How to pour energy into being water wise

How to pour energy into being water wise

Kya deLongchamps says it’s time to bail out that household water waste before further changes to water policy sink your plans with a major bill.

THE Household Water Conservation Charge was introduced in mid-July, “promoting conservation and personal responsibility” (Uisce Eireann) — that sounds good, doesn’t it?

It’s actually just a shot across the household bow, with warning letters to those deemed to be using water excessively being sent out by our controller, Uisce Eireann.

The maximum fine is €500 per household, and to be fair you have an entire year to get your house in order, make a case for exemptions (for instance, if you have medical needs in the family) or to reduce consumption to the allowable litres per year.

Yvonne Harris, head of customer operations for Uisce Eireann, says that even if you don’t have a meter, Irish Water can discover if your use is outrageous.

“If a meter cannot be installed, Irish Water will connect a flow-monitoring device to the service pipe to monitor usage and determine if the household has excess use. 

“If the device confirms excess usage, charges will apply. Where excess use is confirmed at an unmetered house, excess-use charges will be applied at the capped metered charge of €250 per annum for one service (water or wastewater) or €500 per annum where a customer uses both services (water and wastewater).”

Is outrage really merited here? Is it the words ‘water’ and ‘charge’ in the same sentence? Is there an attempt at a sly foothold to get us all aboard universal water charges? 

Let’s jump in and explore just what the expectations are for reasonable water use and how you can implement a raft of small improvements to easily swim under the limit. 

The allowable usage per family of four is 213,000l of water annually, or just a splash under 146l of water per person per day. 

The Commission for Energy Regulation has promoted the idea that we actually use 133l per day on average (second quarter of 2016). The median use was found to be actually as low as 1,00l and without any leaks being allowed for was an incredibly modest 96l per person per day.

When debating the issue two years ago at Oireachtas Committee level, it was said that only 8% of households are spilling over the allowable 213,000l figure per year, per household — with excessive use due to undetermined factors (could be leaks, could be insane showering habits, it could be a break in a pipe outside the gateway). 

So 146l per day as now allowed by Uisce Eireann is reasonably generous given the commission’s figures of actual use in averages or as a mean figure. The target group of water hogs is targeted at those using 1.7 times the average.

We love to future-proof here at Irish Examiner Property & Interiors DIY, and we’ve talked before about engaging with your house in terms of energy bleed, but water intake is something most of us probably ignore (especially as water charges have been roundly sunk by public pressure). 

We’ve given you a way to check for leaks (see our panel) but what if you don’t have a meter installed?

It’s obviously easier to pour all the individual usage into one bucket per day — so for four of you, that’s 583.5l. 

Out of this we can take the washing machine, the dishwasher, showering, bathing, the toilet usage and general kitchen and outdoor water demands. Your house is not like any other. 

Apart from sly leaks and material failures you have a certain shower, particular water sipping appliances, and crucially, your family may have habits, social and sporting interests that could push the water threshold well over the brink.

If Uisce Eireann ever lowers the tide-mark on what they see as excessive usage — would you be in that pool? 

A study by Unilever in the UK some years ago, found that teenage boys averaged at nine minutes and 41 seconds per shower — the entire individual allowable water usage in one adolescent deluge in a modern power- assisted shower.

Toilets

Between 14l and 5l per flush, depending on the age of the cistern, let’s be optimistic and settle on even 9l. Water displacement balloons can be used to lower the usage in a truly ancient loo. 

‘If it’s yellow, let it mellow’ — not necessary and potentially unhealthy.

Still 20 uses of an old toilet at 9l per day is 180l of water use. Opt for a low-flo toilet with a dual-flush facility to spirit away liquid waste with less water than is used for solids.

A Hippo water saver for a 9l cistern (reducing to 7l on inflation — 40l saved on 20 flushes) starts at €10 for two, watersavingproducts.ie. 

How to pour energy into being water wise

If your toilet is constantly ‘running’ — have it checked for discreet leaks that could get out of the tank and into the fabric of the house.

Showers

Wildly disparate figures — so get to know what’s in your bathroom or on the way in. 

A power shower with a boost pump running at 17l per minute could gulp down 85l in five minutes. 

Two sports-mad GAA heroes who don’t use the club’s facilities, that’s 170l per day without the parents have a go, but well under our threshold, and I’m not in favour of depriving anyone of all that luxuriant water pressure. 

Still, keep an eye on energy used. Clip one minute from a reasonable five minute shower and you’re in pocket by 20% in kWhs. An aerating shower head can replace your existing shower head for a pleasing effervescent feel.

The aerator can also act as a limiter (where there is no limiter valve — about €10 a piece ex-installation).

Tap and tanks

A kitchen tap, full on will deliver 5l-10l of water depending on your unit and water pressure. 

Aerating technology in the kitchen and bathroom can reduce this to 3l of water per minute. Everywhere in the house, be wary of letting taps simply run. 

Use bowls for hand-washing dishes, a mug of water for cleaning your teeth. Common sense alert people. Don’t neglect drips once they are detected. 

Often a half screw with your hand, a replacement washer or a little plumber’s tape is all that’s required to stem the waste. 

How to pour energy into being water wise

According to Uisce Eireann, a dripping tap can waste over 1,500 litres of water per year. 

Tracking back from the taps — do you hear the water tank running in an open tank? You might be more aware of this at night when the household is quiet. 

If you’re not skilled enough to handle a ball-cock, again, get in a plumber to put the mechanism right or replace it.

Appliance science

Appliances have improved in leaps and bounds in the last 15 years in terms of water usage, but it’s well worth saving litres where you can, as we are using hot water, so again an energy demand in kWhs. 

It takes around 9-20 litres of hot water to wash 12 settings in a dishwasher – even at the worst figure — not bad at all and 7l per cycle is possible. Run full loads on eco-programs.

At around 65-100l per load, most washing machines use 10l per kilo of cottons washed at 40C. 

The eco-cycle on most machines will reduce water usage but only for a load of at least 80% capacity. Half loads do not equate to half the power and water.

Finally, I asked Yvonne Harris if the new fine for excessive use, a direct foothold leading to universal water charges? Some members of the public seem to think so. 

“The household water conservation charge is government policy. And Irish Water implements government policy as directed,” says Yvonne. I have a sinking feeling.

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