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Sep 02

Sustainable Bathrooms: Saving Water by Pooping Less (and more)

Awhile back, I wrote a post about sustainable kitchens and how to get the most out of our appliances.  Apparently, people really liked it and it got a lot of page views.  Writing about the things that are important to you is important to me.  So today, I’ve decided to write a similar post on bathrooms.  This will turn into a series, of sorts, where I will eventually cover sustainability for every room of the house (and yard!).

bathroom-drainDid you know the average American spends more than 1 1/2 years in the bathroom over the course of their life? That’s a lot of “personal time!” And with all of the fixtures surrounding us in the loo, it’s not hard to find a few ways to save some money by conserving resources like water and electricity while we’re hanging out at the toilet.  In fact, about 75% of a household’s water use is consumed in the bathroom.

Toilets

So where do we start?  Well, statistics and my insatiable love for poop jokes tells me that we should start at the toilet, since 40% of the water we use is flushed right down it. There a few things you can do to make your commode a little easier on the rain clouds:

  • Put a brick water bottle in the tank - You can actually use a number of different items besides a brick. The idea here is simply to displace water in the tank, much like you do yourself when you get in the bathtub. The bigger the object, the more water you’ll displace and the less you’ll use each time you flush (I seem to be displacing more bathwater than usual lately). Using this tip will require a delicate balance, though.  If your object is too big, your tank won’t hold enough water to adequately flush your, uh, waste down and you’ll find yourself having to flush multiple times in order to finish the job.  That is not frugally green, so experiment a little bit and find out what the best size is for your tank.
  • “If it’s pee, let it be…” - And if it’s brown, flush it down! My roommates were really opposed to this idea at first. The initial reaction was, “That’s gross!,” and, “It’ll stink so bad!”  After a little bit of coaxing, we agreed to give it a week long trial period and see how it worked.  Turns out, it’s not that gross and it doesn’t stink at all.  The general rule here is that if it isn’t solid, there’s no need to waste water flushing it.  As long as you flush at least once a day, we’ve found that smell is not an issue at all.  If you can get past the initial mental barrier, you’ll probably find that you can save a tremendous amount of water, and that equates to a much lower water bill.
  • Replace an old one with a low flow/dual flush fixture – If you’re remodeling, or just need a new toilet, spend a few extra bucks to make sure you’re getting one that uses water efficiently.  Many new models have a dual flush function that lets you press one button for “number 1″ and another button for “number 2.”  Most of the time, this is just a half/full flush option that lets you use less water to flush less “matter.”

Bonus points!

  • Install a composting toilet – this option is not for everyone, but if you’re up for the challenge, you can disconnect the plumbing to your toilet and eliminate the use of water all together.  The technology of composting toilets has come a long way, but from the feedback I’ve gathered from various users, it still has a little way to go.  To learn more about these neat contraptions, try visiting some of the manufacturer’s websites:

Bathtubs and showers

The next biggest water user in your home is your bathtub/shower, making up about 35% of your household’s use.  Here are some fairly simple tips to consider when trying to reduce your water use while getting squeaky clean:

  • Install a low-flow shower head - These have become more and more popular recently.  Many local municipalities will even give you a couple for free, so call up your city hall and see if they’ll help out.  If you prefer a more luxurious shower, there are lots of options out there.  With the amount of water they save, you’ll likely recoup your investment in much less than a year.  I bought a Waterpik model at a local department store.  You can do the same or select one of the several offered on Amazon.
  • Take fewer, shorter showers - Don’t gasp when I tell you that I don’t take a shower every day.  I still keep very clean! It seems we in the States have become obsessed with being clean.  Showering every or even twice a day has probably become so habitual for most people that we don’t even realize that we’re still clean when we step in.  I always shower after I exercise and never go longer than 2 full days without one, but I try to stay conscious about why I’m bathing.  Some days, all that’s necessary is a quick face and armpit wash and I’m clean as a whistle.  You might be uncomfortable with this suggestion.  That’s fine.  Do what works for you.  Maybe your best option would simply be to stay aware of how long your showers last.  Cutting down unnecessary time spent lounging around can save a whole lot of water and money – but don’t be afraid to let yourself splurge once in awhile on a nice, long shower.  Life’s too short to deprive yourself completely.
  • Don’t take scalding hot showers - Some people I know can’t get a shower hot enough to satisfy them.  They’d be in heaven with third degree burns all over their backs.  Personally, I prefer a much milder temperature, but if you’re the type that likes it hot, consider backing off just a little.  This will actually go a long ways to save you electricity (or gas) as your water heater will not have to work nearly as hard to get that water to you.
  • Take showers instead of baths - The average bath uses around 30 gallons of water.  The average shower uses only 10.  Want to verify that?  Close the drain the next time you hop in the shower and see how much the tub fills up.  I think you should still take a bath once in awhile as they’re good for the soul, but if you’re the type that takes one every day, you might consider switching up your routine to knock a few turns off the water meter.
  • Bonus tipHot tubs are another place where people can save energy. Try to only keep it heated when you plan on going in.

