How to Save Water in Bathroom
Bathroom water use is a big part of your total water consumption. Toilets alone are said to account for 20-30% of total household water use.
These bathroom water saving ideas will help you cut your home water use significantly, and all in one room – the bathroom. Here are the most common reasons for water overuse in bathroom.
- Leaks and drips
- Too much water for the task at hand
- Forgetting to turn things off, and other bad habits
- Overuse of hot water
For each of these, we can look in more detail at how each issue affects bathroom water use, and also look at technology and habit changes that can help reduce bathroom water use from that issue.
Leaks and drips
To start out, let’s first get into the problems, such as leaks and drips, that can happen without your awareness and then we’ll dive in your own bad habits.
No change in behavior or attitude towards water saving will help if you have a leak in the bathroom.
A tap or bathtub or shower leak is typically only a drip or two a second, but a toilet may run at a steady flow of a pint a minute and other than making a slight hissing noise, the flow passes unnoticed. But a pint a minute turns into 5,400 gallons a month – not to mention that slow toilet leaks often stain the bowl, particularly if you have hard water in your home.
Other than wasting water and severely increasing your bills, leaks can cause mold problems in your home that will lead to all sorts of discomforts of their own – another reason why you should check for them.
I’d connected with Jack Miles, the owner of a mold removal company, Sarasota Mold Pros, based in Sarasota, FL, and he has agreed to provide some advice on the topic of fixing toilet leaks as identifying them is a part of his daily job.
“We have found that in most cases, the cause of people’s mold problems is unnoticed water leaks. The irony is that these are so easy to fix”, says Jack.
“A water drop is roughly 1/20th of a milliliter (0.05 ML) or 0.0017 fluid ounces. That doesn’t seem like much. But again, when the tap is dripping twice a second, and you multiply that by the seconds in a minute … all the way up to days in a year, you get:
0.05 ML X 2 X 60 X 60 X 24 X 365 = 3,153,600 ML = 3,153 L = 3.153 tonnes = 834 gallons
That little drop of water adds up to over 3 tons of water in a year. Ignoring it will only make matters worse over time and you’ll soon run into more damaging problems such as mold infestation that’s pretty costly to resolve. Not only will your water bills skyrocket but the repair bills that could have been avoided will pop up as well.
Repairing a leaking faucet is a fairly straightforward affair. Keep a supply of assorted-size washers on hand – hardware stores sell them for a couple of dollars, and you can almost always find the washer you need. Turn off the water supply to the tap – in newer bathrooms there should be a shutoff under the sink – and turn on the tap to release the pressure. Unscrew the tap from its base. The washer is usually screwed onto the underside of the portion you remove. With a flat-edge screwdriver, remove the old washer, find one of a matching size, and attach it. It’s always wise to replace a washer as soon as the leak develops”.
Too much water for the task at hand
How much water we use to wash our hands, take a five minute shower, soak in a twenty minute bath, or flush the toilet, depends in part on the water efficiency of our plumbing.
Faucet aerators are pretty much standard in most homes, but if you don’t have one – or if yours has stopped working – it’s time toget a new one. If the water coming out your bathroom faucet is bubbly, you’ve got a faucet aerator; if it’s clear and bubble-free, you don’t, or the aerator is glogged up and not pulling in air.
Faucet aerators help cut bathroom water use by blending air and water so that you have the same total volume coming out of the faucet, but much of it is air instead of water. Aerated water does just as good a job of spreading water on your hands for a wash or rinse, wetting a wash cloth, or rinsing off a toothbrush.
Sometimes our water supply may contain small particles of scale, grit, corroded pipes, sand, or other materials that clog up the aerator. I find I have to unscrew my bathroom faucet aerator about 2-3 times a year and rinse off this build-up of solids. The clue to when this needs to be done is that the water stops flowing as fast, and loses most of its bubbles (it’s actualy the same flow rate of water as always, but without the air, and you can tell how much less effective it is).
Showers are a big part of bathroom water use, and low flow showerheads make a big difference, especially if you are replacing a very old showerhead. The showerheads of fifty years ago sent a deluge of hot water down – a very pleasant sensation, but not a very environmentally friendly or affordable one. Over the years showerheads have grown more efficient – providing the same soaking and rinsing power while reducing bathroom water use significantly. Effective showerheads are now available with flow rates of as little as 1.1 gallons per minute, far lower than the 3-5 gallons per minute of the earliest models. In many municipalities it is illegal to install a high-flow showerhead. You can easily measure your showerhead water flow by turning it on full blast, holding a 1 quart yogurt or ice cream tub under the shower head, and measuring how many seconds it takes to fill up. Divide 15 by the number of seconds and you’ll have the bathroom water use of your shower in gallons per minute (GPM).
