Friday, June 24, 2011

The Art of Sponge Bathing or How to Save Water

Did you know that the average North American uses about 100 gallons of purified water (from the tap) per day? That amounts to about 600 gallons for or family if we were typical. Which we're not. Since we have lived with such low producing wells for so many years we're used to conserving water through low flow faucets, turning the water off to brush your teeth, low flush (or no flush) toilets, short showers, front loading he washing machine etc etc. But now that we're in a trailer and motorhome our water usage has dropped dramatically and will be even lower when we're on the road this summer.

Here are some ways we use less water:

Porta Potti's and composting toilets use little or no water. And when I say little I mean less than a cup full (250 ml) just to rinse the bowl clean.

Running water to wash hands and dishes. We are acutely aware of the amount of water used for this because it runs right out on to the ground outside so we try to not leave the tap running more than necessary. It is still very important though to maintain good hygiene and hand washing practices.

Limited shower times. The tiny bathroom is not really conducive to having a long luxurious shower. Anything more than a trickle from that shower gives you a total of 6 minutes max before you get blasted with cold water. And it doesn't sneak up on you gradually like a home shower that gets cooler and cooler, this just changes it's mind like a PMS-ing woman who discovered that her husband ate her chocolate, and it blasts you with icy cold well water usually when you've still got to rinse your hair and there's soap in your eyes. The hot water tank is 6 gallons or about 30 litres. That's not that much water really. We also turn the water off while soaping up to save water and we simply take fewer showers.

Sponge baths. Yes, the bath in a bucket. Or 4 litre ice cream pail in our case. You just fill it up with very warm water, get yourself damp. Lather up. Then using your washcloth and the water you scrub and rinse. We can do everything but wash our hair with less then 4 litres. Including your hair you'd probably use 5-6 litres. This gives you a good scrubbing, better than a shower, and uses a lot less water so you can do it while camping or travelling even if you have to boil a kettle for hot water. The tricks are to start at the top and work down, use a good washcloth, and make sure you rinse off all the soap or you'll get itchy.

And we wear our outer clothes (jeans and shirts) for an extra day if we can to cut down on the amount of laundry that needs to be done.

All in all I would estimate that we're using 30 gallons per day for the whole family not including laundry but including cooking, cleaning, dishes, showers, drinking and toilets. And we could use less.

Why is important to use less water? Every time you waste water through a leaking toilet or dripping tap, or through bad habits, you are wasting the chemicals and the energy it took to make that water clean. You're literally flushing it down the toilet. You can do things like have passive or active solar hot water collectors, rain water barrels to catch rain or rooftop collectors. There are so may ways we can all cut down on our consumption. Here's a pretty graph of our water usage according to the EPA. Have a look and see where you fit and where you think you can save. Even if you're on a well and saying that you have unlimited water you should consider that the more water that goes through the system the more wear and tear on pumps and septic systems, the more you pay to heat all that water, and the more you gradually deplete underground water resources. It's true that a well used over time drops the local water table in it's immediate area by a considerable amount and in the case of pockets or pools of water trapped in rock you deplete it faster than it can infiltrate the rock.

It reminds me of the movie Dune where the most precious thing is water because water supports all life on that desert planet. And the still suits they have are kind of cool too, recovering and purifying your sweat back into drinkable water so you stay hydrated. Back here on Earth wars have been fought over water and wells. Right now bottled water from the gas station costs about $2 per litre making it more expensive than the gas. How'd that happen?

Remember that water is a resource like any other. Abundance of good clean drinking water is a gift we all enjoy in Canada and take for granted. But so many other places value it much more highly. Clean water in Africa would save millions of lives each year. The WHO reports that at any given time half the population in the developing world is suffering from some sort of water borne illness. It's sad that we take this for granted when so many in India and Africa have to struggle for it. The lives of some 4000 children could be saved every day just form adequate clean water and sanitation. Makes you think doesn't it? That we should all pitch in this Christmas and sponsor a well being dug through World Vision.

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