Sinks

Reducing your water consumption at the sink is really all about psychology.  Once you’ve verified you have an aerator installed on your faucet, you’ll want to focus on doing the following things in order to cut your use even further:

  • Turn the water off while brushing your teeth – You’re only using the water for the first and last few seconds of your brushing session, so why leave the faucet on while you just stare at it, right?
  • Turn the water down while washing your hands – This might seem petty, but it can really add up if your whole household is doing it. We wash our hands around 15-20 times a day.  Can you see the potential here for a family of 4 that does this for a year? (This tip originally said “turn the water off while lathering your hands, but then I realized how ridiculous that was)

Saving Electricity

So far we’ve looked at all sorts of ways to cut your water bill in the bathroom.  That’s where you’ll make your biggest gains, but assuming you aspire to do even more, know that you can save a little electricity as well.  Here’s how:

  • Reduce hot water use whenever possible - I know I mentioned this above, but I’m doing it again.  Any time you use less hot water, you’ll save electricity or gas that your water heater must use to heat more.
  • Plug accessories into a power strip - Turn it off when not in use.  Lots of your bathroom gadgets can suck a little current while they’re plugged in, but turned off.
  • Avoid using a heat lamp – These buggers use a ton of energy to heat you up.  Turn it on for a moment if you’re freezing, but be conscious of it and turn it off as soon as you don’t need it anymore.  I like to dry myself off while still in the shower to help alleviate the rush of cold that comes from opening the curtain and stepping out all wet.

Fresh water is one of our most precious resources and one that can be significantly better protected with just a little bit of thought from a lot of people.  Doing many little, seemingly insignificant things may not seem as exciting as building a green home, disconnecting from the grid, or buying an electric car, but they are the building blocks for these larger gestures.  Without an understanding and appreciation for the fundamentals, the grand has little meaning or direction.

What are some of the little things you do to conserve resources in the bathroom?  Has anyone just tried pooping less?
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6 comments

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  1. Susie

    Could you please tell me what words you used to convince your roommates about “letting it mellow”. I tried this method 25 years ago when I was pregnant — not just for the environment but so I wouldn’t wake my husband up ten times per night. But it wasn’t appreciated. Thank you for your help.

  2. Tina

    I’d just like to mention the often overlooked strategy of not using toilet paper. Use 1 liter or less to wipe. I haven’t done the research, but I’m sure it takes more than 1 liter of water to make the toilet paper required for one wiping session. Plus, you’re not sending rolls on top of rolls of toilet paper into that mysterious black hole where all the tp goes…

  3. Michael Thomas

    Mom,
    I think all it really took was a quick back of the napkin calculation to show how much lower our water bill could be. People will do crazy things for money (not that this strategy is all that crazy). $50 off of every water bill looks pretty good when you’re a poor college student. By the way, you don’t have to hide, I know it’s you!

    Tina,
    I’ve read lots of accounts of others ditching their toilet paper, but haven’t ever gotten into the nitty gritty mechanics of it. Care to share?

  4. Brenda Pike

    Um, I’ve read that a brick in the toilet isn’t a good idea because the water can break it down and bits of it can clog your pipes. A plastic bottle filled with water is a better idea.

  5. steve the plasterer

    “ Sustainable Bathrooms: Saving Water by Pooping Less (and more) ”

    Thanks for sharing

  6. kelly

    I reduced my tp usage by cutting a flannel sheet into squares and using those to wipe. The used cloths go into a bin and are washed every week or so. I use regular tp for poop more often than not, but being a stay home female, just using cloths for pee has made a HUGE difference. And it’s really not gross at all. And flannel cloth is way softer than paper btw! And I never have to frantically run out for more tp just cause we’re “out”.

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