Daily water usage in the typical single family home is 69.3 gallons, with showers accounting for 16.8 percent of total indoor water use. After washing machines and dishwashers, showers are the third-largest water guzzler in the home.
Water and energy conservation can be achieved by making some simple upgrades to shower fixtures and changing up washing habits. If every American used just one less gallon of water per shower (a feat achieved by cutting your shower by about 2 minutes), the annual water savings would be more than Finland's domestic water use for a year. Further eco-savings can be gained by choosing eco-friendly personal care products, cleaners, and towels.
Shower or bath?
Water usage depends on how long you stay in the shower and how much water comes out of your showerhead. The average bath requires between 30 and 50 gallons of water. Most regular showerhead fixtures installed before 1992 have flow rates of up to 5.5 gallons of water per minute, which means that a shower greater than five minutes in length typically uses more water than a bath.
Low-flow showerheads, which use 2.5 gallons of water or less per minute, restrict the flow of water through small apertures and create a high-velocity spray by forcing compressed air into the water stream. A low-flow showerhead uses less than a typical bath and can save up to $145 a year in electricity costs. In an average household, these fixtures can save about 7,800 gallons of water per year. Choosing a showerhead with a shutoff valve allows you to turn off the water while you soap up in the shower, which can save an additional 15 to 20 gallons per shower.
Energy for hot water
In a typical shower, approximately 73 percent of the water used is hot water, which inflates water heating costs in the home and emits additional greenhouse gases. While most manufacturers set the dial at 140 degrees Fahrenheit, the heating needs of most homes can be met with a temperature of 120 degrees. Every 10 percent reduction in water temperature results in a 3 to 5 percent reduction in energy costs. Additional energy savings can be sought by installing solar thermal water heaters or tankless water heater.
Shower curtains and accessories
Regular vinyl shower curtains are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which creates hazardous waste when manufactured and trashed, releasing potentially dangerous chemicals into water and soils. Because they easily become moldy and are difficult to clean, many consumers replace them regularly, adding to the more than 200 million tons of trash that end up in landfills every year. And since they cannot be recycled, the toxins from this plastic leaches into the environment. Permanent bath enclosures are less prone to requiring replacement, making them more resource-efficient than PVC shower curtains.
Shower cleaners and bath products
Conventional household cleaners often contain chemical cleaning agents like alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs), which do not easily break down in sewage treatment after they are washed down the drain. APEs are among the most widely used groups of surfactants, with about half a million tons produced annually worldwide. The US Environmental Protection Agency has identified APEs as endocrine disruptors which can affect the reproductive systems of birds and mammals and disrupt the ability of some fish to reproduce, and measurable levels of APEs have been found in some lakes and streams.
- DrinkTap.org - American Waterworks Association: Water Use Statistics
- Pacific Institute - The World's Water 2006-2007 Tables
- California Energy Commission - The Consumer Energy Center: Shower vs. Bath
- ENERGY STAR - Top 10 Tips for Renters
- Flex Your Power - Showerheads
- The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture - Water Usage
- US Dept of Energy - EERE Consumer's Guide: Lower Water Heating Temperature for Energy Savings
- Charityguide.com - How to Make a Difference in 15 Minutes: Clean-Up Your Trash
- Environmental Science and Technology - European Bans on Surfactant Trigger Transatlantic Debate: US and European regulators and researchers disagree over risks of a common class of surfactants, by Rebecca Renner
- United States Dept. of Agriculture - Agricultural Research Service: Atmospheric Processes of Agricultural Pollutants That Affect Air and Water Quality