Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - March 26, 2010

Positively Green

Showers of blessings: the water in our lives

by Iris Harrell

Lately you may have been hearing and reading a lot about our precious natural resource called water. Locally, towns are considering new ordinances to restrict residential usage.

My most recent personal experience with water being wasted was with a broken plumbing line close to my home's water meter that was caused by an expanding tree root. Since we have a homeowner's insurance policy that covers this type of repair, I could not expedite the work with my own resources of fast-moving plumbers.

As we waited for the insurance company to process the claim and for the leak to be located and repaired, our water bill for December doubled, but more importantly, so much precious, clean water just flooded the ground day after day. Fortunately, I have a great drainage system that takes water away from my home, so it didn't cause even more damage.

I find it ironic that while we have a water shortage regionally from lack of rain and snow, worldwide, we all have to be concerned about the issue of "too much water," due to global warming and the resulting effect of rising sea levels from the melting ice at the poles.

You know the world is getting more complicated to live in and navigate when you have to validate two equally opposing truths simultaneously: too little water and too much water.

As a former history teacher from Virginia, I recall lessons that described the many deaths at the Jamestown colony caused by drinking contaminated water. Clean drinking water is something we take for granted because it is relatively inexpensive for us to obtain and can be found not only in our homes at the turn of a handle, but in virtually every location we stop at along our way.

I continue to read about Third-World countries today where much of a family's time is spent carrying a container to the nearest source of water and walking back, hopefully without spilling it so the family can cook, drink and clean. Depending on the circumstances, this walk for water could take all day long. Any family that has to spend each day figuring out how they are going to survive and have their most basic needs met cannot have much time or energy to plan for the long-term survival of their people at large or the rest of the world, for that matter.

This fact places a greater burden of responsibility on our shoulders as one of the more advanced nations and communities. We do live on a higher plane of Maslow's "hierarchy of needs," and we must take a greater part in planning for the future survival of our Earth, and all its inhabitants, by learning, teaching and demonstrating conservation of our own water resources.

Don't let the big picture of the world's water problems cause you to throw up your hands in frustration or disgust and forget about small steps we can each take to conserve water — which brings me to the sacred morning shower.

You do not have to deny yourself a refreshing water experience in order to conserve water in the shower. According to the Water Research Foundation, almost 22 percent of average daily residential water use is from baths and showers. Here are some suggestions to reduce the amount of this type of use in your home:

Make sure you have hot water almost as soon as you turn on the shower valve. The home plumbing system can be designed (or redesigned) so that no more than two cups of water would be wasted before the hot water arrives. You can achieve this in multiple ways.

You can have a recirculating pump on a timer. You can have a smaller water heater just for your bathroom. You can plumb with PEX (synthetic) water lines directly to your bathroom (if your local plumbing code allows). You can have a pump that operates at the push of a button that pumps the cold water from the hot-water line into the cold-water line until the hot water arrives. You can use a newer version of low-flow showerheads that add air to the stream of water that makes the water pressure seem higher than it really is.

Surveys indicate that the average shower lasts eight minutes. I figured out with a timer that if I have my shampoo, soap and towel ready, I can take a great shower including washing my hair in three minutes or less and still feel like I have had a great water experience to make me ready to face the day. Ultimately, with mindfulness, we can all figure out how to live each day with less daily water than we are using now.

Iris Harrell is CEO and president of Harrell Remodeling, Inc. in Mountain View (www.harrell-remodeling.com). She can be reached at 650-230-2900 or irish@harrell-remodeling.com.xperience.

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