Canada is a country that is rich in fresh water, so it's understandable that Canadians tend to take this resource for granted. Water is as close as kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms in most Canadian homes. As soon as we turn on the tap, there it is, flowing freely. But it's not free – especially hot water. In fact, 15 percent of a typical energy bill goes to heating water. While you can't do without water, there are ways you can use less and save money. Also, leaks can be costly. A leak of only one drop per second wastes about 9000 litres of water per year, or the equivalent of 16 baths every month. Most leaks are easy to find and fix at very little cost.
If you're planning to buy or rent a new water heater for your home, here's a tip that could save you up to $100 per year: Bigger isn't necessarily better.
Even if you're satisfied with the unit you've got, there are ways to cut down on the energy you use to heat water. And you need look no further than your home heating bill to remind you that any energy you save is money in your pocket. What's more, using energy from fossil fuels produces greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Saving energy means producing fewer of those emissions and helping our environment become healthier for all of us.
The water heater is one of the biggest energy users in many Canadian homes, second only to the furnace. So it makes sense to keep track of your hot water consumption and make sure that the heater is running as efficiently as possible.
If you're keeping an older hot water appliance, your first priority is to insulate the heater itself and at least the first metre of piping. The insulation pays for itself by preventing you from throwing valuable energy into thin air.
The next step is to look at ways to reduce your hot water use. A low-flow shower head can cut your water use in the shower by more than 30 percent. You can use water more wisely by fixing leaky taps and by installing tap aerators that give you the same pressure with less water flow. And you can reduce the energy you use for a load of laundry by 93 percent by washing and rinsing your clothes in cold water. Remember, anything you do to save hot water will cut your energy bill as well.
You can also reduce your cold water use by installing a modern, low-flow toilet that uses less water to flush. Even if your water isn't metered, a water-efficient toilet will make it easier for your municipality to supply fresh water and handle wastewater, another load off our environment.
The same energy and water-saving strategies will also apply if you're in the market for a new water heater. Many of the newer units are more efficient to begin with. But you can also save money by buying a smaller heater if, for example, older children have left home and you're now using less hot water.
Energy-efficient shower heads conserve energy without changing water pressure. Low-flow shower heads use up to 60 percent less water than standard fixtures. Flow restrictors, on the other hand, reduce water use from 19 to 11 litres per minute and can save up to 15 percent on your hot water bill.
Consider a low-flow shower head with a shut-off button. The advantage of the shut-off button is that it allows you to be very water efficient – you can interrupt the flow while you lather up or shampoo and then resume at the same flow rate and temperature.
In the bathroom, a flow rate of two litres per minute should significantly reduce water consumption but also let you enjoy your shower.
Take quick showers instead of baths; you’ll use up to 50 percent less hot water. A five-minute shower, for instance, uses less than 38 litres of water, compared with 57 to 95 litres for a bath.
Installing a water-saver flush kit in your toilet will save thousands of litres of water per year. You can also replace large-volume toilets with units that use only six litres per flush – you'll reduce water usage by 70 percent or more.
Using the toilet as a wastebasket or flushing it unnecessarily wastes a lot of water.
A toilet that continues to run after flushing, if the leak is large enough, can waste up to 200,000 litres of water in a single year! To find out if your toilet is leaking, put two or three drops of food colouring in the tank at the back of the toilet. Wait a few minutes. If the colour shows up in the bowl, there's a leak.
If your toilet leaks, make sure that the flush valve or flapper valve is sitting properly in the valve seat. Also check that the flush valve lift wires are not bent or misaligned and that the valve seat is not corroded. All of these can be fixed easily and inexpensively. If, however, the leak is around the base of the toilet where it sits on the floor, call a professional.
Install a water-saving device inside the tank at the back of the toilet. The most common water retention device available is the toilet dam. When installed properly it will save about five litres per flush.
A plastic bag or bottle filled with water and suspended inside the toilet tank could be a water displacement device that's easy to find and install. However, don't use a brick! It can disintegrate inside the toilet tank, leading to excessive leakage at the flapper valve and may even be heavy enough to crack the tank.
Monitor the performance of the devices periodically. If you discover that it becomes necessary to double flush the toilet, something needs to be adjusted or replaced. Remember: double flushing defeats the purpose of your water conservation efforts and is costing you money.
If you decide that it's time for a toilet replacement in your home or business, you are well on your way to significant water savings that you can bank on over the life of the toilet. Replacing an 18-litre-per-flush toilet with an ultra-low-volume (ULV) six-litre flush model represents a 66 percent savings in water flushed and will cut indoor water use by about 30 percent.
Remember, the ULV toilet not only uses less water, it produces less wastewater. If your municipality applies a sewer surcharge on your water bill, the investment in the better toilet could translate into a 50 percent reduction in your combined water/sewer bill. If your home uses a private well and septic system, you can significantly reduce the load on your tile drain field while extending its useful life.
