Not again…

Dear Spirit of Showers

I really do not understand what I have done wrong.

Every time I have had a shower since the plumber came and installed the new unit, I have thanked you and felt deep gratitude for the hot water at the flick of a switch. I have been careful with my water use and I gave you a tribute: I donated money to Water Aid so that other people, less fortunate than me, could access clean water.

Was it because I had a bath yesterday? Do you feel that I have been unfaithful to you? Honestly, I just wanted to soak in some warm water for a while and relax my muscles. I feel that refusing to let me wash my hair afterwards under the shower was a bit petty.

I know that the shower itself is not broken and that it is the electrical switch in the ceiling that has failed this time, so perhaps it’s the spirit of electricity who is punishing me, but I can’t help being suspicious since it’s the only electrical problem I am experiencing and it is, once again, the shower that is affected.

I consider it particularly mean that you made this happen an hour and a half after the departure of Mr Snail – who could have fixed it (he’s good with electricity, even if he does struggle with carpentry). I also think that making the cord snap as I gave it a sharp tug, so that I got whacked across the back of my hand was just adding injury to insult.

I am afraid that you give me no choice but to abandon you and go and have a shower elsewhere… thank goodness for friends.

Yours in exasperation

The Snail of Happiness

For decorative purposes only

For decorative purposes only


Soaking my cares away

Soaking my cares away

I  wrote quite a bit earlier in the year about water-saving, mainly because we had managed to reduce our consumption (and therefore our bill) by so much. However, I have to confess that I do like a soak in the bath sometimes. It’s not all about getting clean – I much prefer a shower for that – it’s about relaxation. Having a shower tends to be invigorating, but having a bath leaves me feeling warm and comfortable – just ready to curl up with a mug of tea and a good book. So, how do I square the two?

Well, sometimes it seems important to care for yourself… your own mental and physical well-being. So, just as knitting has been linked to mental well-being and can have more positive effects than anti-depressants (1), I’m pretty convinced that having a bath can improve my mental and physical state. And that’s why it is sometimes the right thing to do.

However, keeping in mind sustainability, I want to get the most out of the resources that I do use. Someone suggested to me a few weeks ago that we should try to make use of every resource for at least three functions. With the bath water, the three would be: cleaning me; improving my mental state; watering plants/flushing the toilet; and occasionally a fourth function of cleaning the dogs.

So, this afternoon, having spent a chunk of the day wrestling (unsuccessfully) with technology, I had a bath. And now I’m going to start knitting another snail… no wonder I’m feeling relaxed.


(1) Riley J, Corkhill B, Morris C (2013) The Benefits of Knitting for Personal and Social Wellbeing in Adulthood: Findings from an International Survey. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 76(2), 50-57

More water-saving

Following on from yesterday’s post referring to the report from the Energy Saving Trust, I want to examine what it is possible to do to reduce water consumption. But before I do, you might be wondering why the Energy Saving Trust wrote a report on saving water… well, according to their website, they ‘offer impartial advice to communities and households on how to reduce carbon emissions, use water more sustainably and save money on energy bills’. Energy and water are linked because lots of the water that we use in our homes is hot (showers, baths, cups of tea…) and so reducing water consumption can also reduce energy consumption. In addition, producing the water that comes out of our taps requires energy because it is treated to get rid of pathogens etc and when we send it on its way down the drain, it also has to be treated to make it clean enough to release into the environment. The EST says:

Heated water (for activities such as baths, showers, washing up and water-using electrical appliances) contributes a lot to energy bills. But this link, and its implications, often goes unnoticed by householders

Unfortunately, I was not greatly inspired by the report and the measures suggested in it. The EST doesn’t really seem to know who their target audience is, so the recommendations they come up with are a mix of things we can do as individuals and things that governments should do. This is their final list:

  • Aim to replace all remaining old or high-flow showerheads with water efficient showerheads (with flow rates of eight litres per minute or fewer).
  • Increase efforts on water efficiency education, specifically to promote the benefits of shorter showers.
  • Aim to either retrofit and/or replace all high-volume flush toilets.
  • Ensure that the most energy and water efficient machines available are promoted and incentivised.
  • When purchasing or replacing waterusing appliances, choose the most energy and water efficient model.
  • Increase the penetration of water meters in GB housing stock. Reported uptake of water efficient devices and behaviours was found to be greater in metered properties. The rollout of water metering can also provide a key opportunity for householder engagement and education on household-specific water saving opportunities.
  • Seek to combine water and energy saving education and delivery schemes for the benefit of the consumer.
  • Support and promote the Water Label by linking with built environment, procurement and water efficiency initiatives.

