Have you ever wondered exactly how much water it takes to keep a family of four clean and fresh for a year? If you’re like most of us, the answer is probably no. However, using large amounts of water has a significant impact on the environment, so it’s something you should pay attention to – and the answer may surprise you.
Let’s do the math. A standard shower uses about 5 gallons of water every minute. Now, if like most of us, you spend about 5 minutes lathering yourself up and rinsing yourself off, that’s 25 gallons. Multiply that by 4, and it comes to 100 gallons a day, assuming that each of you only takes one shower. If, like some of us, you jump under the shower in the morning and evening, you can double that to 200 gallons a day. Scale that up to a year, and it comes to a staggering 72,000 gallons or more. To put that in context, 72,000 gallons is nearly enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Fortunately, there are a number of green plumbing solutions that you can use to manage your water usage when showering. These involve a combination of reducing the amount of water you actually use, and then recycling the water that goes spiraling down the drain.
One thing that makes a dramatic difference is if you install a low-flow showerhead. This will typically reduce the number of gallons you use per minute by about 60%, resulting in a saving of around 43,000 gallons. Installing this type of showerhead is relatively easy to do, and your showers won’t be any the worse for doing this. While the amount of water is less, low-flow shower heads often compensate by having narrower holes, so the water still comes out at force. Some even have variable settings that can do things like give you a massage while you’re scrubbing your back.
Now that you have reduced the amount of water you use, the next thing to think about is what to do with the remaining water. Unlike water that you use to flush the toilet, waste water from your shower is relatively clean. Because of this, it is often referred to as greywater, and along with water from baths and hand basins, can be reused if properly treated. For instance, you can use it to water your lawn, or even flush your toilet. This will create further savings. Even a low-flow toilet uses about 1.6 gallons per flush, so if the four of you go to the bathroom three times a day each, that mounts up to about 7,000 gallons more a year that you can save.
In order to reuse your greywater, you will need to have a greywater tank installed, along with equipment to treat the water – it may be clean, but it still contains organic matter which can start to go off if you don’t remove it. You will also need to get your plumbing updated, so that greywater from your shower flows into the tank, and then back to your toilets and sprinkler systems.