I must admit that I take water for granted. Hot water for baths and showers, adjustable temperatures for laundry, and filtered iced water from the refrigerator are all conveniences that we enjoy with the push of a button or turn of a knob. As the end user, I don’t really think about how this all happens as long as it works. But the other day while helping design a master bathroom, something hit a nerve, which prompted me to write this post.
In design magazines, there are always photos of magnificent showers with multiple shower heads and jets in very large shower stalls. For those who find pleasure and relaxation in a shower, this can be a desirable feature for a master bath. A client of mine is remodeling a master bathroom and in the shower stall, they were interested in the wall body showers. These are little squares or circles that can be strategically placed on a shower wall that shoots out jet streams of water. It’s supposed to act as a massage more than a body wash. These shower jets are in addition to an overhead rain shower and hand held shower.
However, if we think in terms of the mechanics and water consumption, it’s best to think this through carefully.
- First there is the concern about water pressure. To have these jets work as designed, we first have to think of the size of pipe. Depending on the age of the home, the size of pipe may need to be increased to supply the necessary amount of pressure.
- Next, there is the need and ability to supply the necessary quantity of hot water. American homes typically use hot water tank heaters, that have a certain amount of hot water readily available. They come in various sizes but are commonly around 50 and 75 gallons. Once this amount is used, there is no more hot water until the next 50 or 75 gallons is heated. In Japan, since homes are much smaller, they all have gas tankless water heaters which provide an endless amount of hot water on demand. This is becoming more popular in the “green” movement in the States, but it’s still not competitively priced, which makes it less popular.
- And finally, the cost of water consumption.
In terms of water consumption, with all these shower heads, you’re talking lots of water. Now, according to the sales person for the shower fixtures, it obviously depends on how many sources of water are being used at one time. If they are all turned on at once, this shower will consume up to 10 gallons of water a minute! Yes, you read it correctly - ten gallons! Which basically means a 50 gallon tank will give you a five minute shower. That’s actually a pretty eye opening number. So, to make sure you really want to install all these new features, you have to understand the real cost of the design.
Now, instead of a deluxe shower stall, how about looking at the Japanese soaking tub as an alternative. As a fan of the Japanese Ofuro, or soaking bath, I believe we can actually save water by having the whole family soak in the same hot water. Unlike, the Western tub, the Japanese system is very practical. You quickly shower and bathe in a separate area, and then soak in the tub for warmth and relaxation. You do not bathe in the tub. Using this method, the water stays clean for others to use avoiding the need to drain after for every use. Their bath tub mechanical system also can be programed to reheat the soaking water the following day. You can read more about the Japanese ofuro on a post I wrote earlier by clicking here.
As the population in the world keeps growing this may be a great way to conserve water. Just as the need for public transportation increases, we may see the need to revert to public bath houses. This may be a strange concept to the Westerner, but for those of us who grew up with a public bath system, it’s quite an attractive alternative. The I-Ching says that life is cyclical. So, maybe in the future we will do away with individualism and return to community life. You never know, communal baths might be a ‘new’ way to conserve and sustain our use of water.