Energy and Water waste at Home
You know that moment well: You’ve turned on the shower, but there’s no way you’re getting into it quite yet. The water’s not hot enough. So you start your routine, whatever it is — doing some chores, answering some e-mails — while the water runs and runs, much of it already hot.
Shower wonks have dubbed this extremely common pattern “behavioral waste,” or waste that occurs because of human habits. And there appears to be quite a lot of it. “Typically 20 percent of every shower, the duration, is essentially lost,” says Jonah Schein, technical coordinator for homes and buildings for the EPA’s Water Sense program. “The average shower is a little over eight minutes long, so that’s a good chunk of the shower that we’re not actually being able to utilize.”
For a standard shower head, every minute wasted equates to 2.5 gallons of water — and insofar as some of it is warm, says Schein, “that’s energy-rich water that we’re running down the drain.” And research conducted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has suggested that the waste levels may be even higher — 30 percent of shower water overall and 41 percent of “hot water energy.”
Run the numbers and there’s no getting around the fact that we have a gigantic problem here, people.
Showering drives almost 17 percent of water use in homes, and an average American family uses some 40 gallons of water per day in the shower. This amounts to 1.2 trillion gallons of water in the United States each year,says EPA, “enough to supply the water needs of New York and New Jersey” over the same time period. If 20 percent of that is wasted, well, you’re talking about over 200 billion gallons, in a world where gigantic states (California) and megacities (Sao Paulo, Brazil) are suffering from drought and water scarcity problems are expected to become still worse in the decades ahead.
What’s more, because water coming out of shower heads is supposed to be hot water, showers are also energy hogs. They’re typically one of the largest drags on the hot water heater in the home, and water heating itself accounts for almost 17 percent of total home electricity, according to the Department of Energy. Thus, cutting back on hot water waste in showers has a double benefit, saving water and power and money on two separate bills.
But how do you get people to do it? “The shower is a really personal thing, and people don’t want to really change a whole lot,” notes Troy Sherman, one of the founders of Evolve Technologies, which makes water-saving shower products.
The point was made rather unforgettably in 1992, when the U.S. government mandated that shower heads get more efficient — reducing the top flow rate down to 2.5 gallons per minute. This led to a great volume of complaints that shower flows were too weak — including a classic 1996 “Seinfeld”episode in which the gang got so peeved at newly installed low-flow shower heads that they turned to the black market for an alternative.