Our Summer (almost) without Hot Water Part I

Submitted by Barbara on Tue, 06/19/2012 - 20:13

Why turn off the hot water?

Well, there are many reasons.  Even after trying to live a hard core environmental lifestyle, the carbon footprint calculator still indicates that our household is using slightly more than two planets.  This is something to be proud of because its much lower than the US average of 5.4 planets per person, but its also a little distressing to us since we thought we were rocking it.

Second is being prepared.  During a major or minor disaster, is not the best time to figure out how to make things work with out the system.  Turning off the hot water voluntarily is going to help us prepare for an emergency.

 Third, what about solar hot water?  We have been for dithering about our solar hot water options for years.  We really dont want a glycol system, but that is the only sort that qualifies for rebates here.  An easy way to deal with a hard question is to reframe the problem.  Rather than continue to struggle with solar hot water design, we decided to ask the question, how important is hot water anyway?  The answer might influence how we answer the solar hot water question.

Fourth,  we dont have the luxury of a separate meter for our hot water heater.  We estimate that the hot water heater alone uses an unsustainable quantity of natural gas but turning it off and doing the math might answer this question once and for all and allow us to estimate how much we use for cooking.

What we think will happen next.

Our portable dishwasher has a built in heater so that covers dishes.  Water for the dishes that need hand washing will be heated in the solar cooker.  Bathing will be accomplished with a solar shower.  We have additional opportunities to bath at the gym and local swimming pool.  Laundry will have to be washed in cold water.  If it proves unsatisfactory, then there is always the laundry mat.

June 7th  Five days to go! 

Well here we are, only five days until the water heater goes off.  It came really fast!  Last month when we first decided to live a month without the water heater we purchased a second hand solar shower.  I had also previously made a solar oven which we plan to employ heating water for dishes.  Over all preparation had been light until now.  With only five days to go, I decided I wanted to have all the laundry washed.  Five days means five load to hang up on the line.  Here we go!!!

June 13th.  D-Day.

The heater goes off and our son has a last hot bath and mom takes a last shower.  I reserved washing the blacks until last because we wash them in cold water so they werent restricted by this experiment. 

June 14th.  Day 1.  Husband decided he has to have a shower before he can go to work.  When working with solar hot water its definitely smarter to plan on bathing in the evening but stinky is stinky so he takes a freezing cold shower this morning.  Oh well, there was bound to be a learning curve.

June 15th Day 2.  Today our son takes a solar shower.  Our funny boy giggles the whole way though his shower.

June 16th Day 3.  Mom takes her first solar shower.  Its been nearly 100 degrees here today which has made for a lots of sweaty but it also means the solar shower is a bit warmer than it has been.  We have been struggling a little bit with the best place to hang the solar shower so it gets the most sun without our having to baby-sit it and move it around during the day.  We have also discovered that filling it up all the way is a bad idea.  Not only does it take more energy to warm, but five gallons is really heavy to lift over your head. 

June 17th.  Day 4.  We have hit upon the idea of keeping a stock pot in the oven with water.  The pilot keeps it around 100 degrees which is warmer than the solar shower but not as hot as the solar cooker.  This has also proved useful in other ways since it means we always have hot water on hand without having to wait for the tap to warm.  Today I used the warm water to make honey lemonade.  Yummy!

June 18th.  Day 5.  This morning's conversation:  "I haven't really missed the hot water other than washing my face and not even that now we keep water in the oven.  How about you?"   "Not really.  Isn't it amazing how quickly the 'civilized necessities' don't seem all that important."

June 24th.  Day 10.  We just returned from camping and OMG I want a bath.  Rather than succumbing to this heroin like need, I will settle for a shower and go for a swim at the gym on Monday morning.

June 25th.  Day 11.  I survived!  The lack of bath didnt actually kill me!  Its a good lesson that no matter how badly you feel you have to have something, it will be ok even if you dont get it right away.

June 27th.  Day 12.  By now we have mostly given up on the solar shower.  Moving it around dosnt really seem worth it for the less than luke warm water we get.  Now we just keep it in the indoor shower and fill it with water from the stock pot in the oven.

June 28th.  Day 13.  I began to wonder how common is it to have hot water?  I couldnt find exact number on the internet, but less than half the world's population has running water so you have to figure that hot running water is probably fairly rare.  We have placed ourselves firmly in the majority by turning off our hot water.  Some how that makes me feel a little more comfortable with myself.  I think its in good taste not to be so conspicuous when so many dont even have clean drinking water.  I know most people would think that has nothing to do with "their" hot water but I cannot think that way.  We are all dependent on each other and the ecosystem and there isnt enough to go around now. 

July 8th.  Day 24.  So earlier in this experiment I was feeling like we could leave the hot water off until it turned cold but after coming back from camping this time, I think we all feel a little less interested in going long term without hot water.   The oven only holds enough hot water for one shower and there are three of us.  Also, Im starting to notice that Im using more soap to compensate for the lack of heat in the water.  Its important to note that there is a trade off here.  One I hadnt predicted.  Now Im wondering how much energy it takes to heat the water vs. how much more energy I will use if I double the amount of soap I consume?  Im sure using more soap is still the better option but what percentage of the savings is eroded by the soap?  If we go forward with this, maybe learning to make soap will have to be a priority.

July 9th.  Day 25.  We are nearly at the end of our month, five days to go.  It has been a wonderful challenge and I think we are all very glad that we took it on and feel that overall it was easier than we expected.  Speaking for myself, I have decided that hot water is something I would really like to keep in my life but not at an unlimited cost.  I now know I can live happily without it for long stretches.  The question then becomes, how to make it sustainable?  As I mentioned at the begining we have struggled with solar hot water options.  Once we have our bill, we can look at how much energy we use for cooking, then compare that to sustainable levels.  We may find that cooking uses it all or we may decided that we can turn the water heater on once a fort night.  Hopefully this will help us come to some conclusion about our future hot water needs.  Time to think even harder. 

July 10th.  Day 26.  The only ornamental landscaping we water is the lawn.  Its fed almost entirely by grey water from the bath tub so we have concentrated our water conservation in areas like the toilet & kitchen since a decrease in bath water would result in an increase in watering the lawn.  So far the lawn looks ok this month but I think continuing this into July/August would likely make a bigger difference to the lawn.  Perhaps the optimal time to turn off the water heater is neither the hottest months of the year, nor the coldest.

July 11th.  Day 27.  Somewhere early in the process we discovered bucket bathing.  We have known about it in theory for a long time but didnt really feel much benefit from it given the situation with the lawn outlined yesterday.   Only when its raining would it serve to conserve water here.  This month we have been using the bucket technique not to save water in general but to conserve hot water.  I have to admit Im thoroughly amazed how much less water is needed.  Good to know in an emergency.

July 14th.  Day 30.  We are nearly at the end.  One more day or two to make sure we come back on after the meter reading so we dont spoil our data.   In today's conversation it was generally agreed that we wanted our hot water back on.  We agree however that we didnt need it until Wednesday which is our traditional bath night.  We agreed all our showers up until then would be from the water we keep in the oven, so really four more days to go.

July 17th.  Day 33.  Oh no!  All this month I forgot to flush the water heater.   I was going to do during this experiment since the water heater is off anyway and I like to do it in the summer so we can use the water in the garden.  Guess I have something to occupy my morning now since the water heater goes on tomorrow.  Wishing I would have remembered earlier during one of our heat waves.  Grumph.

July 18th.  Day 34.  Hot water goes back on.  Re lighting the water heater was a bit of a disappointment.   But when I look back over this blog, clearly we learned something.  Now we just have to wait for the meter reading and see what the results are.