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Water Solutions: Low-Flow is the Way to Go

By Christy Heitger-Ewing
Published: October 7, 2011
I love a nice, long shower, especially after a long, hard run. I also like to flush the toilet, preferably after every use. When I’m at the cabin, however, I make a concerted effort to take short showers and adhere to the “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down” rule.
    After all, water conservation is important. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that by 2013, 36 states will have water shortages due to inefficient management. Wisely, many cabin owners look to low-flow solutions to help them limit water consumption, which has the added benefit of improving the performance of their septic systems.  

Don’t Let Low-Flow Scare You
When I first heard the term “low-flow,” I thought, “Uh-oh.” I’m all for going green, but I feared a low-flow showerhead would leave me with a wimpy stream of water. I also worried that if I attached a flow-limiting device to my faucets, my crusty barbeque dishes wouldn’t come clean. Thankfully, I learned that low-flow does not equal low-pressure.
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Showers
My kids adore bubble baths, but the way I see it, when they’re at the cabin, they can splash in the lake all they want. Nathalie Bowers, public information officer with Emerald Coast Utilities in Pensacola, Fla., notes that a 5-minute shower uses 14 gallons of water, whereas a typical bath uses 50 gallons. Furthermore, installing a low-flow showerhead saves up to 750 gallons of water a month.
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Faucets
A leaky faucet can be costly. One drop per second equals a loss of 2,700 gallons per year. While you’re fixing a leak, you may want to consider attaching an aerator to the end of the faucet, because experts maintain that a faucet aerator (a small mesh screen that helps divide the flow of water) is one of the most inexpensive yet effective means of conserving water.
    The combination of low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators can reduce a household’s water consumption by as much as 50 percent.
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WHY LOW-FLOW? – Flushing uses more water inside a home than any other fixture or appliance. And excessive water use can unnecessarily stress your septic system.
Toilets
Flushing uses more water inside your home than anything else. But there are ways to minimize consumption. Dual-flush toilets give users a choice between a half (0.8 gallons) and a full (1.6 gallons) flush. Also consider purchasing a high-quality toilet.
    “The difference between spending $78 and $250 for a toilet is that with a lower grade model, you may be plunging your life away,” says Bowers. A less expensive bowl has a narrower opening, which increases the chance of clogging.
    Leaky toilets can waste up to 375 gallons of water daily. Bowers suggests dropping food coloring into the tank and waiting 15 minutes to see if the color enters the bowl; if it does, you have a leak.

Washing Machines & Dishwashers
Most top-loading washing machines use 40 gallons per load; front-loaders use 20 gallons. Energy Star-rated machines use 35–50 percent less water per load.
    If you have a dishwasher at your cabin, run it only when it’s full. You might also want to forego prerinsing dishes (though this goes against everything my mom taught me). The key is to not hold a dish beneath a running faucet. Instead, let dishes soak and/or hand wash them using two tubs of water (one for sudsing, one for rinsing).
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Outdoor Irrigation
Running a sprinkler for 2 hours can use up to 500 gallons of water, so it’s wise to ensure proper placement of sprinkler heads to avoid inadvertently soaking the driveway or sidewalk. Plus, there’s no need to irrigate when it’s raining. To avoid excess or unnecessary watering, you can use weather-sensitive scheduling systems that automatically shut off and on, provide weather data reports, and sound alarms under certain conditions.
    You can also xeriscape, which refers to landscaping in ways that minimize the need for watering by using native plants that are drought tolerant. The specific plants you need for xeriscaping at your place depends on your climate.

Christy Heitger-Ewing conserves water by taking ultraquick showers, thanks to her baby and his special sense of life’s priorities.

SAVING WATER WITH NO-FLOW OPTIONS
There’s low-flow, and then there’s no-flow. For cabin owners who live in a water-shortage area or who cannot connect to a septic system, water-free composting and incinerating toilets are great options. Composting units, like those from Nature’s Head (www.natureshead.net), use nature’s composting process to break down waste into nutrient-rich soil, and they operate on batteries, electric, or solar power.
    Incinerating toilets are self-contained units that reduce human waste to sterile, clean ash. Incinerating toilets, from companies like Incinolet (www.incinolet.com), are relatively odorless compared to typical portable toilets; plus, they are easy to install and maintain.
    Another no-flow tactic is to recycle rainwater. According to RainXchange Rainwater Harvest Systems (www.rainxchange.com), 1 inch of rainfall on a 2,000-square-foot roof generates 1,250 gallons of water that can be captured and used for showering, washing dishes and watering the garden. You can collect more than 750 gallons of water from one overnight rain.

SPARING THE SEPTIC

Of course, most cabins are not hooked up to municipal water and sewage, so septic systems often rule the day.
    Septic problems tend to surface during long holiday weekends when a high volume of water is flowing through a neglected system. Septic systems, however, are designed to work well and work indefinitely if they are properly maintained. The two keys are regular pumping and inspections by a licensed and certified septic pro.
    Frank Powers of Powers Septic and Sewer in Noblesville, Ind., suggests pumping systems every 2–5 years depending on usage and tank size.
    “When the system is getting pumped, be sure both the inlet and outlet baffles are inspected to ensure there are no cracks and deterioration,” says Powers.
    If you frequently host large gatherings and you’re worried about your septic system’s ability to keep up, consider a few guest overflow options. For instance, you could add a composting or incinerating toilet (see below). Of course, you can always go old school and add an outhouse (see the deluxe unit featured on p. 54 of this issue). And an outdoor shower is a fun, back-to-nature way to add an extra place for bathing.
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