Low Flow Shower Head

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.

Old shower head

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.

New shower head

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.

Turn Off Pilot Lights

Our home currently has three gas appliances: the stove, the ducted heating, and the continuous hot water system. We’re focusing on other projects around the house first, which means that we haven’t got the budget available to replace these with electric versions.

The easiest – and cheapest – way that we could find to make an immediate difference here was to turn off the pilot light for the hot water system. There is a flame that burns continually, and the system increases the flow of gas as water is being used, so for 24 hours each day we were using gas.

When we looked at our water usage, leaving the hot water system turned on didn’t make much sense. There are four people living in the house, and between us we might spend at most half an hour using the water to shower and wash the dishes. That means for more than 23 hours each day we were burning gas for no point whatsoever.

Gas water heater

Our system is inside on the laundry wall, so we don’t have to go outside to use it. There is a button to press to turn it off and you have to press a whopping two buttons to turn it back on. The final button allows it to heat up to the set temperature. It’s a remarkably simple system and takes only a few seconds to set.

Beyond the bigger climate picture and our gas bill, turning off the pilot light is important because this is carbon that was being emitted inside our house. Carbon levels above 1,000 parts per million (ppm) can have adverse effects on human health, ranging from headaches and difficulty concentrating in the short term to changes in bone density and body metabolism in the long term. That might sound like a high number – outside levels for September were 408.55 ppm at the Mauna Loa observatory – but levels can easily pass 1,000 ppm inside closed environments such as offices, classrooms and homes.

If you’re playing along at home…

…do you have any pilot lights that you can turn off when they aren’t in use? Please share in the comments below ways that you have reduced passive fossil fuel use around your home.

Shower Timers

One of the great luxuries in my life is a steamy hot shower. Between my exceptionally well-developed allergies and a lot of muscle and joint pain, more than one person has referred to the shower as my “safe place”. It’s somewhere that I can go and feel like a human being again. I take the kids in with me and wash them while I get myself sorted out, which reduces our family’s consumption since we share, but the showers had reached a length where it was time to acknowledge that my behaviour wasn’t sustainable.

The first thing I did was take note of how long I need to stay in the shower to get the health benefits. It actually isn’t long at all compared to how much time I was spending in there. The next thing I did was set a timer on my phone that would give me enough time to ease my muscles and sinuses, plus a couple of spare minutes to sort out the kids. I start the timer, get the water running, and when the alarm goes off we get out.

Our first few showers were a source of significant outrage for the girls. “But we just got in,” was protested loudly and with vigour. They made sure they blocked me from getting to the taps. They dragged their feet getting in with the hope that a slow start would make for extra time. Somehow they lost the ability to rinse themselves. I was fairly proud of their ingenuity.

Over the following weeks the protests slowly stopped. We got into the habit of having shorter showers. My girls started pointing out to me that the water needed to go off when the alarm started. Once their expectation for the length of a shower aligned with the timer, I started to casually reduce the time by a few seconds each week. We’re about half way now between what I’ve timed my body needs and where I started our timed showers.

When our latest gas bill arrived, I was genuinely shocked at the difference compared to last year. We only have three gas appliances in our home: our stove top, our gas central heating, and the hot water tank. Since we have solar hot water, and the gas is more of a booster than anything else, I expected this to be an insignificant change given the summer months. As you can see from our bill below, I was completely wrong.

48.71% decrease in gas usage

Because our usage is now so low, rounding means that I can’t see what our actual emissions were on the bill. Thanks to the calculator over at Carbon Neutral, I know that our carbon emissions for the two months were only 0.04 tonnes. That’s great, but what I’m really looking forward to now is seeing the drop on our next water bill.

If you’re playing along at home…

…can a timer for your showers help you to reduce your energy consumption? Please share in the comments below how much you’ve been able to reduce your environmental footprint through timers and what you used those timers for.