If you run the tap while shaving, money is going down the drain along with your whiskers. Partially fill the basin with hot water – you'll save a lot of hot water.
Rinsing dishes under the tap also wastes a lot of water. Rinse your dishes in a large bowl of water, or partially fill one side of a double sink. Here's another approach: slowly pour a bowl of water over dishes after putting them in the drainer.
If you wash your dishes by hand, you use more water and energy than if you use an automatic dishwasher.
Fix leaking faucets as soon as possible. A hot water faucet that leaks one drip per second will waste 9000 litres per year. That's enough water for 160 full cycles on an automatic dishwasher.
Keep a bottle of drinking water in the refrigerator rather than letting your tap run to get cold water when you want a drink. (Rinse the bottle every few days.)
If you use water provided by your municipality, the water is usually pumped from a source and treated with chemicals before you use it. Then it is treated again before it is put back into the environment. All this movement and treatment of water takes energy, and producing this energy contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. The use of electricity or natural gas for your water heater further adds to greenhouse gas emissions. So, the less water used, the fewer emissions produced.
More than 50 percent of the water applied to lawns and gardens is lost due to evaporation or to run-off because of overwatering. Find out how much water your lawn really needs. As a general rule, most lawns and gardens require little more than 2 to 3 cm (1 in.) of water per week.
To reduce losses due to evaporation, water early in the morning (after the dew has dried).
Ideally, sprinklers should be suited to the size and shape of the lawn. That way, you avoid watering driveways and sidewalks. Sprinklers that lay water down in a flat pattern are better than oscillating sprinklers, which lose as much as 50 percent of what they disperse through evaporation.
Installing timers on outdoor taps can be a wise investment.
The water you use for your lawn doesn't have to come out of a tap. A cistern, which captures and stores rainwater, can be used as a source of irrigation water. A rain barrel can adequately fulfill this function.
The most significant savings come from a reduction in lawn area and switching from exotic plant forms to native species that require less water. In general, lawn areas should not exceed what is useful for play and social activities and should be limited to the spaces where the family spends its time.
When washing a car, fill a bucket with water and use a sponge. This can save about 300 litres of water.
Consider a low-maintenance landscape – one that requires little more water than nature provides. Often called xeriscaping, the principles of a low-maintenance landscape are as follows:
Examine your water heater – if its surface is hot or even warm, some of the energy used to heat the water is being wasted. Wrap the heater in an insulating blanket. Be sure to check your user's manual and labels on the tank first.
Some new water heaters have insulation and are highly energy efficient. Adding a blanket may not make much difference.
Shopping for a new water heater? Look for a high-efficiency unit. Some new models heat water only when you need it rather than storing hot water in a tank.
When installing a new hot water tank or designing a new home, make sure that you place the unit as close as possible to the kitchen, laundry and bathrooms. Heat is lost in long pipe runs. For instance, reducing a hot-water pipe from 10 to 3 metres will save enough energy in one month to heat water for 10 showers. Similarly, thin pipes are more energy efficient than thicker pipes; larger amounts of hot water are trapped in thicker pipes, and more heat is lost.
To help reduce heat loss, always insulate hot water pipes, especially where they run through unheated areas such as basements and crawl spaces. Insulate the first three metres on cold water pipes and the first two metres on hot water pipes running to and from tanks. This can save you about 2 percent on your heating bill and can reduce pipe-sweating problems in the summer. Do not place any pipe-wrap insulation within 15 cm of exhaust vents at the top of water heaters, and never insulate plastic pipes.
Many water-heating tank manufacturers pre-set the temperature of the tank to 60°C (140°F). You can lower the thermostat to as low as 55°C (130°F) to save energy. Do not set it any lower, as this would risk the growth of disease-carrying bacteria such as legion Ella.
If you are concerned about the possibility of scalding at 55°C, a plumber can install a tempering valve that reduces the delivered water temperature while maintaining a safe temperature in your tank. Tempering valves can also be installed on individual taps where the risk is greatest to children, the infirm or elderly. A professional installer will be able to provide you with specific details about the best way to do this in your home.
Note: Some older dishwashers need to have the water at 60°C (140°F) in order to work properly. If your dishwasher doesn't have an element to boost the temperature, you may have to set the thermostat at 60°C. If you do, set the thermostat exactly at 60°C. Temperatures higher than this can shorten the life of glass-lined water heaters.
Turn down your water-heater thermostat to a minimum setting when you plan to be away for extended periods of time.
Twice a year, or monthly if you live in an area that has heavy mineral deposits in the water, empty a bucket of water from your water heater. The drain cock is usually found at the bottom of the unit. Be careful: the water in the tank is especially hot. If you can, drain the tank when the water is cold.
Never store anything on top of natural gas water heaters. Make sure that combustion air openings at the bottom of these tanks – and opening below the draft diverters at flue ducts on top – are always kept unblocked.
For additional energy-saving tips, read the user's manual for your home's water heater.
Source: Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) - Office of Energy Efficiency