The idea for this blog springs from an article I did for Green Building. That took forever as well. But this is also sparked by the 20th anniversary off the MSc Energy Efficient building course at Oxford Brookes, which I cannot quite believe was that long ago and which I promised myself I would have this done for. Speaking for a nice 20 mins at this event about what I am and what I do as a green architect has given me a blog angle. Bingo! I wonder how much water have I used since I completed the course nearly twenty years ago.

My habits are sparse and parsimonious as that’s what being ‘eco’ means to me. I cook using minimum water and always put the lids on pans to consume, I believe, 30% less energy. We tend to drink water rather than juices. Not sure quite how that works out. I watch how much water I put in a kettle but my uneducated lodgers don’t.

So what about washing up and washing clothes, and washing oneself? All very boring but ‘got to be done’ tasks. I have a dishwasher which is supposed to use less water, so it was interesting to see Cath’s blog on that very subject which also happily focused on the energy use as well as the water use per se, only 11 l of water per wash. The dishwasher is on at least 5 times a week. The key to keeping plates clean Cath before they go in is to have a dog. They lick them clean before they go in the super-heated germ annihilating dish washer. (But surely better to have the dishwasher set on the eco-50 degrees C programme and not add the dog germs beforehand? Technical Ed.)

I always feel a bit guilty for having a big, deep, hot, oil scented bath. That’s the nature of innately living a life where in all you do you consider consumption. Within limits. I let one son have a 15min shower to give me a break from his bouncing. But it starts to get to me sooner than later and I tell him to hurry up because he’s using too much water and electricity. I remember Cath talking once and hearing figures like a bath is 97 litres of water and a teenager in a power shower for 20 mins is over 300 litres. Not that my super eco (cheap and dribberly) shower pulsates with much water anyway. And if you’re on the large size forget it. You will hardly get wet. So I probably have a bath about twice a month; the rest of the time quick showers suffice. One lodger is rather clean; the other has more dubious cleaning routines. Rather like my sons in fact. I’m not too fussy about turning the tap off between brushing my teeth anymore, not since I saw an unfixed water main outside my house for the best part of four weeks and realised there was no comparison. Though writing that down here means I’ll probably actually start doing it again now as I feel guilty. (Please do! Shower Police Ed moonlighting as Tooth Brushing Ed.)

Then there’s cleaning. Lots and lots of water goes into cleaning doesn’t it of course, commercially and domestically normally. Er not in my house. I don’t have a hoover (people keep giving me them as they think I need them) as I don’t have carpets to hoover or wash clean, except for one large bargain rug from the clearance shop five doors down. I don’t wash the white and blue painted Victorian floorboards very often but luckily they’re so shabby chic you can’t tell. I keep the bathrooms clean with minimal water, I can’t abide using tons of toxic stuff anyway that then goes into our water system. I wonder does that count as abuse. I’m sorry Mr Sewage Farm but here comes my bleach. I’m not so fastidious about coffee granules. Blush.

Upstairs we have the said dribberly electric shower in a shower room with a basin, cold tap only, and a cheap eco loo where the seat cuts the circulation to your legs if you sit on it for too long. On the middle floor is the facility to heat hot water (a gas condensing boiler to a hot water tank. (It’s called a cylinder! Frustrated Ed who has to deal with too many architects calling the cylinder a tank.)  Its lagging is in reasonable nick. I’d love a combi boiler actually as the thought of hot water just setting there slowly cooling is one I really dislike. As my lodgers don’t complain I’m parsimonious about putting on the hot water. Hot water in my house is seen as a luxury. I often boil a kettle to do one or two pans whilst the rest is in the aforesaid dishwasher. Although I was shocked at the difference in efficiency using gas to heat hot water over non-renewable electricity in one of Cath’s previous blogs I have 4kW of solar panels on south and west facing roof so perhaps this is after all a better use of energy.

Another reason for this is I hate the time it takes the water to come out hot in kitchen sink, traveling from the hot water cylinder in one of the bedrooms. Miles from the boiler. Madness. The sort of rubbish installation from an ill thought out system, common to many households across the UK.  You know that waste of water that comes out cold before you get hot. I’ve sat on committees where that’s been debated. Green people will try to use it for something. And then there’s the hot water in the pipes cooling down unused afterwards. Grrrr,

So how to calculate how much water I have used over twenty years. I’m going to base this on my current maisonette which contains two rather tasty lodgers, one and a half big school boys, a dog and a gold fish. I’ve looked at a few web sites to see what my water use would be like and discovered an amazing energy and water calculator  on the Energy Saving Trust’s web site. (Although it doesn’t mention water use for cleaning or cooking I hasten to add)

In any case that’s where my suspicions were confirmed. I would have used far less water in that 20 years if I’d never been to the loo. Without flushing it calculated 131,248 litres per annum. With an old WC (The hippo got taken due to having to flush twice instead of once reasons) as well as a new one upstairs you can round this up to 185,998 litres per annum.
Meaning the policy I haven’t mentioned here that we follow, ‘If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down’ probably has the biggest impact on our water use of all. Approximately one third of my 20 years’ worth of 3,719,960 litres water has been simply flushed down the toilet.

Jo Saady

Ecotecture ltd

Posted November 2014

Confessions of a low water user – Jo Saady, UK