Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Summer showers

Last week, we got our utility bill in the mail. This is always an exciting day for us as we love to watch how our electricity and water usage has consistently gone down over the last 7 months. We do a little "we're so awesome" dance and then look forward to the next month. How low can we go? I know, we don't get out much. 

Well, this last bill was up. WAY up. Electricity? It's definitely the AC jacking that up. We've been in the 90's for the last 6 weeks with humidity as high as 60 and 70%. Although the air conditioning rarely kicks on during the day (it's just me and the "kids"), we all REALLY need the cooler air at night.

So back to the bill. The real surprise was how much the water bill went up. Not quite three times last month's usage. Ouch! What did we do? Unlike our neighbors, we delayed watering our lawn until it looked, well, not quite dead (2 months after our neighbors started watering), and we don't mow nearly as often as everyone else since the longer length seems to make it stay healthier (the neighbors must just love us, right?). And even now that we're watering, it's only twice a week (the idea being that it's not lush and it's not dead - it's just hanging on for dear life). Dave even went around to each of the sprinkler heads to make sure there were no leaks. 

Then it occurred to me. Summer heat means summer showers. Unfortunately, I'm not talking about a nice soft rain to makes all those farmers market veggies grow, otherwise we wouldn't have to water the lawn. No, I'm talking about getting in the shower to rinse off all the sweat and nastiness that comes from living and biking in the summer heat of Texas. Winter - no problem. I walk and bike for hours but cool off quickly, so one shower a day is easy (or maybe I stink then too and nobody is brave enough to tell me). But Summer here means that many days, Dave and I both shower twice a day. If it was just a little grime, it would be no big deal, but when the heat index is closing  in on, or well over, 100 degrees, I'll walk in the house looking like I just crawled out of a swimming pool. It's not like you can sit around like that. An extra shower is a must.

Our only solutions to the shower dilemma thus far have been to get a new super low-flow shower head (Dave installed this last winter and we love it) and to take navy showers. At first I was adverse to the idea of the navy shower. I'm pretty cold natured and I was convinced I'd freeze to death while soaping up (there's actually a word to describe this - "heather-scicle" as in "if I'm outside for long in the cold, I turn into a heather-scicle"). It turns out, it was no big deal. Not even in the winter. Now I'm totally used to it and it has helped save so much water!

We've already put new valves on our toilets so that they don't use as much water, we don't flush each and every time, we have the new shower head, we don't water in the yard nearly as much as our neighbors, and we take lightning fast showers. I don't know what else to do other than just accept that summer is going to mean higher water usage - although Dave did mention letting the lawn die and putting astro-turf down instead (Hmmm... definitely need to consider that one). We could always stop giving the dog her weekly bath (that's her in the photo intrigued at the idea of no more baths). She would definitely prefer the no-bath option, but I don't think Dave or I could stand it. She's cute, but she definitely has a distinct fragrance after a week and let me tell you, it ain't flowers (sorry, princess - mommy still loves you)!

For now, we're continuing to look for ways to cut our utility usage, but are rolling with the punches. We conserve where we can and know that come October (yeah, we kind of have 6-7 months of summer here), the temperatures will drop back to one-shower-a-day levels. Now Dave, what were you saying about astro-turf?


EcoBurban said...

Ugh, our water usage in the summer can't be good either. We have a well, so we really can't track it, but... You add up 3 middle school age boys, 1 dirty toddler, 1 husband who always smells like our lake (he wakeboards nightly) and myself. That's a lotta showers. And one of our middle school boys is in there FOREVER. Literally, I have to bang on the door and tell him to get out before the paint peels off the wall from the steam!

Though, for our very, very dirty digger of a dalmatian (who could use a bath daily if you get technical about it) we have taken to grabbing the hose and giving him a quick rinse when he's covered in dirt rather than a full bath. Though, when we do give him a bath in the house (BIG project here!) we wait until the toddler takes a bath and then pull out the toddler and dump in the puppy! We figure the water is clean enough for him!

J said...

Good for you for doing all that you are. It is understandable that your water usage would increase over the summer. I just want you to know how cool I think it is that you do all that you do.

For us, it's hard to do as much as we like as we live in an apartment and there is only so much we can do to the unit physically. We have a low-flow shower head. The toilet is a regular 'ol toilet, but we don't flush all the time. No lawn to water, but we do have a container garden that sucks up quite a bit of water. I'd like to find ways to keep them watered without wasting so much fresh, clean water.

Anonymous said...

I hope you flush every time after a twosie.

lauren said...

I recently started reading your blog, and this post echoes a huge concern of mine. I live in the East Bay Area, CA and we are under water rationing now.

