With water shortages threatening parts of South Africa and all over the world for that matter, we all need to really start doing our bit about conserving this precious resource.
From our offices to our homes, if we’re renovating or building a new home or work place, we should have thoughts on how to reduce our water footprint at the forefront of our minds.
Here are a few tips to consider to get you started.
Quick Tip: In the case of a renovation, check for leaks in the bathroom plumbing and fixtures before starting anything. Beyond getting a heads-up on any additional work your plumber will need to do, this can also help you figure out which fixtures you can repair, and which need to be replaced.
Any discussion about water efficiency in the bathroom has to start with the toilet: flushing accounts for over a quarter of total indoor water use! Older houses that haven’t replaced their toilets for many years are using 12 litres or more per flush – an entirely unnecessary amount. New toilets use 6 litres or less, generating significant water savings. Some models go even further, providing two separate flush options, called dual flushing for liquid and solid waste: usually 3-4 litres and 6 litres, respectively.
If you already have a 6 litre or lower model that you don’t want to change to a dual flush, make sure it’s working at maximum efficiency by doing a quick toilet check-up or get your plumber to replace any parts that could be leaking.
Baths get a bad rap when it comes to water savings. This is understandable when you consider that the average bath holds anywhere from 110-185 litres of water – if you fill it up. If you fill it only halfway, you’re using considerably less water. Before you ditch your bath, keep in mind that the time spent in your bath doesn’t mean more water is used (unless you’re letting some out and re-heating!), whereas the longer you shower, the more water you’re using. Additionally, most people don’t take a bath every single day, they primarily shower and mix a bath in occasionally.
There are plenty of reasons to keep your bath. Baths make bathing young children easier, it can be expensive to replace a bath with a shower only, and there’s a certain relaxing quality you can get from a good soak, that a shower just can’t mimic. However, if you are truly concerned about the water savings, you’re trying to make your home more accessible, or you’re just not a bather, a well-designed shower with a low-flow shower head, can still offer plenty of relaxation and significant water conservation.
The other major water-guzzler in the bathroom is the shower. The old shower heads can use up to 30 litres per minute, while new shower heads are from 6-9 litres per minute. The earliest low-flow shower heads were often disappointing, and are still treated with suspicion. But fortunately, manufacturers have come up with all kinds of designs to ensure a powerful, effective shower using very little water. And because less water is used, less energy is required to heat it. I’m going to stick my head out here, but the Hansgrohe low-flow models of today are fantastic, they’re quiet and efficient.
Quick Tip: Not sure how much water your shower head is using? Grab a bucket and direct the full flow of shower water into it for 15 seconds. Using a measuring jug, pour the contents from the bucket into the jug a few times to work out how many litres is in the bucket. This measurement in litres is for 15 seconds, now multiply this amount by 4 to get the total value for a minute. Remember, don’t waste this water, pour it over your flowers, or fill the dogs bowl.
Mixers & Taps
Mixers & taps are one of the easiest and cheapest things to make water-efficient with the addition of a simple aerator. By adding air to the taps water stream, a steady and stable flow is produced that feels like more water than it actually is. Some of these handy little devices can go lower than 3 litres a minute, saving a lot of water in the long run. And don’t forget that a slow drip can still waste hundreds of litres per year, so make sure to attend to needed repairs quickly.
If you’re wanting a new mixer or tap, choose one that already has a lower flow rate. Manufacturers have risen to the challenge of providing fixtures that work well, look great, AND save water, so you have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to this. More recently, for the forgetful (and germophobic) among us, sensor mixers are fantastic.
The bathroom’s biggest energy user isn’t even in the same room, it’s the silent killer in the ceiling that’s just on all day! Water heating accounts for about 30% of a home’s total energy use, and with a standard geyser, anywhere from 10-20% of that energy is just wasted as water sits and loses its heat to the environment (prompting endless heating cycles). You can reduce the water temperature to save some energy, but keep in mind that below 50 degrees, bacteria like legionella can still reproduce.
With a correctly sized solar geyser or heat pump, you can save from 70-80% of your total heating bill. So for a solar geyser in your home, you need to look at around 80 litres of hot water storage per person. So for a family of 4, nothing less than a 300L solar geyser will suffice!!
Quick Tip: In new construction, whatever type of water heater you choose, installing it in a central location or close to the kitchen and/or bath can reduce the waiting time for hot water at fixtures, and minimize heat loss.
Sometimes, “efficient” or “green” translates to “expensive”, but that is not always the case! Insulating hot water pipes is a small but easy step you can take to save a bit of energy. Heat from water is rapidly lost as it sits in pipes, waiting to be used. Wrapping the pipe with foam insulation will help the water retain that heat just a bit longer. The same goes for geyser blankets! A properly wrapped geyser, can stay warmer for longer, just like you would, if you kept a jacket on.
Another excellent way to save water is to recycle greywater – the used but relatively uncontaminated “waste” water that goes down showers, baths and basins. This is easiest to do during renovations or when building from new. Greywater can be used to water lawns and landscape plants, but in my opinion this water needs to be treated and the soap filtered out first, otherwise it will affect some plants and even be detrimental to the soil. The best use is for flushing toilets, at 6-9 litres per flush, this re-cycled water is a huge saving. Pop a coloured, deodorant bomb in your cistern and get that grey water flushing with no smells at all.
It’s been estimated that if every household was using water-efficient fixtures and appliances, more than 11 trillion litres of water would be saved every year. And it’s not just water – the energy used to move it, treat it, and heat it would also be saved, resulting in a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. All that, just from replacing some stuff in your house. What a better place to start than the bathroom?