Not much for us ordinary folk to work with there, but there was a list in a table on page 28 comparing what people do in metered vs unmetered homes, that might be a little more helpful:

  • Wash dishes with a bowl, not under a running tap
  • Have a cistern displacement device
  • Have an eco-showerhead
  • Use a dishwasher eco-setting
  • Boil only what they need in the kettle
  • Use a water butt in their garden
  • Have a dual flush toilet
  • Do not run the tap whilst brushing teeth
  • Fill the dishwasher before use
  • Fill the washing machine before use
  • Use a hose trigger when watering garden
  • Do not have a dripping tap

But, frankly, I was looking for suggestions that were a bit more creative, and statements like “Flushing the toilet is an unavoidable fact of life” is, frankly, simply not true. First of all, you don’t always have to flush – for example lots of people don’t at night because of the noise; second, there are toilets that use no water, and I’m not talking about huts at the end of the garden, these days there are all sorts of high tech solutions (see, for example, The Little House Company); and third, I know lots of folks who use urine as a resource – on the compost heap or as a liquid plant feed. Perhaps the Energy Saving Trust think we’re all too squeamish to take responsibility for the waste we produce.

That aside – and I know there are people who live in situations where there is little choice about dealing with human waste – there are all sorts of ways we can use our water more creatively and more efficiently. Metan, one of my favourite bloggers, wrote a post a while back in which she described her use of grey water from the washing machine. A simple solution with a pipe allowed her to water her lawn with water that would otherwise have just gone down the drain. Living in Australia, water is a precious commodity, so she found a way to use it twice. And in a comment after yesterday’s post, my friend Linda described multiple uses of one lot of water when she’s camping.

No hose pipes here: this courgette plant is certainly doing well on washing-up water

No hose pipes here: this courgette plant is certainly doing well on washing-up water

When the garden needs water, we always use the stuff we’ve washed-up with (in a bowl not with a dishwasher). Similarly, if I hand wash clothes, then that water goes on the garden too… or in the toilet cistern if it’s wet outside. In fact, hand washing is criticised in the EST report because it uses so much more water than a full washing machine. Well, fair enough if you have sufficient delicate washing to fill your washing machine, but often you don’t. And I actually use very little water for hand washing because I use Euclan, a washing liquid designed for wool that requires no rinsing.

Whilst reducing the time you spend in the shower or the number of baths you have can cut down on your water use (as suggested in the report), using your water creatively and more than once (not suggested in the report) can have a huge impact, as you can see from the figures I quoted yesterday. So, if your shower is over the bath, next time you have a shower, leave the plug in and use the soapy water in the toilet cistern for the next few flushes… you’ll be amazed the difference it makes to your water consumption.

And now I want to know – has any one else got good tips they’d like to share about saving water? I’m wondering if we can cut down a bit more!

Saving water – lots of water

Last week the British Press ran a story about saving water. The reason was the publication of a report from the Energy Saving Trust, entitled At Home with Water, which you can download here.

As regular readers know, in our household we do lots to reduce our water consumption, so I was keen to discover any innovative ways that we could do better. Sadly, for anyone who uses their common sense about water consumption, the report was disappointing. It starts well, including the statement:

Reducing water consumption is not an uncomfortable burden. We don’t have to be noticeably more frugal – we only have to be aware of the impact of our decisions and make some very simple changes.

Great! I can be aware of the impact that my decisions make! Only, it turns out that I already am aware, so it’s hard to improve. However, there are some interesting statistics (based on people’s responses when using The Water Energy Calculator). For example, showers account for 25% of water use and toilets for 22%, whilst watering the garden only accounts for 1%!

