This page is intended to share methods we are experimenting with in order reduce our resource consumption and impact to the environment. We hope it stimulates a conversation amongst our followers in order to share ideas, provide constructive criticisms, and help people find practical methods of sustainability that work for their lifestyles. We will update this page with data we collect as soon as we have it available.
Water Saving Techniques: Here’s a great water footprint calculator from National Geographic you can use to see how much water you use everyday.
According to the EPA, “The average family of four can use 400 gallons of water every day, and, on average, approximately 70 percent of that water is used indoors.” That’s 146,000 gallons of water a year. According to Solomon in Water, The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization, 2.5% of all Earth’s water is fresh; 2/3 of that freshwater is locked away in ice caps and glaciers; less than 3/10 of 1% of total freshwater is available in liquid form at the surface of the planet while the remainder is in permafrost, soil moisture, plants and animals, and water vapor while the most accessed source of water for humans is rivers and streams – these hold about 6/1000s of 1% of the total.
In The Bathroom
On Earth Day 2012, the city of Flagstaff was passing out low flow shower heads/faucets and shower timers. The great thing about these is they are adjustable from .5 to 1.5 gallons per minute (gpm). With the two minute shower timer, we are able to limit our water use from our showers and at that rate, each person uses 3 gallons of water per shower versus a standard shower head ( ~3.8 gpm) or 7.4 gallons per 2 minute shower per person, a savings for us of 4.4 gallons. That equates to 1606 gallons of water saved per year taking a 2 minute shower everyday. Imagine if the entire US population did this; that’s quite a savings!
To explore this even further, while lathering, shaving, or shampooing, we are able to turn the shower down to .5 gpm, which means we actually only run the shower at 1.5 gpm for half the time. That means we actually only use ~2 gallons per shower saving a total of 5.4 gallons/2 minute shower = 1971 gal/yr/person. Some people will even turn the water off while lathering, shampooing, and shaving which saves even more water! However, this is practical sustainability; some people like to keep the water flowing while showering, others don’t mind turning it off. What are your limits? Turning it off is best for conservation, but where is the balance for you? Can you reduce your time, the amount, or both?
Again, going further, we have buckets in each shower (below left). We collect the water while it is warming and as much as possible while showering. When the bucket is full, we use it to fill up the toilet tank instead of using fresh, clean water from the pipes. This helps to save more water just from flushing.
We also put 1 liter bottles in the toilet tanks (above right) to displace water with each flush and we also institute the “mellow yellow” philosophy, but capped it to 3 uses before the next flush. Based on the data we collected for one month of toilet use we saved the following:
- Displacement with bottles: 109 gallons
- Flushing with recycled shower water: 96 gallons
- Not flushing every time: 1143 gallons
- Total water savings in one month: 1348 gallons
Just this week, we replaced the old toilets (3 gallons per flush) with dual flush, high efficiency toilets. The small flush is 1.1 gallons and the large flush is 1.6 gallons. Another savings in water and we will post more data as we collect it. Each toilet cost $100 and there will be $100 water credit to your water bill from Arizona in July of 2013 for installing high efficiency toilets, so save your receipts if you purchase one. Unfortunately, because we are on a well, we won’t be able to take advantage of that credit, but we believe having high efficiency toilets is the right thing to do so it is worth the $300 investment to reduce our impact on the environment.
In The Kitchen
Here too, we installed a low flow, adjustable faucet. It makes it nice to turn it on all the way up when filling up reusable water bottles or pots for cooking, but we can turn it down during dishwashing to reduce our use. We also have three buckets to collect and reuse the water from the kitchen.
You’ll notice in the picture above, there is a compost bin on the window sill to reuse any food scraps or collect uneaten food. The major rinse bucket is the white bucket on the right, followed by the black wash bin in the middle, and finally the rinse bin on the left. We dump or rinse off the majority of any scraps into the white bucket, which preserves the quality of the water in the wash bin and prevents us from having to dump it before we are done washing all the dishes. We do have a dishwasher but do not use it in order to save water and electricity. We feel like it is an unnecessary luxury and also enjoy the time spent together in the kitchen washing dishes, talking, and sharing stories or jokes; again, practical sustainability and building relationships. After we wash all the dishes with biodegradable soap, we dump the water collected in the three bins onto our compost bins in a specific rotation so we do not “overwhelm” or inundate any area with too much water. This allows the environment to absorb that water in a timely fashion, and saves sending unnecessary amounts of water to the septic tank.
Energy Saving Techniques:
Here’s some energy calculators:
In The Living Room
When this house was built in 1974, sustainability did not seem to be on the forefront of the builder or designer’s minds. Although the view is beautiful, it is north facing, with large windows, and a very thin roof. We are losing lots of heat through the roof and windows, and get practically no direct sunlight to heat up the house. Next spring, we will explore more options of cutting down trees, installing solar, wind, or geothermal energy systems, but for right now, we are trying to work with what we have. We have a Lopi stove with a blower that has been helping, a propane furnace, but propane is extremely expensive. We keep the furnace set at 54 degrees, burn wood, and have a small electric heater. We have also applied plastic to the windows, put up insulation over our top windows, and have hung thermal drapes. All together, the house has been staying around a constant, balmy, 60 degrees. Understanding that it is winter, we add an extra layer of clothes and spend a lot of time around the fireplace working, talking, and eating which has really helped build a stronger community of people at the EcoRanch. Last, we put in weather stripping on all the doors in the house and put in insulation behind every outlet and light switch which surprisingly, can be quite drafty.
Finally, we turned the water heater down to 115 degrees and insulated the hot water tank and all the hot water lines to reduce heat loss. We figured, what’s the point in heating water to a temperature that is too hot to touch so we need to waste more water by turning on the cold water to cool it off after we spent the money and energy to heat it up to an unusable temperature? Why not just turn down the temperature and save energy in the first place!
Again, we hope these ideas stimulate a discussion below or on our Facebook page and that you share your water and energy saving techniques with the rest of us. Remember, sustainability and conservation should not be an overwhelming process, but rather finding gradual, comfortable changes you can make to your lives. And, if all of us can make small changes, they will add up to very large, positive impacts to our shared commons – the environment we depend on everyday. Thanks and we look forward to your replies.