Saving water in the shower and at the toilet
November 15, 2013 5:46 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for ways to save water at home. We already have a water efficient dishwasher and washing machine, so I'm looking at the shower and toilets. I live in the US and own my house. Shower: * We waste a lot of water waiting for it to warm up. Is there something we could install so that the water is warm immediately? * What's the best low-volume shower head? * Strategies for an on/off switch at the shower head so we can wet down, shut off, soap, turn on to rinse? Toilets: * What's a good low-volume toilet that won't clog up? * Dual-Flush toilets (for when you do a number 1 or a number 2) Thanks!
posted by GernBlandston to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You may want a hot water recirculation pump. It will keep you from wasting water while waiting for it to warm up. You can install them in many different configurations. One configuration will allow you to press a button and recirculate the water until it is warm at the tap then you turn on the tap and have hot water. This is the most efficient as you are not constantly recirculating the water.
posted by jmsta at 6:01 AM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

The toilet you want is the Toto Drake II. It isn't dual flush, but the one flush uses very little water and it does not clog. I had the original Drake in my last home and they were awesome. We are planning to build a house and only use Toto toilets. Toto does make some dual-flush toilets as well. Their dual flush that I think is the best deal is the Aquia II which we are planning to put in our powder room.
posted by bove at 6:02 AM on November 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

This may not be practical for your daily schedule or preferences, but baths waste less water and are easier to regulate in terms of temperature. You can just turn on the hot water, let it run cold for a bit, and when it heats up to a temperature that's too hot for your bath, it will offset the cold water already in the tub. You'd also be surprised how little time baths take - you just start the water running first thing in the morning, go do something for a few minutes (make coffee, in my case) and then come back and hop in.
posted by Presidente de China at 6:27 AM on November 15, 2013

Bonus tip:
You can save water using any, even your current, toilet if you install this very neat hack. Basically, after you flush the toilet, you wash your hands with the (clean) water that runs into the reservoir to fill it back up.
You're not washing your hands with toilet water, you're flushing your toilet with hand washing water.
posted by Too-Ticky at 6:28 AM on November 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you can fit it, fill a 2 liter plastic bottle filled with water and sealed in you toilet water tank to displace some of the water. Most toilets waste too much water filling up the basin after a flush, this will allow it to stop a little earlier.
posted by any major dude at 6:33 AM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown flush it down.

You could also look into a greywater toilet system. has some great info on using greywater.
posted by melissasaurus at 6:33 AM on November 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

Actually, it seems that baths use more water than showers, not less.
posted by Too-Ticky at 6:43 AM on November 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

We use an Evolve Showerhead to help with wasted shower water. Apparently the warm up is more effective is you just throw on the hot water all the way, and this device shuts itself off when it gets to a good temp. Then you just need to adjust the cold/hot knob to whatever you normally like and pull a cord to restart the flow of water.

The nice thing about the showerhead is that it's a 1.5GPM laminar flow type. We don't even notice it's 1.5GPM. We basically cut our hot water usage in half with it... and it's as easy as installing a new showerhead. The only disadvantage is hitting your head on the reactivation cord, but it isn't a problem with the right angle and height. You could also use a cutoff valve adapter before the showerhead for the navy showers.
posted by jwells at 6:49 AM on November 15, 2013

Our problem with retrofitted tank kits that 'transform' normal toilets into dual flush isn't that they clog. We've never had that happen.

The problem is, even after calibration (numerous times), we may have to flush twice to get rid of the waste.

There is also a non-inconsequential increase in the cleaning needs of said toilet bowl. Our toilets get gross WAY faster now, so cleaning them uses up water/supplies as well.

I think we're still saving water in the long haul but it's by no means as clear cut a thing as I once thought it was. Again, this is with a retrofit tank kit, not a toilet specifically designed to be dual flush/water saving.

I have a delta low volume showerhead and it's fine for me. Something close to this I think.

Strategies for an on/off switch at the shower head so we can wet down, shut off, soap, turn on to rinse?

Isn't this called a navy shower or maybe submarine shower or something? Might be of help in your searches. I've seen them setup such that a chain has to be pulled to let the water run (not unlike in old episodes of M*A*S*H when they're showering).
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:49 AM on November 15, 2013

Oh, and not that I've heard of this being a problem (but there's an obvious answer to that, it's because few people implement them) but if you go with a navy style shower you'll want to be sure that your showerhead plumbing is secure enough that you're not breaking things loose behind your shower wall over the course of pulling on chains attached to the spigot coming out of the wall.

