planting and gardening. See
  2. Evaluate Your Irrigation System
    Install low-volume micro-irrigation for gardens, trees and shrubs. Micro-irrigation includes drip (also known as trickle), micro spray jets, micro-sprinklers, or bubbler irrigation to irrigate slowly and minimize evaporation, runoff, and overspray. Ensure that there are no leaks in your irrigation equipment.
  3. Evaluate Your Fountains
    Do not install or use ornamental water features unless they recycle the water. Use signs to show the public that water is recycled. Do not operate during a drought.
  4. Water at the Right Time of Day
    Water when the sun is low or down, winds are calm, and temperatures are cool -- between the evening and early morning -- to reduce evaporation. You can lose as much as 30% of water to evaporation by water mid-day or when it’s windy. Saturate root zones and let the soil dry. Raise your lawn mower blade to at least 3 inches. Taller grass promotes deeper roots, shades the root system, and holds soil moisture better.
  5. Water Plants Properly
    Watering too much and too frequently results in shallow roots, weed growth, disease, and fungus. Use mulch around shrubs and garden plants to reduce evaporation from the soil surface and cut down on weed growth. Set sprinklers to water on the lawn or garden only -- not the street or sidewalk
  6. Repair All Water Leaks
    Repair all leaks. A leaky toilet or faucet can waste 200 gallons per day. To detect leaks in the toilet, add food coloring to the tank water. If the colored water appears in the bowl, the toilet is leaking. Toilet repair advice is available on
  7. Install a High-Efficiency Toilet
    Look for the WaterSense label. Old, inefficient toilets are responsible for most of the water wasted in America. Replacing these toilets with WaterSense labeled toilets could save approximately two billion gallons per day across the country. High-efficiency toilets (HETs) go beyond the current federal standard of 1.6 gpf and use less than 1.3 gpf.
  8. Improve All Your Faucets
    Installing a simple aerator is one of the most cost-effective ways to save water -- you can double the faucet’s efficiency without sacrificing performance. For best results, purchase an aerator with a WaterSense label when they become available in 2008.

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Barbara Campagna

Barbara A. Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C was formerly the Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust in the Stewardship of Historic Sites office. She is currently a sustainability consultant to the National Trust and can be reached at