The hot water system in our house finicky. When I turn on the water for a shower it’s freezing cold, and it takes forever for the water to start getting warm. Once the water is warm a fun game of “turn the faucet handles” begins. If you’ve ever played one of those deceptive carnival games you have an idea what this is like. If the water is too cold I turn the hot water handle up and nothing happens. I wait, still nothing. So I turn the cold water down a tiny bit. Bam! Suddenly I’m standing in scalding torrent. I panic and turn up the cold water and now it’s a sub-arctic waterfall. After a couple of minutes and a fair amount of cussing I finally get the water to a temperature I like but it still has a tendency to fluctuate for no apparent reason.
With this reality, turning the water off and on for a navy shower just isn’t all that practical. I also realized that I am unwilling to sacrifice a warm shower, particularly on those days when I’ve spent an entire day working outside in the rain or snow (or the ungodly, unspeakable combination of the two).
However, as inefficient as this system is at providing consistent water temperature it does have one advantage. It’s still possible to get the shower to a comfortable temperature without turning the water up to full blast.
The difference is subtle, this is our shower turned up all the way:
And this our shower turned up not quite all the way, but high enough that I could still comfortably shower in it:
I suspected that this little difference was enough to save water (I guessed it would reduce water use by about 15-25%) but I wasn’t sure. Fortunately, I have the knowledge and the tools to help me answer that question.
I emptied our recycling bin and used it to catch the water from the shower head. I started off using a one gallon container as a measurement device, but quickly realized I could get more accurate measurements with a Nalgene container that had graduated fluid ounce markings on it.
I used a stop watch to time the flow of water from our faucet for thirty seconds and multiplied it by two to figure out the flow per minute. I also converted the measurements to gallons per minute because my brain doesn’t work in ounces. I repeated the measurement process three times for better accuracy.
With the water running at full flow I used an average of 1.52 gallons of water which is typical for a low flow shower head. When I turned the water down I used an average of 1.22 gallons of water. That means I saved about .3 gallons of water per minute which is a savings of about 20%. Just by turning the water down I’ve saved a significant amount of water even before shortening my shower time!
P.S. You may be interested to know that there are low flow shower heads that allow you to change the flow of your water without changing the temperature. I can’t exactly install a new shower head in my rental house, but I may recommend them to the home owner when it’s time to replace the existing one.