Saving water in the bathroom

I know what you are thinking, water conservation is important, but it’s not energy related.  Wrong!  Guess who one of the biggest consumers of energy is in Scotland (if not THE biggest consumer)??  It’s Scottish Water!  I’m not pointed them out as being energy hogs or anything, but it highlights just how energy intensive it is to treat and pump water so that it is fit for drinking.  So, while many folks do not have domestic water bills (something that this California native finds mind-boggling and horrifying) like we do for electricity and gas, we are using quite a bit of “hidden” energy when we use water.

There are lots of ways you can reduce your water consumption, and here are a few ways to do that in the bathroom.

Baths

  • Take showers instead of baths.  My kids are 2 and 7, and let me tell you it was an amazing revelation when we realised that we could give them quick 3 minute showers instead of 30 minute marathon baths.  Even if your kids are little, try switching to showers at least a few times a week.  You will save lots of time and water to boot!
    We have a specially insulated bathtub, so on those rare luxurious days when one of us takes a soak, we don’t need to constantly add more hot water to enjoy the experience.  They will cost you a bit more, but in my experience these tubs are well worth the investment, as they really do hold the heat of the bath for a long time.  There is also this amazing tilting bathtub that looks like something out of a Lady Gaga video and gives you plenty of options for water usage.  I’ve never seen or used one in person, but I really really want to give it a try!

Eco Thermostatic Shower

Showers

  • Take shorter showers.  I must confess, I do and have always liked to take long showers.  I can still recall my the sound of my mother banging on the bathroom door when I was a teenager, saying “Robin, are you STILL in the shower?  GET OUT!!!”  Showers are relaxing and lovely – that is when you don’t have mothers or children banging on the door telling you to get out.  But they do waste lots of water and energy.  So, I’ve been trying to take shorter showers at least for most of the week.  If you can reduce your time down to 4 or 5 minutes then you’re doing well!
  • Try turning off the water periodically while you are showering to shave, soap-up, or to shampoo.  I got used to this growing up, and I still keep up the trick.  It really does save water and doesn’t wash away all of your shaving foam or soap before you’ve had a chance to properly shave or wash.
  • When you are installing a shower, you might try picking up an eco unit that uses less water or at least has an option for using less water.  We have had one of these for years, and really love it.  It has two energy saving aspects, one side reduces the water flow and has an “eco” click to keep it at low flow, and the other side has a temperature control with a click to keep the temperature a few degrees lower than a full hot blast.
  • The power showers that for some odd reason are common in the UK use quite a bit more water and energy in pumping and heating, so please, please try to avoid these.  Plus they are just odd and significantly reduce the pleasure of a shower in my humble opinion.  For you Americans, they are these noisy boxes attached to shower walls that heat water in the shower instead of using hot water from the boiler of hot water tank and also pump the water to increase the pressure and water stream.  Yeah, I know, they are weird.
  • OK, a potentially controversial one here… Don’t wash your hair daily.  I know some people will say “eeewwww, gross”  but you know my grandmother was a hairdresser and back in the 1950’s women would do to the hairdresser on a weekly basis to get their hair “done.”  And by “done” I mean washed and dried and set into that helmet sort of look that was so popular then.  This daily washing thing is new and invented by shampoo companies.  Even posh hair dressers will tell you to not wash your hair daily if you are going out and want to style it, as it’s easier with a little natural oil in hair.  That’s natural oil and not “grease” like some shampoo adverts will tell you.  Anyway, it’s food for thought.

