Saturday, December 09, 2006
Hippie Steps -- Week Seven

The Slate/Treehugger challenge this week focuses on water.

Think water and global warming, and melting Arctic ice caps may come to mind—a problem that can seem pretty insurmountable. But the water in your sink and dishwasher and bathtub also has a CO2 cost associated with global warming. And it is a cost you can reduce. Using less water means less waste and pollution. Using less hot water means fewer CO2 emissions. The average American household expends about 14 percent of the energy it uses on heating water. That adds up to nearly 4 percent of the country's total energy use and spins off about 260 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

A lot of excess water simply leaks away—like the vanished heat we talked about in the Green Challenge a few weeks ago. Then there are gushy toilets and showers. According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, Americans with inefficient fixtures and appliances use about 80 gallons of water per person per day inside their homes. Replacing old and conventional faucets, washing machines, toilets, and showers with energy-efficient and low-flow varieties can stanch the flow by as much as a third—and you'll also trim CO2 emissions. How you heat up water makes a difference, too.

Slate/Treehugger offers the following suggestions to help "wash away your CO2 sins":

• Switch to a low-flow showerhead and save gallons of water a day. Some low-flows deliver excellent water pressure with only 1 to 2.2 gallons per minute (as opposed to the current government standard of 2.5 gallons per minute or pre-1992 shower heads that use even more water).

• A bathroom-sink faucet need deliver only 0.5 to 1 gallon of water per minute. In the kitchen, you want 2 or 2.5 gallons per minute so you won't get frustrated when you're filling pots. If your faucets are higher pressure and ready to be replaced, pick a lower-pressure model.

• Showers account for two-thirds of all water heating costs. The shorter your shower time, the more CO2 you'll save.

• Take showers instead of baths, which use more water.

• Turn the water off while you shave.

• Unless your dishes are really dirty, scrape instead of rinsing them before loading them into the dishwasher, especially if your dishwasher automatically prerinses or has a rinse-hold cycle. Also, use the energy-saver option, let the dishes air-dry, and, if possible, choose the light or cold-wash option. And wait until the dishwasher is full to run it.

• Which is more efficient—you or the dishwasher? Machine bests man in this debate: Hand-washing uses an average of 10 to 15 gallons of water, while automatic dishwashers use about 8. If you don't own a dishwasher or need to wash pots by hand, don't let water run while you're scrubbing.

• Instead of using hot water to thaw frozen food, let it defrost on the counter or in the refrigerator.

• An old water heater can operate for years at very low efficiency before it completely breaks down. If yours is more than 10 years old, it's likely running at less than 50 percent efficiency. Replace it with an energy-efficient one or, better yet, a heater without a tank, which warms up water only as you need it rather than holding hot water at the ready all the time.

• Many hot-water heaters come factory preset at 140 degrees—hotter than you need. Reset your water heater's thermostat to 120 degrees Fahrenheit or lower and save yourself CO2 pounds (and a scalding).

This week I've scored 1918 or the annual equivalent of taking 0.20 cars off the road. Below are some important water facts.

• Installing a low-flow shower head saves an average of 507 pounds of CO2 per person
per year.

• Running the dishwasher only when it's full saves about 50 pounds of CO2 per person per year.

• Setting your water heater's thermostat to 120 degrees Fahrenheit saves about 275 pounds of CO2 emissions per person per year.

• Insulating your hot water heater saves about 500 pounds of CO2 per person per year.

• Installing a solar water heating system reduces your CO2 emissions by about 360 pounds annually per person.
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