Water is one of the dominant resources impacted by climate change. As earth’s population increases, water quality and quantity effectively decreases. Fortunately there are some things in our control that we can change to decrease our environmental impacts, particularly within our homes.
Considering ways on how to reuse and recycle rain and storm water can be an effective way of reducing the ecological footprint of your home. Other ways include solar power for water heating or installing fixtures and products with a water conservation rating of no less than 3A.
Why water efficiency is important
Water is a finite resource that is unfortunately being distributed unevenly across the globe. Whilst the human population continues to increase and industrial activities intensify, the amount of water available for consumption remains the same, causing a lack of water in certain undeveloped areas.
Whilst some manipulation of the environment is unavoidable, certain human interventions can be minimised or avoided altogether. However, with incipient poverty and continuous population increase, government policy has been encouraged to adopt the cheapest and fastest method to meet social demands. Consequently, the following issues are often ignored:
- Water scarcity;
- Deteriorating water quality;
- Failures in food security; and
- Environmental degradation
(Falkenmark & Widstrand, 1992)
How to be more water efficient
With careful consideration when planning your home, it is possible to effectively reduce your impacts on the environment. Possible considerations could be the volume per flush of a toilet or the use of urine separating or micro-flushing toilets. Other considerations may be the volume per cycle of a dishwasher or washing machine.
According to the Master Builders Association Victoria for Green Living, all fixtures and appliances should have no less than a Water Conservation Rating of 3A to be considered water efficient. However, there is a common misconception that these products are more expensive than a regular fixture.
Depending on the product, the cost of an environmental appliance may be no more expensive than a regular appliance. However, for the products that include additional costs, it is important to consider the ongoing maintenance costs of regular products. The reason a product is labelled “environmental” is due to its efficiency of required resources. This means that whilst in use, it consumes less water or electricity and generally has a better lifecycle than regular products. Less water and energy consumption effectively reduces the cost of water and energy bills on an ongoing basis, meaning the upfront price of the product is paid back over time in savings.
Water efficiency in water tanks
As conveyed in Figure 1, outdoor activities such as washing your car or watering plants consumes 58% of regular water usage in domestic properties. Water tanks are an excellent counter-balance for this fact.
When planning a home, try to maximise roof space for the collection of rainwater. It is suggested by the Melbourne Building Association Victoria, that 4kL tank should be the minimum size installed to be most cost and water effective. This water can be plumbed indoors to appliances such as the toilet, hot water tank, and laundry.
In addition to this, it is advised to plumb the tank to constant water use to ensure the tank never gets full. Therefore, you would be able to collect more during rainfall. As long as efficient water fixtures are installed inside the house, it should be possible to maintain a constant flow.
Efficient hot water systems
It is generally the finer details that can be easily missed that may critically impact the efficiency of our household appliances. When considering the planning of your development, try to group hot water points close together. By doing so, less heat will be wasted as the water travels along the pipeline. It will also save on the cost of piping (always beneficial!). Also to try locate your heater or tank closet to the most frequent draw off point, which is usually the kitchen.
Use A/NZS 3500.4 standards when insulating hot water pipes. It will state the level required for your climate zone. Ten metres of 13mm copper pipe will contain one litre of water. If the pipe is not insulated correctly, that water is wasted each time you are waiting for the water to get hot. It also wastes the energy required to keep the pipe hot after the tap is turned off as it cools down too quickly. Furthermore, try to avoid plastic pipes, as they are not good insulators. Dependant on where they are used, they will require the same if not more insulation than copper.
When electricity is used for heating, around 90% of the fuels primary energy is lost due to inefficient transmission systems and electrical appliances. If your refer to figures 2 & 3, you will see that water heating consumes 27% of energy for a regular domestic property and emits 28% of total greenhouse gasses caused from domestic properties each year. Whilst gas is a good source for heating hot water, there is a great scope of the use of renewable energy such as solar power for domestic water heating.
Before considering whether you would like to install a solar hot water system, you must ensure your roof is strong enough to support a mounted solar water heater (generally 500kg). However, the benefits of a solar water heating system can effectively reduce carbon monoxide emissions and can produce 100% of our hot water needs during the summer months (Callard & Millis, 2014).
Callard & Millis (2014) also contend that within half an hour, enough of the sun’s energy is received to power all of humanity’s activities for a year and will inevitably eliminate and save you money for ongoing energy costs, as the electricity then used is free. Therefore, whilst they can be pricey to install, a solar water heating system can be a really effective solution both economically and environmentally in the long term.
To find out more on Really Group’s Green Principles, please follow the link provided.
Callard, S & Millis, D (2014) The Eco Living Book, Imagine Publishing Ltd, Bournemouth, Dorset
Falkenmark, M & Widstrand, C (1992), Population and Water Resources: A Delicate Balance, Population Bulletin, Vol. 47, No. 3, Pp. 2-35.
Master Builder Green Living Pty Ltd (2011), Master Builder Green Living, Australia