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.

Mulching The Garden

Over the summer months, we conducted an experiment with our pumpkin plants. They’re all planted in two large garden beds that are directly beside each other. The plants have the same amount of sunlight, irrigation, rain water and shelter from the fence. The only difference was that one half were mulched thickly with bark and wood chips, and the other half were left to grow in the bare earth.

At first there didn’t seem to be any noticeable difference between the plants with and without mulch. They grew at a similar rate, and we lost a similar number of the transplanted seedlings to the same problems in each bed. A bit discouraged by the initial mulching results, and deterred by the increasing heat, we abandoned the mulching project as a failed experiment.

Then we hit a heat wave.

We would turn on our irrigation system at night, and within a few hours of the sun rising in the morning our pumpkins without the mulch were limp and wilting. Beside them, the pumpkins that were mulched provided a dramatic contrast. I would pour buckets of water on the wilted ones and they would revive for a while, but by the evening they were wilting again. The pumpkins with the mulch, which had not received any water in the morning, were still lush and strong.

Growing pumpkin.With every round of punishing summer heat, the difference between our plants became more pronounced. The mulched plants now have twice as many pumpkins as the others, and the fruit is noticeably larger and riper. We don’t water as often, and some days the water we collect in the shower is enough that we don’t need to turn on the irrigation at all. Increasing our yield means we’re able to reduce our food miles and associated carbon footprint even further.

As we started to notice the difference between the pumpkin plants caused by the mulch, we refined our approach. For the later beds we placed the mulch over the irrigation pipe. It’s light enough that the weight of the mulch doesn’t collapse the pipes, but thick enough that the water doesn’t immediately boil out of the ground and away from our plants. The garden looks nicer with fewer weeds, there is less maintenance to do, and our plants that had been struggling are now producing significantly larger harvests.

If you’re playing along at home…

…can you use mulch to improve the water retention and health of your garden? Please share in the comments below any tips and tricks you have found to improve your food yields and associated carbon footprint.