Working in the green building industry, I’ve learned that most people don’t care that they are renting or buying a sustainable home, beyond the expectation of high quality that comes with it. Comfort is often seen in contrast with the ability to live with a lighter impact on the earth. The good news is, this isn’t usually the case, and conservation and quality often go hand in hand, and saving water/energy/materials can also mean saving money.
The average person in the United States uses 80-100 gallons of water per day, and a lot of this is wasted simply by using higher flow plumbing fixtures. The very first “low flow” shower fixtures weren’t so great, and the decision was made to either use a little bit of water OR get your hair clean. Technology has come a long way though, and the newer versions of the low flow showerhead are light years ahead of their early counterparts.
My mother is someone who likes to be green, but above all, she wants things to work well for her, so she was a bit hesitant to make the switch initially. However, once my parents made the leap and switched out showerheads, she’s been just as happy as before; really, happier because they don’t have the big water bill to go along with her showers now. She can live sustainably, and she doesn’t have to skip her shower. My parents are now seeing their water use cut in half without having to make any changes to their lifestyle.
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Changing Out Our Own Showerheads
When we moved into our house, one of the first things we did was replace our two shower heads with Niagara Conservation 1.25 gallon per minute shower heads (there is also also a 1.5GPM version if you are really particular, but the 1.25 works great). We also replaced our two toilets with the ultra high efficiency 0.8 GPF Stealth toilet. A standard efficient toilet is 1.28 gallons per flush, and a dual flush averages out slightly lower than that, so the toilet we chose saves even more water than that. And really, all toilets work the same 😉
Finally, we added 0.5GPM aerators to our bathroom faucets. Aerators spread the water out in tiny droplets so a lot less water comes out per minute without negatively impacting your ability to wash your hands or brush your teeth. We left our kitchen sink alone so pots full quickly.
Seeing The Money Savings
Immediately after we made these changes, our water bill dropped significantly. The previous owners used an average of 1200-1600 cubic feet per month, and we lowered that to 600-800 cubic feet. Also, there were two of them in their household and there are four of us including our roommate, so the savings has been even more dramatic on a per person basis.
Our bill this month (we get one every other month) is for 800 cubic feet of water, which is on the high side for us – Seattle has broken a record and we are currently at 53 days of no measurable rain! That being said, we’ve had to water our garden, so our water bill has gone up some, though not terribly because we reuse water where we can and only water once the sun begins to set (less evaporation to contend with) and mulch the garden heavily.
800 cubic feet = 5984 gallons of water.
5984 gallons / 60 days X 4 people = 25 gallons per person per day (including washing cloth diapers for our son).
Without making sacrifices to the way we live, we’ve been able to cut our water use down to about 3/4 to 1/2 of the typical American household. In the winter, this drops to about 19 gallons per person per day.
Our current water bill is $188.52. Even a conservative 25% increase to that bill would be an additional $47/every other month. (Some of the bill is a base charge so we don’t see a full 1/3-1/2 reduction in that cost).
So what does it really cost to replace those fixtures? Not very much.
- Two toilets: $169.20 x 2 = $338.40
- Two shower heads: $8 x 2 = $16
- Six pack aerators: $8.95
$363.35 + 10% sales tax = $399.69*
*these numbers don’t include a plumber to do the install, but they are all very simple change outs. YouTube is a great resource if you haven’t done it before.
If you divide that $400 cost by the $47 savings every two months ($23.50/month saved), you would have these fixtures paid off in 17 months. Since we’ve had them installed for over 5 years, we’ve saved a significant amount of money for very little effort – and no lifestyle change required.