Taking showers

Last updated Monday 21 July 2008

To be clean and green, don't take climate change lying down

Archimedes famously had his 'Eureka!' moment in the bath. Now, scientific enlightenment suggests showers are a good way to clean up our act. Ready to take a stand?

Ever since Cleopatra unwound in a bath of soothing ass's milk, soaking has been a popular way to relax. Less comforting is the fact that a typical bath uses around twice as much hot water as a five-minute shower, and therefore uses twice as much energy and emits twice as much CO2 to heat the water.

A daily bath can use about 13000 litres more water per year than a five-minute shower. The average Brit could more than halve the climate impact of their ablutions - saving as much CO2 as the average Zambian produces in a whole year - simply by cutting out baths, and making their showers shorter and cooler.

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Photo: Taking showers

Saves up to: 200kg / person or 470kg / household

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How will it make a difference?

Pub Fact

  • London is drier than Istanbul, and the South East of England has less water available per person than the Sudan and Syria.
  • Shower flow rates have no upper limit in the UK - but in the US there is a maximum flow rate of 9.5 litres per minute.
  • Each person in the UK currently uses about 150 litres of water every day. This has been rising by 1% a year since 1930
  • Each Briton uses about 150 litres of tap water a day, but if you include the amount of water embedded within all the food and products we consume we actually use about 3400L every day
  • Power showers cannot be sold to US federal government installations because of the amount of water they use
  • Men say that they get their best inspiration in the shower, according to a survey by NESTA

In new houses, showers and baths now account for around 45% of the water used. All water usage demands energy, because the water has to be purified and pumped through the mains, but hot water uses the most energy of all, so the less water we use, the more energy we save.

  • If everyone in the UK swapped just one daily bath for a five-minute shower, the water saved would supply the annual water needs of over 15000 households
  • Even if you forgo the luxury of a bath in favour of a shower just once a week, you can save about 30kg of CO2 emissions - which is about nine times greater than the amount of CO2 you'd save from reducing the volume of cold water in your toilet flush

And those who are already converts to the shower can make additional savings too:

  • By cutting a minute off your shower time, you could save about 3,300 litres of water a year, saving 200kWh of energy - or enough to heat water for 6000 cups of coffee
  • By fitting a low-flow shower head, you could cut hot water use and your CO2 emissions by about a third according to Waterwise. Bear in mind you can't fit low-flow shower heads on electric showers
  • And if you switch from a power shower to a low-power shower head, you could can save as much as 12000 litres of hot water over the year - equivalent to about 20 in bills and 150kg of CO2
  • Electric showers emit 2.5 times more carbon dioxide per kWh of energy used than showers using hot water from gas boilers
  • And, for the cost-conscious, on-peak electricity costs four times as much per unit as gas

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What's the debate?

"But I heard that some showers are actually worse than baths."

This can be true of high pressure mixer showers or power showers and is highly dependent on how long you shower for. In fact, a ten-minute shower under the jet stream of a mixer shower can easily use more water than a bath, and the benefit of taking a power shower instead of a bath disappears after just five minutes.

In addition, it is worth noting that taking showers instead of baths is only a saving provided you don't compensate by taking them far more frequently.

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How do I do it?

  • Provided you don't have an electric shower, you can fit a low-power shower head to reduce the amount of water you use by up to a third. If you have an electric shower system, check with your manufacturer first before fitting a low-flow shower head - it can be dangerous. You could also consider switching to a lower-emission, gas-heated system
  • Aerated showers add air to the water flow, giving the sensation of a power shower but using much less water (and energy)
  • If you don't want to buy a low-flow shower head, you should be able to simply turn the rate of your high-flow shower down - although it may not function as well as a tailor-made low-flow shower head
  • Save more hot water by taking shorter showers, or turn off the water while you lather up
  • If you have a shower over your bath tub, try an experiment to demonstrate how much water you save. Put the plug in the bath while you shower, and see how much the tub fills up

You could also try these actions to maximise your water-heating efficiency:

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StellaMaris, Gloucester 2009-06-18

Let's face it, showers are much quicker than baths and can be a great pick me up in the morning before leaving for work. Standing up burns more calories, too.