An extract from our latest water bill... I wondered why it was such a big scale up the side!

An extract from our latest water bill… I wondered why it was such a big scale up the side!

It also reveals that, on average, individuals use 142 l of water per day. Now, this is an interesting statistic, because in total in our two-person house last quarter, we used 0.06 cubic metres per day… since a cubic metre is 1000 litres, we use 60 l per day… that’s 30 l each… that’s just over 1/5 of the average. WOW! I knew we were good, but I didn’t realise we were that good. However, I don’t want you to think that this is at the expense of cleanliness: we each shower three or four times a week and the clothes are washed in a (full) water-efficient washing machine. BUT we rarely flush the toilet with water direct from the mains – it’s either re-used shower water or rainwater. We used to have the mains turned on to the toilet cistern, but it’s off now and that explains the recent drop in consumption that you can see in the graph on the left… allowing some mains filling led to the use of 1 l of mains water per flush (because we couldn’t fill the cistern from our water bottles fast enough to stop this happening).

According to the report, metered homes use about 3% less water than unmetered ones, but we seem to have beaten this figure somewhat.

More on what the Energy Saving Trust suggests we all do in a post later this week, along with some suggestions of my own. For now, however, I’m just going to sit here and feel smug!

Water Audit

When we first moved into our house about 14 years ago, we were horrified at the size of the water rates. The house, notionally, has three bedrooms ( although in fact it now has one bedroom and two offices because we both work from home) and so the water rates reflected a family residence. Since there are only two of us, we decided that it would be prudent to have a water meter fitted… and one was installed within about four months of us moving in.

Having a water meter provides a great incentive to think about your water consumption. When ours was first fitted we thought very carefully about how we used water. We already had water butts to provide water for the garden and we were careful with our use for showers, but we did have an old, very water-hungry washing machine. Its age was showing as it also used to migrate across the kitchen during spin cycles. We decided to replace it and, after much research into water and energy consumption, bought a new one. The old one was given away to friends who used if for several more years and the ‘new’ one is still going strong 13 years later. Our careful water consumption reduced the bills to half the amount we would have paid unmetered and we were very pleased.

The IBC stores water collected off the shed roof

The IBC stores water collected off the shed roof

Some years later we instigated the use of rainwater in the toilet cistern. Using the water that is piped into your house to flush the toilet is wasteful of both water and energy… after all, that treatment that it goes through before it reaches you requires energy and resources. According to the Environment Agency, almost 1% of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK originate from the water industry, so reducing consumption of water helps reduce carbon dioxide emissions. We have a very low-tech approach to filling the cistern: we collect rainwater off the roof of the house, the greenhouse and shed in water butts and an IBC, then we fill 5l bottles with it and when we’ve flushed the toilet, we take the lid off the cistern and pour 5l of water in.

Until recently, the toilet remained with the mains water switched on, so that any shortfall was topped up by the mains. However, a few weeks ago we received a water bill. It was slightly higher than usual, although within the margin of error due to rounding. It did prompt us, though, to look at our weekly water consumption, and the figure did seem to be higher than we could easily account for. We wondered whether we had underestimated the number of washes we did every week, the exact amount of water used in the shower, the inclusion of occasional baths? Eventually we decided to investigate how much mains water was going into the cistern each time we flushed. We turned off the tap that isolates the toilet from the mains, flushed, tipped 5l of rainwater in and discovered a shortfall of 1.5l before the ‘usual’ level in the cistern was reached. Our water pressure is quite high, and we had only ever noticed water entering from the mains for a short time during filling, but each time, this has amounted to 1.5l!

The issue has been resolved – the toilet remains isolated from the mains unless we run out of rainwater or have guests (we don’t ask visitors to participate in water transfer) and we await our next water bill with interest… I suspect that the difference is going to be noticeable. Now, we’re wondering how else we can cut down!

A green bath puff

A couple of months ago a friend of mine posted on Facebook that he was seeking ‘green’ alternatives to two common items: cotton buds and a bath puff. I decided to take up the challenge.

