Smarter Living: Energy

It shouldn't come as any surprise that global warming poses a threat to our water supply, as confirmed by a recent NRDC study, but by improving our current water usage habits we can not only help conserve water supplies but also reduce the release of heat-trapping pollutants that fuels global warming. Every time we use hot water, we consume the energy used to heat it, whether that came from a natural gas line at home or a coal-fired power plant supplying electricity. In Step 2, we covered insulating the water heater, now we will add five more actions that will help smackdown your carbon dioxide emissions.

What is the CO2 Smackdown? Read the overview.

SAVINGS
If you take each of these steps you wil reduce your carbon footprint by at least .9 tons (assuming an electric water heater) or .5 tons (assuming a natural gas water heater). If more than one person in the homes reduces showers times, the savings can be much greater.

PLAN
1. Turn down the temperature on your water heater
This is an easy one-time operation and will also help prevent scalds. For every ten degrees you set back your water heater, you'll save 91.6 pounds of CO2 from natural gas heating and 136.8 pounds from electricity. 110 to 120 degrees F. should be warm enough without posing a risk of burns.

2. Wash clothes in cold water instead of hot 2 more times per week.
90 percent of the energy consumed washing clothes stems from heating the water, so washing loads in cold water can create substantial savings. Wash at least half your loads in cold water. If you wash just two more loads per week in cold water, you'll save 320 pounds of heat-trapping pollutants annually if your water heater runs on electricity. If your water heater is fueled by natural gas, you'll save 127 pounds annually.

3. Run the dishwasher only when full
Dishwashers are getting more efficient, but if you run them every day regardless of how full they may be, you're wasting potential savings. Running your dishwasher two fewer times per week will save you 302 pounds of heat-trapping pollutants annually.

4. Shorten your showers by 3 minutes and install a low-flow showerhead
Up to 30 percent of your home's water use can be taken up by showers. If you're used to luxuriating under the tap for 10 to 15 minutes, remember that for every minute you spend under the shower each day, 204 pounds of heat-trapping pollutants are emitted annually for an electric-powered water heater and 94 pounds for a natural gas-fueled water heater. Just trimming 3 minutes off your daily shower will save 612 pounds and 282 pounds respectively. In a four person household, that would mean 2.45 tons of savings annually for electric heating (or .56 tons for gas)!

Install a low-flow showerhead for even more savings: New aerating showerheads can reduce the flow from 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) to as low as 1 gpm, while maintaining water pressure by mixing in air. The CO2 savings are substantial -- a 1 gpm showerhead provides annual savings of 875 lbs of emissions on a daily 10 minute shower if you have an electric water heater (403.5 for natural gas). Trim that shower down by 3 minutes and you'll save 1,049 lbs with an electric water heater (484 lbs for natural gas).

5. Change your bulbs and turn off the lights
A single 60-watt bulb that burns twelve hours a day may, by the end of the year, consume as much as 6,300 gallons of water used to power steam turbines in power plants. For the average home, replacing all the bulbs with compact fluorescents or LEDs will save .5 tons of heat-trapping pollutants annually. In Step 1 of the CO2 Smackdown you replaced 6 lightbulbs -- now it's time to replace the rest with CFLs or LEDs.

More ways to save water
Given the threat that global warming poses to our water supply, it's more important than ever to adopt water conserving habits. Remember that water treatment plants are very energy intensive so reducing the burden on them will have downstream CO2 savings even if you're pouring cold water down the drain.

1. Fix leaks. This is the single most important thing you can do to save water home: If your indoor or outdoor taps are dripping you could waste 90 gallons or more of water every day. Take a tour of your home and note any taps that need maintenance. For tips on DIY repair and more, see EPA's WaterSense site.

2. Don't rinse plates; scrape food off instead. Most dishwashers are built now the remove food residues and pre-rinsing can waste as much as 20 gallons per load.

3. Use a carwash or, better yet, go waterless. Washing you car by hand not only can use from 80 to140 gallons of water in one go, but will also result in contaminated water containing brake fluid, oil and other automotive fluids entering waterways through storm drains. Carwash services are required to channel water to treatment plants and only use approximately 50 gallons per wash. Waterless car washes, such as those produced by Eco Touch and Lucky Earth, can tackle dusty surfaces with no need for the garden hose.

4. Water your garden with a hose with automatic shutoff nozzle. Garden hoses spray water at a rate of about 8 gpm. That can add up to 80 gallons in 10 minutes but if you add a nozzle with an automatic shut off you can cut that down to 3.2 gpm.

REDUCING COSTS
Happily, these steps will actually save you money both in terms of your water bill and your electricity bill, with the only expenses being roughly $60 for a low-flow showerhead and the cost of CFL or LED bulbs. Check with your utility to see if it are offering rebates for purchase of a both products or are even giving them away to customers.

ALTERNATIVES
Try a navy shower -- after you've wet yourself down, turn off the shower while you lather up and only turn it on again to rinse off. This can shrink shower times down to around 3 minutes or less.

last revised 4/15/2011

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