Episode 8 – We need to talk about shower heads

How sustainable is your daily shower?

Most shower heads at Christie Walk are WELS 3 standard, running at about 9L/minute. They were the best that were readily available when construction of our eco-village was completed in 2006. Older shower heads could be up to 22L/minute.

But the latest Ultra Low Flow shower heads run at 5L/min, and still give a satisfying shower.

So what is at stake here?

  • If we replace all 9L/min shower heads with 5L/min shower heads, water usage for showers will be reduced by a huge 45%.
  • Even more significant is the energy reduction; emissions for heating shower water will also be reduced by a similar amount if grid power is used for heating. Despite all our efforts to make our hot water systems more sustainable, water heating is still a significant component of our electricity usage and emissions.
  • On average Australians shower for about 7 minutes:
    • So at 9L/min that’s 63L/day or 34kL per person per year.
    • At 5L/min it’s 13kL per person per year, a saving of 21kL per year. Multiply that saving by the Australian population, and you get the drift: it’s a huge potential saving of water and energy.
  • The average Australian uses 1 to 2kWh for heating water per day. Let’s say – conservatively – that we could save 45% of 1kWh per day per person; that’s the equivalent of 4,000 GWh of electricity per year.
  • Liddell coal power station produces around 8,000 GWh of electricity per year and emits 15 million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year. The equivalent of half of Liddell’s turbines could be turned off.
  • There’s a knock-on effect as well. For example, in Victoria “Currently the existing five power stations in the Latrobe Valley use 125 billion litres of water, equivalent to a third of Melbourne’s water use annually. They cannot operate without these huge amounts of water. What’s more, the coal mining operations that feed our coal plants also require water.”

Shower efficiency standards

Applicable standards in use are:

  • WELS 3 – approx 9L/minute
  • WELS 4 – approx 6.5 to 7.5L/minute
  • Ultra low flow – approx 5 to 5.5L/minute

Unfortunately if you check major suppliers such as Bunnings or Reece Plumbing, most of their shower heads are WELS 3, with a sprinkling of WELS 4. It’s tragic! It means that in new homes under construction around the country, and in all those DIY renovations, WELS 3 shower heads are the most likely to be installed, leading to decades of unnecessary waste of water and excessive emissions.

What can we do?

At Christie Walk we decided to test 5L ultra low flow shower heads for ourselves. We ordered a fixed rose and a handset style from Pure-Electric’s range of Methven Kiri Satinjet Ultra Low Flow Showerheads. We’ve found it’s a different showering experience, but still fine. Traditional shower heads actually deliver something akin to raindrops, whereas ultra low flow shower heads more closely simulate a … shower … a much finer spray.

Methven Satinjet uses twin-jets to optimise water droplet size from a lower water flow.

Replacement was very straightforward for both the fixed rose and the handset type of shower head.

Based on that experiment we’re now placing a bulk order for 5L shower heads, hoping that most of our 27 households at Christie Walk will make the change.

You can search for other brands of low flow shower heads on this Australian Government site. Good luck in finding them in stores!

Regulatory action

At a national level, WELS 3 shower heads should be phased out immediately (and WELS 4 soon too), and 5L/min shower heads need to be stocked at hardware and plumbing stores. Otherwise people think they’re doing the right thing when they see the WELS 3 compliance labelling on the shower head they’re purchasing.

This post is part of our special series:
Aiming beyond NetZero at Christie Walk – Adventures with an environment-conscious inner-urban community.

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