An audacious dare

Published Wednesday, October 17, 2012 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal.

Pssstt... are you ready for a challenge – one that will save money, water and energy?  It’s a simple thing to do, and it’s great for the planet – but you might be uneasy about telling anyone you’re doing it.

Here’s the challenge: skip your morning shower at least once this week.

When I issue that dare to audiences, especially the middle and high school types, I often hear snickers and murmurs that sound a lot like, "uh-uh". 

In the sterile, ultra-clean world we have created for ourselves, skipping the centrepiece of our morning routine might seem counterintuitive and perhaps even gross.  But there are many good reasons to at least give it a second thought.

Precious water
The first reason is the obvious one: to conserve water.  Our region has an abundance of water, but that’s allowed us to develop some lavish consumption habits.  On a per capita basis, Canadians and Americans consume more water than anyone else on the planet.

But, as periodic boil orders and seasonal shortages remind us, it’s unwise to take anything for granted.  Conservation is always a good policy.  Showers make up a fair portion of a home’s water consumption, especially in households with teenagers.

Energy intensive 
The second reason is less obvious but more significant.  Showers have a huge cost in terms of money, energy and emissions. 

Consider this: hot water heating accounts for about 20% of a home’s energy bill.  Every 10-minute shower taken under an old-style, high flow showerhead adds about 65 cents to a monthly power bill.  Taken daily, that equals about $20 per month.  Ouch.

Water heating also equals emissions.  Because a good portion of NB’s electricity is generated from fossil fuels, that luxurious 10-minute shower results in about three kilograms of carbon dioxide.  Ouch again.

And not to be overlooked is the energy used in getting that water to the showerhead and then disposing of it when it runs down the drain.  Pumps, water treatment plants and sewage treatment facilities eat up a lot of energy and money.

Extreme clean
Finally, if truth be told, most of us shower daily not because we're dirty.  We’re not farmers or fishermen, we don’t do manual labour and we don’t get sweaty or smelly. 

No, we shower every morning because it feels good.  It's our wake-up therapy: a refreshing blast of warmth to help us shake off the lingering lethargy of sleep.

But here’s a hitch: there’s evidence to suggest that showering daily with hot water and harsh soaps isn’t good for us; it can strip our skin of its natural oils, making it more prone to dryness, cracking and more.

So our morning feel-good isn't very good for the planet.  And as it turns out, maybe it’s not the greatest for us either. 

So what to do?  Here are a couple of ideas.

First of all, take the challenge and skip a shower.  I’m betting that if everyone in NB decided to do that tomorrow morning, the only person who would notice would be the person down at the utility monitoring our electricity grid; they’d wonder what happened to the usual morning peak caused by a quarter-million water heaters kicking in.  Our planet might notice too. 

If you’re not quite ready to start tomorrow, why not try it on Saturday and take things from there?  And also consider these added ideas:

  1. install a low flow shower head, a simple installation that will pay for itself in about a month
  2. take shorter showers
  3. adjust the taps to lower the temperature of your shower just a bit
  4. look into a solar hot water system – a significant investment, but the sun never sends a bill

Looking to save money, water and energy?  Skip a shower or two this week, and every week.  At first, you might be shy about telling anyone.  But after you see how much you’re saving on your energy bill, you might have a hard time not telling them.