Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Turning Off Niagara Falls

When we were calling around to the local utility companies to change over names on the accounts for the new house, the task of calling the water department fell to me.

While the house has a septic system it is, in fact, on city water and so one Monday morning I called the water folks and gave them our names and the dates of the transfer. Curiosity got the best of me and I asked the polite county employee on the other end of the line what the average water usage was at the new house. Since the previous owners were a young couple sans children (and thus, half the size of our household, half the laundry and half the toilet flushing...), I fully expected their average usage to be noticeably under our average.

So, I was understandably floored when the average number of gallons she provided was nearly 40% more than our average at the old house.

That didn't make any sense. I expressed as much and she gave me the readings for their last four months of usage. Hmmm...how and why would they be using so much more water than us?

TMOTH pondered how much extra watering they did of their (larger) garden, but that wouldn't have been the source for the readings shared, since they were taken in the winter. A good 10 minutes of head scratching had us no closer to a cause, so we tabled the discussion and figured we'd have our epiphany sometime after moving in to the new house.

That epiphany moment came at roughly 6:05am on our first morning in the new house. Up early that morning to get ready for work, I headed to the bathroom to take a shower. The shower is one of those riser extensions off of a claw foot tub and after a few tweaks and alterations to get the temperature just right I turned the appropriately labeled "shower" knob to the left.

Holy Niagara Falls! If you're old enough to remember the "good ol' days" of Nickelodeon and the familiar shoulder arch/facial expression of someone getting slimed, then you have a good reference for the impact the massive amounts of water had on this shower occupant. This was definitely NOT a modern, reduced water flow shower head.

Is this slime biodegradable? Because we're on a greywater system.

We had found our mystery water hog.

This shower head was definitely retro old-school in every way possible, including spray surface area and water output. Pure steel construction made us think that it's the original shower head, which would date it to around 1957. Ah, post-war American...when gluttonous consumption of resources following mandatory rationing was the norm. But an engraving at the base of the head says that it has an output of 2.5 gallons of water per minute, which is technically within modern ranges...

As invigorating as the shower was, eco-guilt got the best of me and within a few days I brought this home:
Not only is it eco-responsible, it gives you the excuse to repeatedly say "Power in your Shower!" in a Mr. T voice.

To conserve water and energy, all residential and most commercial shower heads sold in the U.S. must flow less than or equal to 2.5 gallons per minute. This criteria hit the books in 1992, and since then there's been a sort of black-market for high-output models of the past, fed by the demands of consumers who want that slime-bucket effect.

Better yet, uber-efficient shower heads identified as low flow must have an output of 2.0 gallons per minute or less. The model I chose above, according to Internet resources, has a flow rate of 1.5 gallons per minute which is quite sensible, especially when combined with the handy toggle button that will shut the stream down to a trickle (but keep your temperature steady) for when you're lathering and shaving.

So how is it? Slightly less invigorating but definitely less guilt-inducing. And really, who needs that kind of "I'm killing the world" guilt at 6:00am? Plus, all the resources and money we're saving will definitely allow for the shower to pay for itself within a few months.

But what to do with the old shower head? We could sell it on e-Bay to some desperate bather wanting a higher flowing shower head, but that would seem a tad bit contradictory. According to my food scale, the old shower head is close to two pounds of solid steel...at current scrap prices it could net us a whopping $1.40.

Man, think of all the things we could we do with those kinds of Benjamins!

--Rational Mama