Anonymous 2009-03-31

omg...i wash my socks and underwear in the shower too....

Grace, Cambridgeshire 2009-03-05

I nearly always take showers but when i do decide to have a bath i hand wash my clothes in the bath water afterwords. It's a great way of not wating a lot of water. :):)

Anonymous 2009-02-05

A shower really is the only way to go if you like to be clean and sparkly! Baths, who needs to sit ruminating in a puddle of your own mucky debris! lol! :D Go showers!

Hungerford89, Flintshire 2009-01-21

There was an 8.5kW electric shower here when we moved in 4 years ago, but it packed in within a year - and we have yet to replace it. Fortunately, there was also a shower hose on the bath mixer tap - which has a much nicer feeling anyway. Who needs power showers...?

Bob, Princes Risborough 2008-11-06

I've just moved into a house with my partner and her 18 year old daughter who has a power shower in her room. I need to install a timer on the pump before all my money and the Earth's resources run down the drain. I've searched the net for a retro fit timer of some sort with no success. Anyone know where such an item can be found? What on earth do they do in the shower for so long anyway?

Marc, Wakefield 2008-08-31

It's so easy - having a shower every morning is a lot easier and less time-consuming than running a bath. And if it's better for the environment...

Anonymous 2008-08-29

Been using a shower only for 10 years

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Glossary terms used on this page
An aerator is a device that breaks the flow from your shower head (or other water supply) into a finer spray of droplets - so you get just as wet while using less water.
CO2, or carbon dioxide, is made up of the elements carbon and oxygen. It exists quite naturally in our atmosphere, as part of the carbon cycle. Everyday processes in the plant and animal world both add CO2 to the atmosphere and take it out. However, because it is a greenhouse gas - meaning it affects the temperature of the earth - the exact level of CO2 is important. Burning fossil fuels releases CO2 into the atmosphere, hence the anxiety that extensive use of these fuels is causing climate change.
Embodied energy
Embodied energy - sometimes referred to as 'embedded energy' - is the energy used (and therefore the CO2 emissions) in manufacturing, packaging and transporting a product, material or service. So when calculating the CO2 savings from a new energy-efficient product such as a boiler or washing machine, its embodied energy needs to be taken into account. Usually the energy saved in use will quickly compensate for the embodied energy, but in some cases - such as small urban wind turbines - it may be that a product will use more energy in its manufacture than it will save across its lifetime.
Emissions are the CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) produced by energy use, usually calculated and stated as an annual tally: also referred to as your carbon footprint. Your personal emissions can be direct - such as the gas you personally use to heat your home or the petrol you burn to power your car - or indirect - meaning the energy use that has gone into the products or services you buy. The latter, such as the emissions caused by the manufacture of your new TV, or the packaging your food comes in, are also referred to as embodied emissions.
Kilowatt-hours (kWh)
A kilowatt-hour is an amount of energy equivalent to a power of one kilowatt (a thousand watts) running for one hour. The unit is commonly used on electricity meters. If you know how many kilowatt-hours of energy your household uses, you can translate this into kilograms of CO2 emitted by multiplying it by 0.527. A megawatt hour (MWh) is an amount of energy equivalent to the power of one megawatt (a million watts) running for one hour. Similarly, a gigawatt hour (GWh) is a billion watts for one hour, and a terawatt hour (TWh) is a trillion. While your domestic gas bill will be set out in kWh, the output for a power station, for example, will obviously be expressed in one of these much larger units.
A thermostat maintains the temperature of a system at or near a stipulated level using sensors that tell it when to turn off heating devices. In most household central heating systems, a wall-mounted thermostat is used to set a maximum temperature for the house, while thermostatic radiator valves can be used to set a desired level for individual radiators.
Water pressure
Water pressure is the force that pushes water through pipes and determines the rate of flow from your taps. Water companies are required to provide water at a pressure that will reach the upper floors of houses, but where this is a problem, pressure can be improved using pumps. However, devices such as power showers, which use a pump to boost flow for a more powerful shower spray, also greatly increase the volume of water used and the energy required to heat it.

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