These thoughts instantly popped into my head when I learned in the fall of 2010 that I would be helping HRWC launch its new Save Water Save Energy campaign. Not one to market anything without trying it out myself, I began to look for opportunities to save in my own home.
HOME ENERGY AUDIT, TIME TO FACE FACTS
First stop, the DTE Energy website. Home energy audits are all the rage these days and DTE has some programs that are low cost and/or that include rebate offers and tax incentives. I live with my spouse in a modest 1952 cape cod on Ann Arbor’s west side with one bathroom and finished attic space that operates as a bedroom for our two kids.
We chose a certified energy auditor from DTE’s list to perform an in-home Comprehensive Energy Audit including a Home Energy Efficiency Rating (HERS). Our auditor, Jim a former HVAC engineer, came out on the coldest day in December and performed a blower door test (a diagnostic test designed accurately measure the airtightness of your home and locate sources of air leakage) and thermal imaging analysis.
Two weeks later we had a list of specific recommended improvements and a payback analysis. Recommendations included small things like changing out incandescent light bulbs for CFL’s or putting in a low flow showerhead, to bigger ticket items like beefing up insulation and sealing air leaks with caulk and/or foam. We went ahead and contracted Jim’s company to do the major work, while my husband and I agreed to take on the DIY tasks.
LOW FLOW SHOWERHEAD, REALLY?
Second stop, the Energy Outlet at Clean Energy Coalition. I had learned of CEC in the previous summer when one of their program directors did a talk at the Ypsilanti Heritage Fest Green Tent. The Outlet has all kinds of DIY products a homeowner needs to save energy – CFL’s, faucet aerators, low flow showerheads, weather stripping. I headed over to the store, now at 924 North Main Street in Ann Arbor, to check it out.
Skeptical about the performance of a low flow showerhead, for less than $20, I purchased a 1.5 gallon per minute model (upgraded to the chrome option) and a nifty little 5-minute LED shower timer that glows blue during minutes 1-4 and flashes red during the fifth minute. The store manager even gave me a bit of that white plumbing tape to use for the pipe threads.
Super easy to install, let’s just say I was pleasantly surprised by the amount and force of the water coming from my new showerhead. It was definitely more gentle than our former 2.5 gpm model, but it took about the same amount of time to rinse the shampoo and conditioner out of my hair. Not bad!
Even better, the 5-minute LED shower timer, fueled my family’s competitive spirit. Suddenly we found the kids, accustomed to taking luxurious 15-minute or longer showers with lots of playtime, racing to complete the task in under five minutes. And, we all felt good to know we were saving!
WHAT’S MY USE ANYWAY?
Third stop, the City of Ann Arbor Water Utility website. Encouraged by our new water awareness, I was determined to find out how my family of four compared to the typical American’s use of 99 gallons per person per day (about 70% for indoor use, 30% for outdoor), estimated by EPA’s WaterSense program.
By plugging in my account number, I was able to get a chart of my home’s quarterly water usage (the City present’s the data by billing cycle). There was also an easy to read graphshowing the last 12 months compared to the previous 12 month time period. And an option to analyze our daily water consumption by a date range of my choice.
My family of four’s at-home average daily use is 89-100 gallons for the winter and spring billing cycles. Not bad but also not easy to compare to the 99 gallons per person per day figure unless you can factor in all the water we use while not at home. Both kids are in school or at camp five days a week and I work outside the home. My husband splits his work hours between home, the café at Plum Market, and frequent travel to the East and West coasts.
One thing that shocked me – seeing our water consumption on days when I do laundry. I tend to run several loads on one day of the week and boy were those usage spikes obvious. While our average was ok, I can see that our 20-year old machine is an absolute water hog.
An Energy Star rated clothes washer with a low water factor? On order from Big George’s. Rain barrels? Already got em. High efficiency toilet? Replaced my 20-year old model with a 1.6 gallon per flush model (WaterSense labeled HET’s use 1.28 gpf) back in the spring of 2010 after one of the kids flushed a liquid soap dispenser pump and it got stuck in the s-curve.
So far, I’ve learned that what works for me and my family is a combination of putting an efficient fixture in place and then forgetting about it AND conscious saving through habits like short showers and turning off water for teeth brushing, etc. The habits require reminders and renewed commitments – easy for me when I consider that 36 states expect water shortages by 2013.