Ask Mr. Green: How Much Water Can I Save?
How much water could be saved in a year in a household of four, if we assume everyone has hair that is 20 inches long and they shorten it to 10 inches and that they each shampoo 3 times a week?
—Duane, in Lincoln, Nebraska
We don’t have a reliable correlation between hair length and shower length, because of the many variables involved, e.g., different hair textures and densities, shampoos, personal habits, environmental attitudes, etc.
But what we do know is that showering requires a substantial torrent that accounts for 17 percent of all residential water use, or 1.2 trillion gallons per year in the United States, according the EPA. In light of last year’s drought and predictions of water shortages in no fewer than 36 states this year, briefer showers and better equipment are clearly a good idea.
Around 3,000 gallons a year could be saved by the average family if the most efficient "WaterSense" low-flow showerheads were installed, says the EPA. So, besides lobbying your household for shorter showers, make sure you at least have newer, high-efficiency showerheads instead of those made before 1992, when Congress set a limit of 2.5 gallons per minute. Before that year, showerheads could have flow rates well over twice that amount. But even if your shower meets the 2.5-gallon standard, you can cut more with that EPA-approved “WaterSense” high-efficiency showerhead, which reduces the flow down to a miserly 1.5 gallons per minute. (If, like I have, you run into right-wing whiners who claim that water-conservation rules are unwarranted government intrusions into private lives, just say you’re not about to join them in burying their heads in the sands of a desert of their own making.)
Cutting the shower flow has the side benefit of reduced energy bills, since heating water accounts for a substantial amount of the typical household’s energy use. In fact, the 2.5 gallon-per-minute max was mandated by the 1992 Energy Policy Act, not by water-related legislation.
For the ultimate in water savings, think outside the shower stall and explore the intriguing aquatic realm of toilets, faucets, appliances, and gardens. There is excellent information at the EPA’s WaterSense site, and comprehensive lists of efficient products—more than 1,000 efficient toilets alone! To analyze your water use in detail and find out how to save as much water, energy, and money as possible, try the amazing calculator at the Pacific Institute.
Got a question? Ask Mr. Green!
--illustration by Little Friends of Printmaking