Shower Water Waste

Showers are one of the top culprits for a high water bill: the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that showers account for more than 1.2 trillion gallons of water a year, which is about 17% of residential indoor water use and more than the entire volume of Lake Okeechobee in Florida. The cost of water has been rising rapidly in the past few years and is quickly becoming one of household’s costliest utility bills.

Recently, Unilever announced a contest to crowdsource a “sustainable shower”, with prizes with to the most creative entries and the promise of minimizing the shower’s impact on the planet.

Which begs the question, how does shower math work out for the average household?

Before 1992, showerheads had a typical flow rate of 5 ½ gallons per minute (gpm). After 1992 the EPA set a mandated flow rate standard to 2 ½ gpm. Switching out an old showerhead saves 55% in water use, without shortening the shower time. As a quick test, a bucket marked in gallon increments will take less than 24 seconds to get to the one gallon market with an old showerhead, more than that with a new one.

The average shower lasts a wonderful 8 minutes, which means that a low-flow showerhead saves 24 gallons for each shower, or at one shower a day, 8760 gallons per year per person. At the US average water rate of $8 per thousand gallons, and “old” showerhead costs about $130 for each person in a household while a “new” one is only about $60, for a savings of $70. However, according to ClearlyEnergy data, those savings vary from about $35 in cities such as Kansas City, Chicago or San Antonio with the lowest water rates in the country, to $100 in Washington DC, New York City or Los Angeles, $150 in San Francisco and over $200 in Seattle. Of course, every shower requires electricity or gas to heat the water, so any reduction in shower time or water flow has a double dividend. For water heated with gas, assuming perfect boiler efficiency and US average natural gas costs, the energy cost goes from $66/person/year with an old showerhead to $30/person/year with a new one, and $197/pers/year to $90/pers/year when heating water with electricity.

More recently, the EPA began the voluntary WaterSense program, challenging manufacturers to create showerheads that will have a flow rate no greater than 2.0 gpm without changing the overall shower experience.  At that rate, a WaterSense shower saves an additional $12 a year for each person using it in water alone, more so in a city with expensive water, and an additional $7 - $20 saved in energy costs. Assuming Unilever’s Sustainable Shower comes out at 1gpm, those numbers would all be tripled.

As of the latest National Climatic Data Center's drought monitor, 45% of the US is still experiencing moderate to severe drought conditions. A five-minute do-it-yourself showerhead swap that will pay for itself in a matter of months might seem like a refreshing idea … until the Sustainable Shower hits the market!

Photo Credit: Shower Water Consumption/shutterstock