A few weeks ago I was watching Fight For Planet A, and one of the households was able to make a significant dent in their carbon emissions by replacing a high flow shower head with a low flow shower head. If you’re in the mood to watch Craig Reucassel having fun with a bucket of water then it’s good for a laugh (episode one, about 18 minutes in).
I’ve been wondering since we moved in if the shower head in this house was a low flow one, and suspicious that it wasn’t. After watching how Reucassel did his test, I taught the eldest child how to use a stop watch, grabbed a bucket, and into the bathroom we went.
If Reucassel’s test was good for a laugh, ours would have been high comedy, and we should have filmed it. Unlike his small, reasonably sized bucket, I went for a much larger one that it turns out I can’t hold above my head for any period of time when it’s full of water. I got the wobbles up, tipped some really cold water down myself, and proceeded to shriek loudly while trying to dance out of my own way. We aborted the test well before the minute was up.
Truly, memories are made of this.
Once we had the bucket full of water, which had no measuring lines in it at all, we then tried to measure the water using a measuring jug from the kitchen. That was easy compared to the half hour I spent trying to work out the formula to convert the water we had measured and the awkward length of time that we had stopped at. Despite the challenges, we arrived at a flow rate of 20L per minute.
A shower head with a WELS rating of 3 uses approximately 9L per minute from what I could see at Bunnings. They also had shower heads with a WLES 4 rating that used 7L per minute, but this took the price from $20 to $200. I could have tried to shop around but, with Melbourne still in lockdown, I decided that a change I could make today was better than one that I might forget about and not do for months or years.
Swapping the shower head only took a few minutes to do. I was nervous what the new shower quality would be like, and it was so much better. Our shower has always played the delightful game of boiling hot, then surprise icy cold, followed by another round of boiling hot. With the new shower head there was none of that; I set the temperature, and it stayed that way. I have no idea why this is, but I could get used to this new way of living rather quickly.
The easier way to test
The simpler way to test water flow, the one that isn’t as good for television, is to capture the water for 15 seconds and then multiply by 4 to get the rate for a minute. A WELS 3 shower head, such as the one we installed, would have 2.25L in 15 seconds, compared to 5L for our old shower head.
Why does this matter for carbon reduction?
There are two components here that play into carbon reduction: heating and water supply.
For homes such as ours, heating the water comes from gas. Every time we have a shower, we are burning fossil fuels to heat the water. Gas might be seen as a transition fuel away from coal, but those fugitive emissions are a massive concern. If you heat less water for showers, you use less gas in the process, which directly reduces your emissions.
The water supply is a less obvious problem. Water has to be collected, stored, treated, and then pumped to your home. Once you’re done with it, the water has to be collected in the sewers, processed, and is then pumped out again. A lot goes into making the water supply invisible to us, and it takes an environmental toll.
A third benefit for my project is that if I’m spending less money on utilities, I’ll have more money available for other carbon reduction measures. This saving is a drop in the ocean (sorry, I couldn’t help it) but it will add up over the course of a year.
If you’re playing along at home…
…how much water and energy could your family save by switching to a low flow shower head? If you’ve done this already, please share in the comments below what impact it had on your consumption.