Dual Flushing Toilet

Toilets

  • Water efficient toilets are standard these days, but if you have an older model without the dual flush (or if you are in the states with only one flush option) then you can either buy a gadget like a hippo to displace water in your tank to reduce the flow of your flush, or you can do something that all Californians know about – gently place a brick or two in the tank to displace some water.  Job done!  Less water with every flush.
  • OK, now if you thought ditching daily hair washing was controversial, then you may not want to read down….  Again this is something that every Californian knows, and given the current drought doing on there, I know a fair few folks who are doing this.
    If it’s yellow, let it mellow.  If it’s brown, flush it down.
    What in the world does that mean you may ask?  Well, it refers to toilet flushing!  Let’s look at the math for a second before you get all up in arms.  The average household of 4  flushes the toilet about 20 times a day or more when they are home.  That’s well over 7,000 flushes a year.  If the toilets are older model toilets with 13L/2.8gallon flushes, that’s about 95,000 litres or 20,500 gallons.  Low flow toilets would be about 44,000 litres or 9,400 gallons.  Now, if one reduces the number of times they flush the toilet to about once a day, then you reduce toilet water usage by a further 80%.  Like I said, when you live through droughts and see your rivers run dry and reservoirs half empty for decades, you learn to do everything you can to reduce water usage.  So, this behaviour is second nature to me, and needless-to-say my household uses a LOT less water than the average UK household. Not that I can quantify it because there’s no metering here, but that’s a whole other blog!  I realise this concept will be very foreign and likely horrifying to folks in the UK who on the whole have more water than they could ever want.  But again, it’s food for thought and perhaps might make you think before hitting that little silver crescent button.

At the sink

  • The one tip that is grilled into every child growing up in the American southwest, is to turn off the sink tap/faucet when you are brushing your teeth.  Does anyone really leave the water running while they do this?  I can’t imagine, but it is still the cornerstone of water conservation education for kids, so apparently some people still do it.  If you are one of these people, then perhaps you should watch this video and take a lesson from 8-year old Aqua.

 

Children’s Energy Blog Takeover

On this UK Mother’s Day (don’t worry you Americans, you still have a few weeks!) my lovely children are writing today’s blog.  I’m just the translator, and the computer is our spelling checker.

Here are the unedited answers from my seven- and two- year-old to my prompting questions.

 

Me: Why should people reduce their energy use?
7-year old:Because it’s better for the planet.  Because if the power stations use too much, they will pollute the Earth.
2-year old: Give them cuddles

 

Me: What do you think is the best way you can reduce your own energy use?
7-year-old: When you want some energy, you can use solar panels or you create your own energy machine.
2-year-old: Nothing!

 

Me: What about the water from our taps, do you know where this comes from?
7-year-old: The sea.
2year-old: No

After a wee conversation about rivers, reservoirs and groundwater, my 7-year-old says: I forgot it doesn’t come from the sea!

 

Me: Do you know how this water gets cleaned up and delivered to our flat so that we can drink, wash and bath in it?  And do we need energy for this to happen?
7-year-old: Yes
2-year-old: Nothing [then shakes her head]

Me: Yes what.
7-year-old: Yes we need energy

 

Me: Will you talk to your friends about energy use and try to get them thinking about how to reduce their carbon footprints?
7-year-old: I don’t know.
2-year-old: Yes, and put our feet in paint – and our fingers

Me: Why don’t you know?
7-year-old: I like playing with my friends more

 

Well, at least they are honest.  Now my children are asking me if they can invite the neighbours up to play, so it’s time to sign off!

Happy Mothering Sunday to you British mothers, and really to all mothers everywhere!  Keep on educating your children!

 

Top tips for saving energy in the kitchen

Aside from heating, most of my energy use occurs in the kitchen.  And there are lots of little things that can help reduce this.  Here are some top tips that I’ve been testing out with happy success.

Hoovering back of refridgerator

Refrigerator

  • Vacuum the dust off the coils behind the fridge to improve efficiency.  I make this an annual spring cleaning activity.
  • Make sure there is a bit of space behind your fridge for air to flow.  It will let the heat of the motor dissipate more easily, saving energy.
  • Keep the fridge door open for as little as possible when getting food out.  I can still hear my mother telling me “Robin, close that refrigerator door until you decide what you want to get out of it!  You’re letting all of the cold air out!”  Mothers always know best!
  • Don’t put piping hot leftovers in the fridge.  I have a cold flat stairwell that I put my cooking pots out on to cool before containerising and freezing or refrigerating.
  • Use the temperature adjuster in your fridge.  If you buy a thermometer, you can make sure that your fridge stays cold enough (at or below 40° F or 4° C) without wasting energy.  You can increase this temperature a bit when you are on vacation to save energy.

