Green ideas save energy, shave water bills

It's hard to think of water as something that contributes to global warming, but because it has to be transported, treated and heated, it can gobble up significant amounts of energy. That's not even accounting for the water we just let go to waste, which can also boost our utility bills.

We no longer live in a world where we can stand in our bathrooms shaving and leave the water running the whole time. Ditto for standing in the shower and letting it run for 10 minutes just to make us cozy. For best efficiency, we should turn the shower on only at the beginning and to rinse ourselves at the end.

"It's called a Navy shower and it works. They couldn't haul all that water around on board. It's heavy," says Ashland conservation director Larry Giardina.

"If you let the shower run 10 minutes, you're wasting 80 percent of that water and also the energy used to heat it,"

Another easy green fix is getting a low-flow showerhead. That one that sends out less than 1.6 gallons a minute. If you're an Ashland resident, the city will give them to you (because it's a city-owned utility). Ashland city workers also will do free water audits, walking around your home and pointing out where water can be saved.

As for shaving, Giardina says he rinses his razor in a cup of water, not the faucet, a simple step that saves lots of water over a year. Another easy step is to get an aerator on all faucets. They make a good, even spray, and use less water.

If you're building a home or replacing appliances, make sure to get a low water-using washing machine and a low-flush toilet.

The city of Ashland offers rebates of $45 for the first such toilet you buy, $35 for the second and $25 for the third.

There's an old saying from the West Coast drought of 1976-77. It says, "If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down." That same doggerel is now official policy; it's in Ashland's conservation brochure, mailed with utility bills.

Dual-flush toilets are now available that allow you to use a small amount of water to dilute urine and the whole amount to flush it all.

On the cutting edge of water-saving technology is the "demand recirculating pump." It heats up all the water in your pipes in a few minutes, so that when you turn the water on, it's hot. You don't have to run cold water for a while to heat it up.

This is also an improvement on the system that keeps water in pipes hot 24/7, wasting much energy. It shuts itself off after two minutes.

Washing machines consume a lot of water and energy, so be sure to do only full loads and use cold water for the wash and rinse, notes Giardina. You will have to get detergent that works well in cold water.

Buying an energy-stingy clothes washer (certified Energy Star) will get you an $85 rebate. Check this and many other water-saving ideas out at the Energy Trust of Oregon ( The trust also will set you up with an in-person home energy review.

Irrigation is the by far the biggest user of water, so rethink the yard, identifying where you can use drought-tolerant plants and monitor evaporation and weather patterns so you're not giving any area more than it needs.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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