Water use in the house

Since refurbishing my home to save energy and water, I’ve been reviewing progress. While the energy saving plans for the house were big (EnerPHit was our energy use target), the approach to saving water was far more modest.

When we moved in at the start of 2010, our house had the original 1952 loo and taps, with a more recent electric shower and our 5 year old washing machine. No fancy water saving technologies there. The previous owner had put in a water meter, so looking back at our first year’s water use, I can see we used 65 litres per person per day. This is pretty good! Not far off the target for Code for Sustainable homes level 5 and 6 (60 litres per person per day).

So how did we manage that? The answer is rather unglamorous – run-of-the-mill water saving habits such as running the washing machine full, not flushing the loo when someone else is about to use it, short showers and not leaving taps running. On the plus side, my baby and toddler were too small to go round leaving the taps running or flushing toilets. That said, I seemed to spend most of my life cleaning up after them – and there was plenty of laundry to do, augmented by two sets of washable nappies.

But what impact might some water-saving technologies make? As part of refurbishing our house to reduce gas and electricity use, we also hoped to further reduce our water use. This strategy involved replacing the old toilet with 2 low flush loos (ifo cera from Green Building Store) and some low flow taps and a low(ish) flow shower. We still have the same washing machine, plus an energy-efficient dishwasher.

Of course, the children are older, but still naturally good at water-saving in that they only flush the loo or wash their hands if someone reminds them, and they avoid baths and showers whenever possible.

The result is that our water use in 2013 was a very respectable 57 litres per person per day, which will almost certainly increase in about 10 years’ time when the children become hygiene conscious teenagers.

So, with some well-chosen standard items, good habits and minimising pipe runs where possible, a reasonably low level of water use can be achieved.

Water use in the garden

Keeping rain water out of the storm drains is clearly a good idea. But it is not something most home owners consider when the opportunities arise – perhaps the savings on the water bill are not great enough to persuade us all to make the necessary changes.

We decided to go the extra mile – more for the benefit of my conscience than any anticipated savings. Here’s what we did.

When we first bought our house, the front lawn looked rather like a rice paddy after heavy rain. It is lower than the road, and water can’t flow away down the hill because our house stands in the way. The perfect opportunity to remedy this came when we realised that the garage needed to be rebuilt for structural reasons. An ACO drain in front of the new garage now diverts water to a pipe below the garage floor and away into the back garden.

That deals with any water running down the drive. Like others in our street, we wanted space to park a second car off the road occasionally. Or perhaps it would be more truthful to say that one of us wanted an extra parking space, and the other wanted greenery! Happily, the chosen solution does both – we put down a plastic grid designed for car parking (Gridforce) and planted it with grass seed.

Image of Gridforce

Every remaining down-pipe will eventually lead to a water butt, and there is plenty of room in the back garden to use or lose all the rain water landing on and around the house.

While the work probably cost us more than we will recover in reduced water bills, the trees in the back garden will certainly benefit from all the extra water that now comes their way from the roof and the front garden. And if every home and business diverted all rainwater from the drains, it would reduce the frequency and intensity of flooding events caused by heavy rain.

Posted October 2014

Saving Water – Dr Tina Holt, UK