Diced, not chopped 

Stove Top and Oven 

  • The phrase a watched pot never boils ought to be changed to an uncovered pot never boils.  Cover, cover, cover!  Food will cook faster, it will spread less water vapour into your home, and you will save a boatload of energy.
  • Chop food into smaller pieces to cook faster.  This is especially easy and fun for me and my children to do with our new Pampered Chef chopper gadget!  LOVE it!
  • Boil water in your kettle instead of pans to save time and energy.
  • Use cooking pans that just fit the food you are cooking.  If they are too big, you are wasting heating/cooking energy.
  • If you are using heavy bottomed pans or an electric hob (that’s a stove for you Americans), then turn off the heat a minute or two before your food is fully cooked.  If you keep the lid on, the latent heat in the pan and hob will continue cooking your food.

Dishwasher

  • Try not to run the dishwasher unless it’s fully loaded.  Again, I can recall my mother telling me this as a teenager, after she reloaded it to fit more plates than I had initially put in.  You were right mom!!!!
  • All dishwashers work a bit differently, but if you look up your model’s specifications from your manufacturer, you can find out which run mode uses the least energy.  My slimline Boch’s “quick” mode actually uses a bit less energy than the “eco” mode, and cleans just as well, so that’s all I ever use.  But most models “should” use less energy on eco modes.
  • When the washing is done, make sure you turn off your dishwasher so it is not left on standby.
  • It seems counter-intuitive, but apparently dishwashers usually use less energy and water than hand-washing.  Lots of caveats on how you wash and which model washer you have.  But the take home message is that if you have a dishwasher, then make sure it’s an efficient one.

Scraps for the compost

General cooking

  • It took a lot of energy to get that broccoli, lettuce, banana and bread from a farmer’s field to your kitchen, so try not to waste it.  Reduce your food waste by making of list of what you need from the grocery store before you shop, composting kitchen scraps and freezing leftovers.
  • Does your kitchen sink have a leaking tap?  Fix it!  Water is treated before it is piped into your house, so wasting water is wasting municipal energy.  That all drives up consumer costs in the long-run and if you have metered water you’ll notice the drop in your bills immediately.

It goes without saying that if you have the top of the line efficient and small appliances, then you’ll be saving energy faster than most.  So next time you are in the market for a new appliances or electronics, make sure to note the energy efficiency rating and compare it to a few of your favourite models.  Even if it’s not your driving factor in appliance choice, try to make it a consideration just as you would price.  Because your operational costs throughout the appliance lifetime may very well exceed the actual purchase price.

Organic, local and in-season

Three pillars of healthy and low-energy eating are these – eat organically grown food, eat food grown locally, and eat food that is in-season.  Your food will not only have a smaller carbon footprint, you will eat more tasty food without harmful pesticides, you will help your local economy and probably save some money at the same time.

Weekly Organic Veg Box

Organic Food Facts

  • The energy savings you get from organic foods isn’t due to the lack of pesticides.  Sure there is energy spent on manufacturing pesticides, but the lion’s share of energy savings comes from the lack of manufactured fertilizers.  Industrial scale nitrogen fertilizers demand very high energy inputs, accounting for nearly half of the energy needed in farming.
  • The Rodale Institute estimates that for instance the conventional production of corn uses 71% more energy than organically grown corn.
  • OK, so not REALLY energy related, but of interest – here’s a list of the “dirty dozen+” fruits and vegetables with high pesticide residues, and the “clean fifteen” with low pesticide residues.  So if you can’t afford or find organic food easily, at least try to concentrate on the dirty dozen if you are worried about chemicals in your family’s food.
  • Where can I find an organic box program?
    • In the UK, you can try http://www.findlocalproduce.co.uk/Veg_Box_Schemes  (although, google “organic box scheme” and your town’s name and you might have better results.  My organic box is EastCoast Organics, and I can add eggs, milk, bread and meat in my weekly delivery!  Plus they carry the box up 2 flights of stairs to my flat door, bless them!  You’ve gotta love that effort!
    • In the US, I couldn’t find a nifty website, but please leave a comment if you know one!  Again, google “organic produce box” and your hometown and you should find something.