Your choice of bathtub size also has a big impact on bathroom water use, if you take a lot of baths. You might think that a longer bathtub would take more water. But if all you want to do is soak, a bathtub long enough to let you lie flat on your back will only need about six inches of water in it (minus the volume of water your body occupies), while a bathtub that requires you to lean your back against the tub and crumple up your knees may need a foot or more of water (again, minus your body’s volume) to get that water all the way up to your neck. On the other hand, if you’re going to sit up in the bath no matter what, a shorter tub will do the job with a lot less water.
Some people opt for a jacuzzi bathtub thinking they will enjoy the comforts of the jacuzzi every time they take a bath. I can’t count how many times, when booking a hotel for a holiday, I’ve fallen for the ‘Jacuzzi suite’ trick – where you pay extra for a room with a jacuzzi in the bathroom, only to find out that all this means is a slightly oversized bathtub with some very noisy jets in the sides. There are two problems with the water use of a jacuzzi. First, you might be tempted to take more baths, if youo really like the jacuzzi experience – great for you, not so great for your bathroom water use. Second, the larger size of most jacuzzis compared to a typical bathtub, means you will use more water with each bath than in a regular tub.
Toilets are such a big water user, and such an opportunity for home water savings, that we have a whole section on water saving toilets. Older toilets can use 3, 5, even 8 gallons per flush (8 gallon toilets are typically 50+ years old). The best new water-flow toilets use as little as 1.1. gallons per flush, and dual flush toilets are designed to offer two flush levels depending on what’s being flushed down. Retrofit kits are available as well to convert any existing toilet tank into a dual-flush, low-flush toilet tank.
Forgetting to turn things off, and other bad habits
It drives me nuts when I see someone running the bathroom sink faucet for a whole two minutes while they are brushing their teeth. It only takes one hand to brush your teeth – for goodness sake, once you’ve wet your toothbrush, turn the water off until you’ve spit out the toothpaste and are ready to rinse!
There is a whole range of sloppy water use habits in the bathroom, and if you are serious about cutting bathroom water use you should figure out whether you or your family are guilty of any of them, and try to cure the habits if possible. Here are some typical bad habits worth overcoming:
- Using hot water to brush your teeth: It seems some people do this because they find cold water hurts their teeth. This is not just a waste of energy (since the water heater not only heats the water you use, but the water that stays in the pipe after you shut the water off), but it may increase bathroom water use compared to brushing with cold, if you run the water first until it warms up.
- Washing your face by scooping water from the tap: It’s more efficient to use a washcloth, or to partially fill the sink and wash your face by cupping your hands.
- Blowing your nose on a kleenex or sheet of toilet paper, and then flushing it down the toilet. That’s what trash cans are for! Make sure you have one in your washroom. (Better yet, if you have municipal recycling and composting like we do, have three – one for biodgradable waste like tissue papers etc., one for recycling, and one for garbage.)
- Turning the shower on to warm up the water, and then getting distracted by something else (the toilet, brushing teeth) until long after the water has heated up
- Shaving with a razor by letting the water run continuously. Just put an inch or two of hot water in the sink and rinse in that.
- Not sharing the bath water. When I was a kid we had a bath every Sunday – each person took their turn in the same bath water (there were up to six of us living together at the time). Each person topped up the tub with enough hot water to restore it to a nice hot temperatre, but by sharing we got six baths’ worth of pleasure for only about one and a half tubs worth of bathroom water use.
Some products that can help you if you forget to turn things off, or can cure other bad habits described above:
- You can buy motion sensor faucet aerators for your home tap, that work like the motion sensors on public bathroom taps. The aerator shuts off the flow of water out of the tap when there’s no motion nearby. I haven’t tested one of these yet but they get good reviews, especially for places like daycares where young kids may walk out of the washroom without having turned off the tap.