I used to live in South Texas, and I do not miss the heat. I know the feeling of needing two showers a day. I wasn't very eco-minded when I lived there, so my electricity use for A/C was ridiculous.

The blog wasteweardaily.wordpress.com, which I don't write, had a few entries recently about how to keep water usage low.

If you own your home, it seems the main solutions are rain barrels, and a greywater system.

I rent, so installing new systems isn't really an option; however, I know I could do better at collecting greywater with buckets, etc.

I also saw a cool YouTube video of a woman collecting the rinse water from her washing machine with a trash can. It was amazing to see how much water is used in one wash cycle.

hmd said...

eco 'burban mom - What a house full! Do you ever get a hot shower for yourself?

On one of our vacations, we took Kelsey (our dog) with us. It was hard to keep her clean when you go from people's houses to campsites, and back and forth. When we were in Seattle, Dave just drug Kelsey in the shower with him and soaped her up. She came out smelling like PertPlus Shampoo. It turns out the shampoo made her incredibly soft (she has hair, not fur), so now we use Pert every time we bathe her. Thankfully she's small enough she fits in our utility sink. If we tried to bathe her outside, she'd run and never be found again. She just hates baths!

jennifer - apartments have their advantages too: no yards to water (or mow)! What kind of plants do you have in your garden?

timeus - of course :)

lauren - yeah, the heat is so brutal this time of year, and lucky us, our AC went out last night. Eek! The part is supposed to be in tomorrow so we have one more night trying to sleep in this.

Thanks for the links! We've talked about collecting water in rain barrels so maybe we'll do that. First, though it has to rain! The forecast keeps flirting with us but it's soooo dry here right now. Well, it's dry as in the ground, the air is pretty moist. Blah!

J said...

Heather - On our porch (which is what uses the water, our community garden is watered via rain barrels), we have a huge assortment of peppers.

Good point about us not having a yard and such, the complex also doesn't really concern itself with nice looking lawns, there really isn't much grass to speak of, mostly parking lots. Our apartment is just inefficient, which is frustrating at times.

hmd said...

Jennifer - unfortunately, there's sometimes not much you can do when you don't own the place, but apartments can be eco-friendly in other ways too. Think of how many more people fit in the same space a house might take up (that reduces your ecological footprint).

And apartments tend to be on bus routes making it easier to get around than the neighborhoods (at least around here).

And how much less energy do you spend (your own, as well as electricity, water, etc) just cleaning your apartment, which I'm sure is smaller than the average house.

I'm sure I could think of more things, but just because you don't have as much control as you would in your own house, don't feel like you aren't doing your part. Apartment living can be a very earth-friendly thing.

J said...

You bring up a lot of good points about apartment living, which is why I try to deal with the inefficiencies as best as I can. We've gotten good at just heating or cooling the room we're in which has vastly saved us on our energy usage.

And we are on a bus line at our apartment, which is wonderful. Brett and I gave up our car (actually gave it to an immigrant neighbor, he gives the other neighbors rides to the store and such in it), almost three years ago. I'll never own a car again if I don't have to. I even let my license expire and got a state ID. I feel very free being a walker/bus rider.

hmd said...

Jennifer - That's awesome! I feel the same way about biking/busing/walking. Something about it is so liberating!

Glenda said...

We have two puppies and something I've discovered (dog books and dog training class) is it's very drying on their skin to bathe them weekly. Our pups are indoor-outdoor dogs and can get pretty funky after being outdoors. There are between-bath products you can use for the odor, but I've never checked into them and can't vouch for what's in them -- we just tolerate the funk, which actually does seem to abate within an hour of outside play.

We have an above-ground pool in the summers, which is not especially water-saving the month we fill it up (we do get about five months' of swimming out of it tho), and that helps tremendously when we're sweaty during these dog days of summer.

Right there with ya on the lawn being not dead but barely hanging on. My hubby made a rain barrel several months ago and we FINALLY had rain over the weekend and filled it up. We won't use the rainwater for the lawn, rather we use it for the potted herbs and veggies (and, I'm a sucker for being sure there's water in the birdbath, so I use it to fill the birdbath too).

Kelsie said...

Ever since I received my first $50 water bill, I've become something of a water rationing Nazi. We have a huge garden to hydrate, and that's my top priority, even over showers. So...here's what I've started doing. Hopefully something here will be helpful:

1). I made my boyfriend stop taking "epic" showers (20 minutes??? Of just STANDING there??)