Local Food Facts

  • Buying food grown in your area will have less “food miles.”  i.e. the number of miles it spent sitting on a lorrie/truck or in a plane to go from farm to your plate will be a lot less.  There is an energy savings in that alone.
  • Buying locally produced food support your local economy.
  • Buying locally produced food help maintain those lovely greenbelts we love to protect.
  • Buying locally produced food also help maintain food security.
  • Supermarkets label where your fresh produce was grown, so next time take a look and see if your orange was grown in nearby (for those of us in the UK!) Spain, or from South Africa.  And then choose your produce accordingly!
  • Want to find out how and where you can buy locally produced food?

In-Season Food Facts

  • In-season food means eating food that naturally grows or ripens in your area at that time.  For instance, right now rhubarb is in-season in the UK, so the Rhubarb you buy will likely be from UK producers.  So now is a great time to go out and eat some rhubarb.  If you get a craving for rhubarb in October, you either won’t be able to find it in a store, or it will be grown half way around the world to get there.  Try local autumn-fruiting raspberries then instead to get your sweet and sour fix.
  • In-season food generally uses less energy, as it shouldn’t need extra transporting or heating to arrive on your plate.
  • Eating in-season food will certainly make you appreciate what is on your plate all the more, and for some reason that always makes the food taste better!

Rhubarb risingIf you are reading this now (late March), in the Northern Hemisphere.  There rhubarb is in season!!!  So go out and try some from your local farmer’s market if you have one.  I just made rhubarb bars last night and they are to die for!  The recipe is found here, along with 9 other non-crumble rhubarb recipes.

If you are a foodie and want to learn more about eating in-season.  Try reading the amazingly talented cookbook  by my local chef Tom Kitchin called From Nature to Plate.

 

 

Reducing energy through purchasing power

Since most households spend more each month on food, personal and cleaning products than on electricity, there is a wide scope for behaviour/consumer modifications that can impact our overall energy consumption.  Reducing meat consumption, growing your own food, buying local and organic produce can all reduce energy consumption, and improve diets!  But household products that we use and buy on a regular basis, like toilet paper, soaps and detergents are all opportunities to chose less energy intensive options.  Here are some of my favourite and a few others I have found and want to try.

Lovely care package contents along with my favourite Ecover products already in the cupboard

Laundry Products
One of the least energy intensive and well known laundry detergent option is the the eco-ball.  It’s a plastic ball, the size of a tennis-ball with a ring around it – think Saturn.  They apparently last for hundreds of washings, without the need for any detergent or soap. I’ve always wanted to try them and was going to test them out for the Great Energy Race, but after doing a wee bit of research it seems as though there are three camps – the camp that have used them for years and LOVE them, and the camp that have never heard of them and the camp that thing they are hogwash and no better or worse than just plain water.  The same goes for soapnuts.  I was all geared up to use test these two options, but after reading the nay-sayers, the scientist in me thought… Hmm, how can a hollow perforated sphere really lower the pH of water, or create surfactant properties.   So I decided to stick to my tried and tested version of eco-washing.

Since I live in Scotland, where most of our water is lovely and soft, I really don’t need all that much soap anyhow.  I wash my loads with half or less the recommended detergent (at 30C on the reduced time cycle) and don’t seem to notice any lack of washing ability.  There are lots of new eco-products on the market, like Ecover (disclaimer: Ecover did send me a lovely care package as an Energy Race finalist, but I already had the habit of buying their products so have a genuine appreciation of them) that are more environmentally friendly than most of the big brands.  Then again, if everyone is so happy with the above mentioned products, perhaps I ought to ditch the detergent all together and just use water?  Hmmm.  But I do enjoy nicely smelling clothes, so some eco fabric softeners can do the trick here, or add a drop of essential oil to the fabric softener drawer.