Again, alot of these things are great but I've learned to be prepared for a bit of a higher maintenance/replacement cost down the road which, if you're like me and have environmental but also simplicity of living concerns foremost in your mind, bleakens things a bit.

I've helped build a composting toilet (with roofwater capture cistern for handwashing) at a friends farm before. It was based upon some designs he helped implement while working for the WHO in poverty level countries. His research is in water quality improvement in populations like that and that's the ultimate in toilet watersaving, not to mention you get humanure when the chambers are done working.

I dream of the day when we're out of the city and on a plot where I'll build one and never have to worry about toilet fill line leaks in our slab foundations, calibrating toilet tank flushes, and busted plumbing behind a wall in the shower (ask me how I know about these things), but I digress.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:58 AM on November 15, 2013

And this.
posted by mareli at 7:01 AM on November 15, 2013

There's always ye olde brick-in-the-tank toilet trick.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:10 AM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown flush it down.

This. I've been following this motto for ages.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:18 AM on November 15, 2013

As a temporary measure, you could capture the cold water bleed when drawing water for a hot shower and use it to water you plants etc. We used to do this in our old place, we'd get about 2.5 gallons before the water got hot. When I was ready to flush the toilet I'd take the top off the tank, flush it and then refill it with some of the captured water from the shower.

It's labor-intensive, but it will help save water until you get some other solution to the shower-preheat problem.

We're fortunate in our current apartment - the shower is really close to the water heater, so the hot water is nearly instantaneous.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 8:25 AM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just but a brick in the back of your toilet, rather than filling up the landfill.
posted by windykites at 8:47 AM on November 15, 2013

Strategies for an on/off switch at the shower head so we can wet down, shut off, soap, turn on to rinse?

We actually have a shower head that does this. Rather, it has a "pause" button that you can press to stop the water from the head. Not as efficient as a navy shower, of course. Unfortunately I have no idea what model it is but it's from the Delta brand, purchased from a big box retailer like Home Depot.
posted by sm1tten at 9:26 AM on November 15, 2013

Bricks aren't the best choice, as they can crumble and clog the pipes. Better to use a filled plastic jug or some other plastic container to displace the water.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:40 AM on November 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

And don't forget to take Brazil's advice and pee in the shower!
posted by hannahelastic at 11:01 AM on November 15, 2013

Cheapskate here. I guess the question is....are you trying to save water or are you trying to save money. I like lots of the advice above for saving water. As my current water heater gets older, I will remember some of these ideas! The world will be a better place.

But....if you are just trying to save water, do the lamo cheapskate thing and take advantage of other sources of toilets and showers as much as you can. Shower at the gym or work or school if you can. The same goes for toilet business...go more when you are out and less when you are in!
posted by BearClaw6 at 11:23 AM on November 15, 2013

I always make sure to run the shower temp up to full hot and then adjust it before you get in.
posted by InkaLomax at 3:52 PM on November 15, 2013

Our water here is piped in 150 miles, so we treat it like it's $1.00 a gallon. Point of use heaters work well for us because the ambient temperature of the water is ~80 degrees at the tap for nine months of the year, and it doesn't have to work very hard to raise the temperature another 15-20 degrees. When it's chilly in January and February, the water is ~60 degrees and it doesn't work so well, so figure that into your calculations.

Delta does seem to have the best low flow shower heads. My current one is 1.25 GPM and it works great. The toilet is by Standard with a 1.6 gallon single flush. After a quick glance at my water usage bill for the past 12 months, I'm hovering around 700 gallons a month (single, no laundry at home.)
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:10 AM on November 16, 2013

but baths waste less water and are easier to regulate in terms of temperature.

I don't think so. Most bathtubs would require at least 20 gallons of water, and probably more. A low-flow shower head uses 2.5 gallons per minute. A typical shower can run 8 minutes. do the maths. Also a 'Navy' shower, where you wet yourself down, turn off the water, lather up and then rinse, could save a lot more.

This however does not solve the wasted water while waiting for the hot water to fill the pipe. For that you need a hot water recirculation pump.
posted by Gungho at 5:59 AM on November 16, 2013

Response by poster: Follow-up:
We bought the Toto Aquia dual flush jobbie. No problems so far.

Also, bought the 1.25GPM Niagara showerhead. Also working as expected.
posted by GernBlandston at 9:39 AM on December 2, 2013

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