Cotton buds (Q-tips) are relatively straightforward to find in a more environmentally friendly form than the traditional plastic stem and bleached cotton tip, but bath puffs (also known as bath lilies) are not quite so easy. The standard ones that you buy in the supermarket or pharmacy are made of nylon; this means they are not at all absorbent and they are slightly rough but not too abrasive. Trying to find an exact green equivalent has, so far, proved impossible. However, I embarked on a bit of research to see if it was possible to create something that would at least do the job…

First, I wanted to discover if there were any patterns out there to knit such things. A quick search on the Ravelry website revealed lots of crochet patterns and a few ones to knit. So, I selected a knitting pattern that looked like it had potential and considered appropriate yarns. Various patterns suggested using ‘dish cloth cotton’ – a yarn type that seems to be widely available in the US but not in the UK.  The pattern that I had bought suggested a yarn made of 100% nettle fibre yarn that, again, I could not buy in the UK. Some searching of the interweb helped me to identify various potential alternative yarns and several sources for these. Of course, however a seller describes a yarn, until you are using it, you can’t really appreciate its properties, so this is where the experimentation (and associated expense began).

First, I found some organic cotton yarn in an e-bay auction. Although the colour was not what I would have preferred, I managed to put in a winning bid and so received a few balls of yarn to try out. I knitted it up to a slightly adapted version of the pattern I had bought and tried it out in the shower. And discovered that… cotton is remarkably absorbent. That’s why they make towels out of it. What I had created was, basically, a flannel (washcloth) on a string. In fact, it’s quite nice to wash with, but it’s not a replacement for the nylon version. In addition, the pattern that I used made something that even looked rather like a scrunched up flannel on a string!

Organic cotton (L) and Cotton/hemp (R) knitted bath puffs

I decided to try an alternative yarn. This time I tracked down some hemp and cotton blend yarn. I really wanted to test out the characteristics of the yarn, so I decided to stick to the same pattern as before. Once more unto the shower… a little more abrasion this time, but still really quite absorbent… and still looking rather like a scrunched up flannel on a string… and it takes an age to dry, so has the propensity to become smelly if you forget to hang it up in an airy place after use (also, as a result, no good for travelling).

So, next I thought that I would try to address the aesthetics. All the patterns that I could find that looked rather like the original nylon version were crocheted rather than knitted. The problem, then, was my inability to crochet! Not daunted, I decided that the time had come to learn! So, using some more of the organic cotton yarn I created… a brain:

Intelligent bathing?

Well, ok, the colour doesn’t help, but that aside it does look like both a brain and something you might use to wash with. And in fact it turns out to be lovely and soft, and fine to wash with, but not textured enough to provide an invigorating showering experience! And it stays soggy for a long time.

Nettle twine bath puff

I concluded that I had found a suitable pattern, but not a suitable yarn. Cotton and cotton blends seem to me to be too absorbent; anything with wool in is likely to turn into felt with all the soap and rubbing, and so I turned from yarn to what could best be described as twine. This tends to be made out of plant fibres, has a narrower gauge than knitting yarn and is often quite rough. The fact that it is thin means that any pattern designed for thicker yarn would have to be modified, but that is not an insurmountable problem. So, the latest incarnations are one in bamboo and one in nettle twine. Both are still more absorbent than nylon, but I think that this is a fact that I will simply have to accept with any natural fibre. The bamboo is quite silky, so not very abrasive (and the one I made was a bit on the small side). The nettle twine is better, with some texture, so this is the version that I have sent off to my friend… I await his verdict. The pattern needs some modification for use with the twine to make it a little more bulky (the one pictured is a bit loose) but I feel that I am homing in on a solution. I’ve also got some hemp twine to experiment with, although I think that might have a bit too much texture!

This does mean that our house is filling up with a wide variety of things to wash with – some more efficient than others – so if nothing else we should have no problems keeping clean for years to come!

February 2013: After further research, there is a new post here with more information on the crochet pattern and a yarn that seems to work!

October 2013: I now have bath puffs for sale… details to the right and more info and pictures here.

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