It seems like yesterday our “carbon footprint” was the eco phrase de jour. Now it’s “water footprint,” as in What’s your water footprint?
In our last post and in this one, we set aside the mechanics of plumbing in our Staten Island residences to take a look at the one element most people, at least here in the United States, take for granted — water. We’ll examine a bit closer the water that freely flows through your home’s pipes and what we can do to conserve.
In-the-know Staten Island plumbers, the ones who pay attention to more than just pipes, connections, and fixtures, estimate that each person uses between 80 to 100 gallons a day, so a family of three can easily top 300 gallons daily.
What do those numbers mean? In no particular order of use:
- Baths: a full tub varies according to the design and size, but 36 gallons is a decent average amount.
- Showers: Taking a shower instead of a bath will save water. Older showers used to take up to five gallons per minute, but water-saving shower heads now spit out about two gallons per minute. Changing out the shower head(s) in your home is easy enough for any homeowner to do, although in some cases if you’re going beyond the basics you may want to have a Staten Island plumber assist.
So let’s do the math: five gallons for eight minutes (the average length of a shower), that’s 40 gallons of water — so not that much of a savings over a bath. Now, if you change out the shower head: two gallons for eight minutes, that’s 16 gallons of water — a considerable savings. Or, if you prefer, you can take a slightly longer shower.
- Teeth brushing: Newer bath faucets use about a gallon per minute, whereas older fixtures are more than two gallons per minute. If you let the water run for two minutes, that’s only two gallons, but the problem is most people (especially kids) turn on the faucet and let it run while they brush their teeth, get clothes together for the morning or get ready for bed and unused water just flows down the drain. Just turn off the waster and you’ll use far less than a gallon.
- Hands/face washing: To wet your face, lather up, and rinse off that’s a gallon or two if that’s what you actually do — and don’t walk off to do other things while the water runs. Installing a faucet-head aerator — or replacing a worn one — is super simple, reduces the flow rate, and you won’t need to call a Staten Island plumber for assistance.
- Face/leg shaving: We’re a broken record here. Wet your kisser, turn off the water, lather up, shave, rinse blade as needed, and when done turn the water on to rinse off or wet a towel to wipe off your face. Done. Water saved.
- Dishwasher: About 6 to 16 gallons, depending on the age and features of your dishwasher, per wash cycle. Older dishwashers can use up to 16 gallons per cycle. When your dishwasher passes to the great appliance graveyard in the sky, consider buying an energy/water efficient model. You can install yourself or have a Staten Island plumber do it for you, saving time and giving you a peace of mind the installation is done correctly.
- Dish-washing by hand: Newer kitchen faucets use about 1.5 to 2 gallons a minute, while older faucets use more. Dishwashing by hand uses about eight to 30 gallons, depending on how long you wash and whether or not you fill up a sink with sudsy water, wash the dishes, then rinse in a separate sink — or if you wash each dish while letting the water flow as you rinse each one individually.
- Clothes washer: A newer high-efficiency clothes washer use up to 25 gallons per load, whereas older models might use 40 gallons per load. Obviously, fill up the washer for each load, don’t just run a few items (unless they’re your “delicates”).
- Toilet flushing: Most new toilets use 1.6 gallons per flush, with older toilets using about 4 gallons. While this may sound gross for some people, water conservationists say “if it’s not yellow” don’t flush, wait till next time. To each his or her own for this one.
- Outdoor watering: This is easily two gallons a minute, depending on the force of your outdoor faucet or, if you’re using sprinklers, the number of heads running and for how long. This can be a significant use of water.
A Few Facts About Water Consumption
- Just three percent of the world’s water is drinkable
- We have two water footprints: direct and indirect. Direct are the examples listed above; indirect is the water used to make the products and services we use, including harvesting, packaging, and shipping.
- One expert estimates that 95 percent of our water footprint is hidden in our meals. While a pound of lettuce costs about 15 gallons of freshwater and a slice of bread only 10 gallons, chocolate can cost an astronomical 2,847 gallons a pound and beef can run us 2,500 gallons. This is a bit radical, but for some people it might make sense: Given that raising livestock is particularly water-intensive, eating vegetarian is one good way to reduce your water footprint. Better yet, go vegan: all animal products, including cheese, eggs, butter and milk take a lot of water to produce. Chicken has a much lower water footprint than beef though, so even giving up red meat can help.
- Pass on the soft drink, when applicable, and go for a beer because its water footprint is lower. A beer takes about 20 gallons of water to create, while soft drinks can be close to 50, depending on packaging and what sugars are used.
- Drink tea instead of coffee. A cup of coffee consumes about 37 gallons of water in the production process, tea takes only nine gallons.
- The clothes we wear also consume vast amounts of freshwater to produce with cotton T-shirts and denim jeans exceptionally high in water use. One pound of cotton requires 700 gallons of water. Another radical step for some people: Shop secondhand, thrift and vintage stores, or buy well-made clothes intended to last.
- Buying to last is a good way to reduce water consumption in general. Virtually all manufactured products consume a lot of water in the process. To manufacture a smartphone requires 240 gallons of water. Do you really need to trade in your phone every time a new model comes out? Bet you never thought of saving water this way?
- Take public transportation or, when possible, walk. Not only do cars consume tens of thousands of gallons of water during manufacturing, but the gas required to run them uses more than a gallon of water for each gallon of gas. Our carbon footprint brethren will love you for this, too.
- Don’t install or use a garbage disposal. It’s water intensive. Compost instead, if you have a place you can do this.
- Cut your plastic use. Making one pound of plastic requires 24 gallons of water. Use less and recycle what you can. Look for items with less packaging.
- If you have a garden, install rain barrels to conserve water instead using that hose. Rain barrels hook up to your downspouts and collect rain water to reuse. You can make one from a 55-gallon drums (more recycling) and easy-to-find hardware. There’s a big movement among artists to paint rain barrels so that you can also have a distinctive and colorful work of art outside your house.
A couple of cool gadgets to help improve your water footprint.