- A working plug for your sink can make a big difference to bathroom water use. I’ve been in plenty of hotel rooms where the bathroom sink plug was missing or didn’t seal properly. If I want to wash my face or shave in a sink like that it means I have to leave the water running. Being able to plug the sink when needed means you’ll run less water down the drain for such tasks.
- An electric razor – whether for facial hair for us men, or body hair for the women (and avid swimmers) among us – can help cut bathroom water use. People who shave with a razor in the shower tend to stay in there longer. People who shave with an electric razor tend not to do so in the shower (or if they do, it happens just once!).
- A hot water shutoff valve for a showerhead helps reduce bathroom water use by dropping the flow of water for a showerhead to a trickle when the water heats up. This is great for people who start the water running to warm it up, and then get distracted. Once you’re ready tof a shower, you just flip a switch on the valve, and hot water flows instantly.
- An insulating blanket for a bathtub is a great way to share baths and share the heat. Even just thick bubblewrap will help keep the water hot, both while you are bathing and between your turn and the next person’s turn. The next time you buy something that comes heavily packed in bubble wrap, why not save the bubble wrap and try it in the bath? Just tell the kids not to pop all the bubbles.
Overuse of hot water
As I mentioned in the previous section, brushing your teeth in hot water seems a little wasteful of both energy and bathroom water use. Let’s look at other, more common issues relating to hot water use in the bathroom.
The first thing to address is teenagers. I have a teen and a tween and if I charged them a buck for every shower they took I wouldn’t have to pay them any allowance! There are two issues here: how often you shower, and how long you shower. Teenagers seem to go overboard on both.
First of all, it’s not healthy to wash with soap every day. Every time you wash with soap you are washing oils out of your skin, and frequent washing can lead to skin dryness and irritation. For kids who spend a lot of time climbing trees or running barefoot, it may be necessary to bathe every day after play, but you don’t need soap to get a little dirt off, and you certainly don’t need to bathe your whole body because there’s mud on your knees or because the soles of your feet are dirty.
A shower timer is one handy way of reminding people to take shorter showers to cut bathroom water use. Unfortunately this is more about awareness than enforcement: the person taking the shower sets the timer, starts the shower, and after the set time is up, the shower timer tells you you’re done. Nothing (except perhaps guilt) stops you from leaving the shower on for another ten minutes.
It is possible to shower every day and still use hardly any water, if you’re obsessive about it. I find that in warmer weather at least, I can shower with just 3 to 4 gallons of water total: 1.5 quarts of cold water until the water warms up; one minute to soak myself (another 6 quarts, since my shower runs at 1.5 GPM); I then shut off the water, and wash myself with soap and shampoo while the water is off; and one minute to rinse (another 6 quarts). This works fine in June. I don’t tend to do it in November!
One of the worst cases of hot water use I saw happened when the contractor doing our ground floor reno replumbed the upstairs. By accident he mixed up the hot and cold lines, which made showers kind of hard to regulate. But even worse, after a few days we noticed the toilet tank was quite hot! Of course this was easily detected and fixed, but still!
Another issue with bathroom water use and hot water is the problem of a bathroom situated far from the hot water tank. If the hot water is used sporadically through the day – for example to wash hands after using the toilet – you may need to run a lot of cold water through the pipes before the hot water from the tank reaches the tap. A point of use water heater is a great device to address this. It sits under your sink in a cabinet, and keeps a small quantity of water hot at all times, in a well insulated tank (typically 1 or 2 gallon capacity).
When you fill the bathtub, there’s a lot of energy stored as heat in the water. You can at least get some benefit from it, during the heating season, by leaving the water in the tub for several hours until it has cooled. As I said earlier, having some kind of insulating blanket for your bathtub is a good way to keep the water warm when you’re bath sharing; it’s also a good way to reduce the amount of moisture evaporating off the surface of the bath water, if you are leaving the tub full to reclaim the heat.
Finally, gray water recycling is a good way to at least improve the efficiency of your bathroom water use by getting some added benefit out of the bath water. Whether you use a little of the bath water to mop the bathroom floor, fill a bucket’s worth to water a few plants, or, as my grandfather did when my dad was a kid, siphon off the second floor bathtub with a garden hose to water the victory garden below, you might as well use the water again. It doesn’t do you much good going down the drain. If you’re ambitious (or doing a bathroom remodel anyway) you can even plumb in a separate drain line to direct the bathtub drain down to an outdoor cistern for watering plants.
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