Water-friendly appliances and efficient fixtures and fittings can save households a lot of money. Photo: Getty Images.There’s nothing like a 30 per cent rise in the water bill, to be faced by most Melburnians in 2013, to focus the mind on ways to save water.

The good news is there are many ways to make plumbing easier, particularly when building or renovating. Water-friendly designs, such as grouping bathroom, laundry and kitchen together, can reduce plumbing, hot-water use and hot-water tank size.

”Good design can solve a lot of problems if you have the luxury of starting from scratch,” says architect Ric Zen.

Phil Alviano, a sustainable building adviser for the Master Builders Association of Victoria, agrees. ”Renovating or building new is the perfect opportunity to fit a [rainwater] tank and have it plumbed to the toilet, or to the washing machine as well,” he says.

Those with an existing house can also save water. Modifications range from rainwater tanks – about $2000 for the tank and plumbing, Mr Alviano says – to cheap, easy-to-install fixtures and fittings.

The technology is becoming more efficient and cheaper, but there are downsides. Installation can be expensive and complex. Some systems need regular maintenance.

Brent Yttrup, Burbank Australia’s head of research, design and documentation, says many new estates have a third-pipe system – the lilac pipe – which brings recycled water from the sewage treatment plant for toilets, garden watering and even laundry.

This ”is almost a must-have” on new estates, he says, and can be run to the toilet and washing machine for about $500 extra. But that water still costs, so many opt for 5000-10,000-litre rainwater tanks to harvest roof water. Some estates require this. Remember hauling shower water to the garden during the drought? Grey-water waste systems that reuse bath, shower and washing-machine water are increasingly popular, Mr Alviano says.

Depending on the land’s fall, these can run from pipes to the garden, or to a tank and piped out within 24 hours.

However, these are expensive if the house is on a concrete slab, but less so if there is below-floor access, with the average about $1500, including pipes, Mr Yttrup says. The water must not reach stormwater drains or a neighbour’s property. Also, bleach and detergents that are high in salt or phosphorus can damage soils.

Filters must be cleaned every three to six months. Mr Zen, who has this system, thinks this will be a big drawback for some: ”I am not sure that people will be prepared for that work.”

Mr Yttrup says other measures include a heater close to the hot-water tap so cold water is not wasted while the hot water arrives, or a ring main that runs water around the house so the hot-water pipe is near the outlet.

And there is the manifold system: ”Instead of pipes all the way around the house, there is a separate line to every hot-water tap. It’s more direct.”

But installation and running costs such as electricity for pumps must be weighed against the money saved on water. Water-friendly appliances, including dishwashers and washing machines, with front loaders using less, and four-star shower heads are a must, Mr Yttrup says.

Caroma’s Profile 5 toilet has a handbasin on top of the tank, so hand-washing water runs into the tank for flushing.

These changes can be made in any home. Fittings and fixtures can be changed easily and cost effectively says Mr Zen. ”Shower heads and flow restrictions on taps, for example.”

Also, check for leaky taps in toilets, Mr Alviano says. Place food dye in the cistern; does it appear in the bowl? Turn off all taps then check for pipe leaks; is the water meter still running?

Mr Yttrup says warm-season grasses save about 70 per cent of the water used on traditional varieties such as couch and buffalo.

But Mr Zen, whose practice, Zen Architects, specialises in sustainable buildings, says the first thing he does with clients is discuss their water use. Reduce that sufficiently and you won’t need expensive, high-maintenance technology, he says. Alviano agrees: shorter showers and low-flow taps produce less grey water.

”The biggest one of all these is just behaviour; it starts with your attitude around water,” Mr Zen says. ”It is the cheapest thing you can do and has the most impact.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.