2). I instigated (for myself) the "one song shower." Basically, I pick a favorite song, plug in the stereo, and take a 4-5 minute shower. When the song ends, my shower ends. :)

3). I stopped using conditioner. I have hair down to my butt, so I thought this would be INCREDIBLY difficult. It wasn't...at all. I brush my hair beforehand to detangle it, and use Dr. Bronner's on my hair and body. Not using conditioner has helped me conserve water two ways: it has shortened the duration of my showers AND decreased the frequency with which I must wash my hair. My hair is a LOT less greasy now that I'm not weighing it down with whatever they put in conditioner to make your hair soft and shiny. If anything, my hair is softer and shinier than ever before!

4). We're going for no a/c this summer (minus the window unit we keep set on 80 in the front room--mainly so our cats don't die of heat stroke), and between that and the garden, I understand hot, sweaty, and dirty. Instead of taking a full-blown shower every day, I've started taking a nightly sponge bath. I'll wash my feet off in the tub, and then put a little cool water in the sink with a dab of Dr. Bronner's. There's nothing nicer than going to bed un-grimed and slightly damp, especially with the fan blowing on you! I know a sponge bath seems old-fashioned, and I felt silly doing it at first, but it really does work, and it cuts way back on my water usage.

5). I take a shower roughly 3 times a week. When I do shower (and my boyfriend does this too...he showers everyday), I put a bucket or two in the shower with me and use the "grey water" to water some of my garden.

6). I never realized how much water is wasted as I wait for the hose water to turn cool so that I don't scorch my plants. The hotter it is outside, the longer it takes. Instead of just letting the hot water run off into the grass, I let it flow into one of my rain barrels so that I can use it later, once it cools down.

7). We abide by the classic girl scout camp motto: "If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down." I don't flush if all I've done is pee. In a larger household, it might be difficult to go for TOO long between flushes, but you could do it a little, I'd imagine.

Hope some of this was helpful! I just found your blog the other day, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it. :)


hmd said...

Glenda - Ooh! What kind of puppies? I love puppies! Their so adorable! With puppies, I understand you do need to be more careful, but Kelsey is older (11 years old). She's also a long hair (not fur) breed which requires bathing more often and from what I've seen, sites say every 5-10 days. Also it's not just stink. She's REALLY dirty. That hair picks up everything. Yik! We're real careful about what soaps we use, but the one we use has a conditioner built in and she responds to it well.

Your pool sounds soooooo nice. We just got our AC back on at 4:00 this evening. I would have done anything to have a pool in the backyard. But we're enjoying the cool air in the house now. We made it without our innards cooking. Pshew! Happy swimming!

Kelcie - great suggestions! Some of those we do. I'm not even sure I take a shower the full length of a song. My hubby can't even shave in the time it takes me in the shower. I've thought about putting a bucket in there with me (it's a REALLY small shower unit) and then dumping the water on the compost heap. I'll have to try that one of these days. Thanks again for all your suggestions!

Glenda said...

Hi Heather! Our puppies are of the mixed breed variety ;-). Momma is a cocker spaniel, and only she knows who the father(s) is/are . . . and she's not telling LOL. One pup is very much a cocker, the other has a good mix of cocker and whatever her daddy was.

Ah, yes, I bet the long hair of your pooch does pick up dirt!! Every time I vacuum, I'm amazed at how much dog hair and dirt is on our carpet - it's crazy.

Kelsie, I had to chuckle about your boyfriend's "epic" showers -- my kiddo is the same way, tho now that we're swimming most every day and he's showering most every evening, his shower time has decreased substantially. Me, on the other hand, I shave my legs daily and that doubles the amount of time I spend in the shower. If I don't have to shave my legs, I can be in and out pretty quickly.

Oh yeah, your comment, Kelsie, about your hair being softer since quitting using conditioner -- I recently read some good info about switching to using baking soda for washing hair, then rinsing with apple cider vinegar. I haven't tried this yet -- keep meaning to, but forget to grab the stuff out of the kitchen pantry before I shower! If you're interested in the link to the article I read, I'll be glad to post it.

hmd said...

Glenda - I bet your "babies" are just adorable. Hair. Oh boy, do I remember the hair. When I moved in with my hubby, he had a golden retriever. I was forever vacuuming the hair which I wasn't used to (we still have hair scrunched in where the baseboard meets the carpet). That was one of the reasons I got a Shih Tzu - they don't shed, bless them! :)

I'm with you gals. My hubby enjoys some of those epic showers as well. As for me, I can't get out quick enough! I shave every day, but always turn off the water at that point (I turn on the water to wash my hair, then turn it off to lather up and shave, then back on to rise. The water is on for all of maybe 2-3 minutes (well, after it warms up anyway). It saves LOTS of water!