This will be a kind of catch all post, incorporating the other chapters we discussed last week as well, both of which had to do with efficiency of water usage. The discussion of these chapters was kind of quick and dirty, as we spent the bulk of our time sharing and discussing garbage reduction, an area that can seem like a constant struggle in our consumer society.
Water usage, while not quite as important in my discussion circle's part of the country/ world, still can make a significant impact on CO2 production, especially when heated. Climate change, too, is drastically changing the traditionally wet east coast's relationship with water, as seasonal droughts continue to ravage large parts of the South and to have significant impacts on most of Maryland. So finding ways to reduce water usage in general makes a significant difference in both CO2 reduction and environmental impact, though round these parts that means a big shift in cultural awareness of our relationship with water.
"Am I Clean Yet?"—Reducing Hot Water Used in Showers
The suggestions in the book itself are limited to installing low flow shower heads and taking shorter showers. Consider timing your average shower so that you'll have a sense of how long it takes to shower and to see how close you can get to a 5 minute shower. Heating the water for a 10 minute shower, for instance, can generate up to 4 lbs of CO2. Remember, too, that reducing that load also puts money back into your pocket in terms of fuel bills, a helpful thing to keep in mind when you long to linger.
There are some other great ideas that we discussed as a group as well, and folks raised some important points. There was a general resistance to the low flow shower heads, and several people pointed out the additional time spent in the shower trying to rinse shampoo, for instance, in a reduced water flow calling into question increased efficiency.
Speaking of shampoo, Americans in particular have a relationship with bathing that borders on the obsessive. Particularly during the dry winter months, reducing showers to every other day can be healthier for the skin as well as the environment. Shampooing, too, doesn't need to be done every day, and many people have found that their hair responds better to no washing at all, particularly those with curly hair. Some folks talk about turning the water off while soaping, often referred to as the "navy shower." In my opinion, that sounds like a mild form of torture. I'd much rather save my water by showering every other day! Young kids especially can help with water conservation by bathing together: everyone gets clean and has fun at the same time.
Bath water, too, can be saved rather than drained and used occasionally to water plants. Stick to non-edibles and be sure that you're using enviro-friendly soaps. Gray water recovery is tricky and governed by all kinds of regulations that vary by state, but it can be done. Find out more about the possibilities in your area.
In my home, waiting for the shower to heat up can waste a tremendous amount of water. Keeping a bucket handy captures that clean water for other uses, like watering edible plants, houseplants, or just pouring into your washer next time you do a load. One of our members passed around this link to SinkPositive.com, showing an easy retrofit solution to recovering clean water in the bathroom. For those building new, consider working such designs into the bathroom in the first place.
Capturing water with rain barrels can be a great way to get clean water for irrigating and can be done relatively cheaply. There are, of course, the beautiful prefab barrels that can be purchased for a tidy sum, complete with diverters for those worried about run-off from asphalt roofs, but we talked about some low-tech solutions too. Juice and soda companies can be a good resource for inexpensive, food-grade 50 gallon barrels that can be attached to downspouts with just a quick trip to the local hardware store. Here's a great website to get you started. It's amazing how much water a roof can collect in even a small rainstorm!
Another great, low-tech idea is to build a summer solar shower outside. I grew up going to the beach where we always showered outside as a way to keep the sand out of the house. While it may take some getting used to, it's a wonderful, cool, refreshing feeling to shower outside and an easy way to take advantage of the sun's power without all the fancy and expensive photovoltaics. Camping stores sell solar showers that can hold up to 5 gallons of water for easy heating and quick set up. My plan is to build a more conventional style shower by using a black storage tank in combination with a black hose snaked unobtrusively through the garden. Building an attractive shower stall for privacy near the garden takes advantage of that space while also allowing shower run-off to divert into the garden. Here's a do-it-yourself site to get started thinking about outdoor shower designs.
"Scrub-A-Dub-Tub"—Reducing Water Used for Washing Dishes
The big debate is often which uses fewer resources: hand washing or a dishwasher. The answer seems to be a very qualified it depends how you do it, but in general, the dishwasher is probably more efficient. Running a dishwasher can generate up to 2 lbs of CO2 whereas hand washing inefficiently can produce almost 3 lbs, as well as using significantly more water.
As an exercise, take a large tupperware-type container and determine the volume: some will tell you on the bottom, but it's easy enough to measure with an old gallon milk jug. Place the container under the spigot as you rinse, wash, etc. This will let you measure just how much water you go through during your normal dishwashing routine, and it will help you target where you could reduce. Pre-rinsing with a dishwasher, for instance, uses approximately a gallon of water whereas inefficient hand rinsing with the water running can use up to 25 gallons of water in just 5 minutes!
New, energy-star dishwashers can use significantly less water than older models, which also translates into less water heated by your water heater. A dishwasher with a soil sensor can tailor the amount of water to the job, and those with internal water heaters can spot heat water for dishwashing, allowing homeowners to turn down the water heater for all other household tasks. Replacing a 10 year old dishwasher with an energy star model can save more than 1,000 gallons of water per year!
There was some debate over whether pre-rinsing was necessary, as many sources suggest scraping only to reduce the amount of water used in rinsing. Personally, I've found that my dishwasher does not get things clean without pre-rinsing the dishes. What I do is keep a dish tub in my sink, which I fill while waiting for my water to get hot to wash those large pots and pans. This dish tub is enough water to pre-rinse all dishes from plates to silverware to the big pots and pans without using any more water.
What are your tricks and tips?