As a mother of two, I have seen my fair share of stains.  I find that little works better than hydrogen peroxide on whites (the best to get bloodstains out, but it can bleach some fabrics), vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda, or some combination of these depending on the stain and type of fabric.

If you can eat it, and clean with it, then it gets top shelf status in my home!

If you can eat it, and clean with it, then it gets top shelf status in my home!

Kitchen and toilet rolls
Question #1, do we really need to be using virgin paper to clean up spills or to wipe bottoms?  I have a few options at my nearest supermarket, from recycled paper to bamboo paper rolls.  I would love to see a life-cycle analysis of the energy inputs to these two products.  But my first instinct is to think that the recycled rolls are likely made more locally to me, and that the bamboo was likely flown in from somewhere nice and warm so perhaps the recycled option is actually better in terms of energy inputs?  But I would love to see something looking at the pro’s and con’s of these products. Surely they are both better than super soft virgin paper?  The bidet topic is a whole other blog!

Soaps
For hundreds of years, we’ve been making soap.  At it’s most elemental, it’s just lye and fat.  Those have always been the basic ingredients more or less.  Lots of lovely smells have been added since the olden days, but so too have other ingredients.  One of personal pet peeves is antibacterial soap, so forgive my wee rant, but we should all stop buying it, as it’s no better than regular soap, and the “antibacterial” ingredients have the potential to harm our ecosystems and can’t be filtered out of our waste water streams.  Plus it’s just an unneeded addition to a simple product.

Packaging
OK, so there’s the “what’s inside” that needs to be considered, but we can also make energy conscious choices about the form of our products.  Do we refill containers, or do we buy new ones with each use of a bottle?   Or do we use projects that don’t have bottles?  I’ve become a big fan of shampoo bars.  There’s no plastic container to recycle, and if you get lovely ones you certainly won’t feel like you’re sacrificing.  If you refill or buy bottleless soaps, that’s a heap of plastic that doesn’t need to be manufactured, shipped, and recycled.  That’s a hidden energy savings that most people don’t think about!  So go out and refill your soap container, or buy a bar of shampoo today!

Light Energy Race ReadingThere is a seemingly endless supply of better options than the supermarket standards out there for most of our home and personal needs.  I could devote a daily blog to this topic, covering the options for years!  If you are interested and haven’t already heard about her, Janey Lee Grace has a great website and book with a boatload more ideas for ways to make your home more natural, which also makes many of these options less energy intensive too.  So win-win!

Grow your own food

I think that gardening is something that anyone can do.  The trick is to keep on trying despite failures, because all gardeners make mistakes.  Frustratingly, that’s often how we learn the best lessons!  Eventually one figures out the plants they are good at growing in their garden and a happy equilibrium is found.  I find it very therapeutic to nurture plants, watch them grow and harvest their rewards.  If you’ve never done this before, then I highly recommend giving it  try.

I went a bit berry mad this weekend.  It must have been my delirium of being outside in the total sunshine.  I had intentions of finding one, maybe two raspberry bushes to plant in the garden, but I came home from B&Q with a autumn-fruiting raspberry, a tayberry, a blueberry bush and a cranberry plant.  Goodness, me!  My garden shovel got lots of action this weekend, and my family will have lots of fresh berries this summer and autumn.

When grown organically, you can dramatically reduce the energy inputs to your food.  There’s no need for transportation in refrigerator lorries/trucks or airplanes, no need to go to the grocery store to buy your food.  And perhaps best of all, you will know exactly how that fruit or vegetable was grown.  Watching your toddlers happily pick brambles and red currants off of your own bushes until their hands and faces become stained with juice is a wonderful wonderful thing.  If you are lucky, your kids will leave you some fruit to make a crumble!

Another perk of eating your home grown food is that you’ll value it, having seen it pop up from the soil, flower and ripen.  OK, that’s sounding a bit sappy, but it’s true.  Your homegrown food won’t rot away in your fridge and end up on the compost heap.  If you grow too much, you’ll have the pleasure of giving away your beautiful bounty to neighbours, friends and co-workers, or you can learn how to make preserves and enjoy a taste of your garden year-round.