Wednesday 22 August 2012

The South West Water bill. HOW MUCH?!

The water bill finally came. Living in Oxford, the four of us paid just over £120 pounds for 6 months' water. Our first bill from South West Water was something over £150. We sucked some air in and decided it must be for 6 months. Hold on, we have a water meter... looking again, the bill was for one month. We looked at the meter. The meter agreed with the bill. We filled a large bin with water to crudely check the meter's measurement (difference of before and after meter readings). The water meter agreed with the bin. We had used £150 of water in one month!

High price

We could see that the price of water was quite a lot higher - around double - than we'd paid for Thames Water. We looked on the Web for "South West Water prices". It told us "they're really, really high". We asked the neighbours who said something about tourism and clean beaches. Perhaps the South West could charge visitors a toilet tax.

The price South West Water charges (call it £5 per cubic metre or 5p per 10 litres) is only half the problem. I kept note of the water meter's progress over the course of a few days and it quickly became apparent that the water was being used in the bathroom.

Where the water went

Our new washing machine uses only 60 litres (30p) per wash. We run the washer almost daily, so up to £10 per month. We're quite frugal on washing up water, so much so that it was difficult to measure it on the meter (it measures to the nearest 10 litres).

The rather grand cistern on the toilet was 10 litres (now reduced by introducing some 'foreign objects' to displace the water inside the cistern), so cost 5p per flush. With two small children and being in the habit of flushing it for the slightest excuse, we could have been flushing it anywhere between 20 and 30 times per day. That could account for 200-300litres = £30 to £45 per month. We think we've reduced the volume of water at each flush to about 7 litres and adopted the advice from the WWW:
If it's yellow, let it mellow
If it's brown, flush it down
If you visit and notice us twitching as you head for the bathroom door, it's either because we're embarrassed by our own mellowness or we're holding ourselves back from going all 'RyanAir' and charging the aforementioned tax.

So where did the extra £100 pounds go? What was quite a shock - even though we knew we were using a lot of water and had probably already being cautious - was the amount used in the shower.

The shower

This house delivers a luxurious quantity of water from the shower, but delivers 20-30 litres of water before the temperature settles down (first hot at nearly ten) and then it doesn't stay settled down for long. In between episodes of comfortably-warm water, it's too cold or too hot. Tens of litres were going straight down the drain.

I measured the kids' showers (together) at around 140 litres (70p) and one adult shower around 70 litres (35p). The other adult shower came in at around 30 litres (15p) for a total of around £40 per month, so it seemed as though something could be done to reduce consumption in the shower. Those measurements were post-bill, so we were already trying to cut down. I suspect the bulk of our water excesses were in the shower and could have easily been around £100 per month.

We tried the trick of slightly closing the main water tap for the house, and this did slow down the outflow in the shower, but seemed to make its temperature even more chaotic. It also produced an impressive 'foghorn' sound which wasn't very nice.

The answer

There's nothing we can easily do to the house plumbing to save water as we rent this house, so we searched for a camping shower. I had used a 'solar shower bag' on long camping expeditions to dry regions before and knew I could have an adequate (by expedition standards) shower in around one litre of water. Solar shower bags need to be hung up somewhere and there isn't really anywhere substantial enough in the rented house to hang them.

We settled on a Hozelock 4in1 Porta Shower from Amazon. It holds 5 litres of water, though you can squeeze an extra litre in at the cost of more frequent pumping at the start of a shower. It's air-powered with a pump handle on top that needs 10-12 strokes 3-4 times during the shower depending on how fast you want the water to flow.

The air space at the top of the bottle when you initially fill water to the 5 litre mark is where the air you pump in goes. Pumping raises the pressure of that air which then pushes against the water in the bottle, causing it to steadily spray out of the head. As the water level goes down, the volume of air at the top of the tank expands with a corresponding drop in pressure and hence the flow reduces at the shower head. To increase the flow you must increase the pressure in the bottle by pumping again. Pumping for 5-10 seconds gives a minute or so of shower.

The bottle itself sits on the floor of the bath - no need to hang it - and has a practical shower head that fits easily into the bathroom's existing shower head holder. We fill it to 3.5 litres with cold water and add 1.5 litres of boiling hot water from a kettle. It's simple, seems durable and really delivers on its promise. We put a little J-cloth underneath the bottle to protect the bath during pumping, just in case.

There's a handy trigger on the shower head which you can press to spray water. It also easily latches into position so you can use the shower hands-free as you normally would. We use the trigger for showering the kids and latch it open for us adults. You unlatch the trigger while soaping up or answering the phone - it's just a slide of the thumb - and latch it open again to rinse off.

My shower is usually over after 3 litres or so but I've yet to start predicting my consumption, choosing instead to have a bit of 'luxury' instead and finish the full 5 litres. A full hairwash + face-shave (I like to shave in the shower) shower takes around 4 litres, but I've yet to come close to running out. 5 litres is also plenty to shower the 2 kids together. Our family daily shower consumption is now 15 litres or 7.5p per day / just over £2 per month.

I expect we should be saving something on energy too. Even if the kettle may not be the most efficient way to heat water, we're heating far less of it. An unexpected but very welcome side effect of the reduced shower water usage is that the bathroom - whose damp issues are evident to more than one sense - is much less damp than it was, presumably because there's so much less steam in the air. That does also mean that it's not as warm, so we may end up turning up the heating a little bit in cooler weather.

It does feel a little bit like hard times having to pump the shower and it's not at all like standing under Niagara Falls but if you're keen to keep tight control over your shower water usage, I'd say the Hozelock 4in1 Porta Shower would be hard to beat.

We have also been flushing our toilet with rainwater!

1 comment:

  1. Always good to be aware, love the if it's yellow let it mellow advice...don't think my wife would be willing to adopt it as standard practice though!