Running Hot and Cold

We have just had to replace our 17-year-old washing machine. I won’t go into the details of its demise, but it has gone to be recycled – a service that we decided to pay for to ensure that it actually happened. So, we have had to buy a new one…

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hot and cold

After some research, we chose to buy an Ebac, the only company whose washing machines are made in the UK. The choice was relatively straightforward as they seemed to have the best ethical rating that we could find and we are trying very hard to buy British whenever we can. However, the big choice was between ‘single fill’ and ‘dual fill’. (“Oh,” I hear you saying “what an exciting life you do lead, dear Snail.”) For those of you not au fait with washing machines, the difference is whether all the water comes into the machine cold (single fill) or whether you connect to both your hot and cold supplies so that not all the water heating is done in the machine (dual fill). For us, it initially seemed like a no-brainer: our water is heated overnight using cheap electricity (known as Economy 7), so let’s use the cheap hot water to do our washing. Yes?

 

And then we started reading up on the subject and it appeared that it may not be worth it. Modern washing machines, you see, use relatively little water and tend to wash at relatively low temperatures. So, most of the limited amount of water that is required by the machine from the hot source is supplied by the water already sitting in the pipe (i.e. cool). So the argument goes that you mostly fill the machine with cooled water whilst replacing it with hot water in your pipes, which then cools down and wastes energy. Hmmm.

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the new machine

However, we needed to think about our own domestic situation. Because we live in a bungalow, and because of the way that our plumbing is arranged, our hot water tank is actually less than 1m away from our washing machine… ok, there’s a bit more pipe than that because it goes down and then up, but there’s no more than 2.5m of pipe, including the connector pipes. So, the water runs hot very quickly through to the washing machine. And, therefore, our final decision was to buy a dual fill machine. So far, it seems to have been the right choice- the machine is taking in a significant proportion of hot water, based on the temperature of the pipe, and this means that the machine itself should be using less energy than with single fill. Combining this, when possible, with only washing on days when it’s sunny and the solar panels are working, should be the best option both financially and environmentally.

 

It’s all too easy to read advice on the web and make what appears to be an informed decision. However, a bit of thinking is also good too… the internet cannot replace common sense!

Honestly, I have felt better

Sometimes it just feels like everything is falling apart

Sometimes it just feels like everything is falling apart

Today I am really quite depressed. Usually I do not let politics impinge much on my life… I know that what happens in my country and the rest of the world is important, but I prefer to focus on things that I can have a direct impact on: my garden, my community, my local economy, my buying choices and so on. Today, however, I am very upset by the results of our recent elections – those to select our representatives in the European Parliament. I’s not so much the fact that he highest number of votes cast went to UKIP – a bunch of racist, homophobic, climate-change deniers – although that is bad enough. My real issue is that so few people actually voted – only about a third of the population were bothered enough to turn out.

Now, I accept that you might now want to vote for any of the parties or people on offer, and that it would be great to have a box to tick for ‘none of the above’, but failing that, just go and spoil your ballot paper – that way at least you have registered your involvement. Many commentators much more eloquent than me have described why it is important to vote, so I don’t plan to go into the arguments here. I do, however, wish to highlight the fact that the right of ordinary people to vote in Britain was hard-won and it’s a privilege that many people in the world still don’t have. Let’s not give a mandate to dictators just because we can’t be bothered to participate.

Pre-felting

Pre-felting

So, to cheer myself up I decided to be simultaneously destructive and creative. Some people break things when they are upset, but this just upsets me more. However, today felt like a day for transformation… and I have directed my attention to a cashmere cardigan. I loved this cardigan… it was very expensive… I wore it until it started to fall to pieces… then I mended it and wore it some more. Finally, however, it was beyond hope and I put it in a drawer because I simply could not bear to throw it away. But I decided that today was the day to transform it. I thought about cutting it into pieces to make a cushion cover, scarf or even a square for the masterpiece, but I knew that it was really too fragile for this and so, the only answer was washing-machine felting.

Post-felting

Post-felting

First I put it in the machine with a throw that I use on my work chair and that Sam had slobbered all over this morning (thank you Sam), but I was nervous and only risked a temperature of 50ºC. It came out a bit felted, but not very. So, since it’s a sunny day and the solar panels are doing their stuff, I then put it in with some towels at 90ºC… kill or cure! The result was a bit scrunchy, but definitely felt and usable for something… I just have to decide what now. It’s interesting that you can still see the knitted structure:

Knitting still visible

Knitting still visible

But that closer inspection reveals the felting:

Felted cashmere

Felted cashmere

Well, at least I’ve achieved something positive today.

 

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!

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!

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