Monday, March 24, 2014

Water water everywhere

The reasons to go cruising are as many as there are cruisers. For some, it's a temporary break from the bleak reality of the workaday cubicle world. For others, it's an affordable way to retire early when the funds to retire on land are not available. Some want to travel, to experience other cultures and environs. For even others, the decision to cruise is based in a desire to live on this planet of ours with a lighter, less intrusive footprint. Some simply love to sail.

For us the ability to retire early due to the much less expensive lifestyle was the primary motivating reason. Now that we've been cruising for 5 months it's been pretty rewarding, though, to see that we are without any doubt living with the lightest possible footprint, and there is no area more changed in the way we live than in our use of water.

While I don't know our exact land-based consumption of water because it was included in our condo fee, the EPA says that the average family in the US uses 300 gallons of water per day, 70% of which is used indoors. Since some people don't water their lawns as much as others, I'll deduct that 30% of outdoor use and we'll just deal with the indoor average use of 210 gallons. Out of that amount, 16.8% is used for showers, 26.7% for the toilet, 15.7% for all faucets in the house, 21.7% for the washer, 13.7% for leaks, and 5.3% for other uses. I admit, especially in the cold winter, that I would take 20 minute showers when we lived in the city. It was a good way to warm up in the middle of a St. Louis winter, and to work out the neck and shoulder kinks from a high-pressure cubicle job. I was also guilty of running the faucet long enough to draw hot water to it, a variable amount depending on whether the faucet was the kitchen faucet 12 feet away from the water heater or the bathroom faucet or shower 30 feet away from it. At least I didn't let the water run while I brushed my teeth.

Water is becoming a critical resource in the world, not because it's not available. It is, but because it takes more money to produce it and transport it than people want to or can afford to pay. Agriculture is using up vast quantities of the elixir, and portions of the Western US who insist on having green lawns instead of naturally ocurring landscape are rapidly depleting not only their water supply, but their neighboring states' supplies as well. It's a basic human right that not all humans are benefitting from. Clearly we need to conserve.

When we lived on land, conservation was always present in my mind. We recycled plastic, tin, aluminum, paper and glass, we turned our furnace down when we left for long periods, we set our air conditioning up a few degrees, and we bought energy efficient appliances. But water...well I really liked my hot shower at the end of a long grueling day.

So I figured that when we went cruising, I was going to be like all the other cruisers I'd read about that run for the shower first thing when they tie up to a dock or pick up a mooring. Surprise surprise. It turns out that water conservation would be the one thing that I absolutely don't mind at all. So what do we do aboard Kintala to conserve? Here are the basics.

First off, we are one of the fortunate few cruisers who are blessed with large amounts of onboard water in three tanks. All totaled, we have 157 gallons in those three tanks and the water heater. For the two of us, with no feeling of being shorted at all, we get just about 2 weeks out of that water. That equates to about 10 gallons a day. Now I know a few cruisers who would gasp at that number since they can do it on half of that or less, but 10 gallons is reasonable, and comfortable, so that's where we are. I do a lot of cooking since we eat nearly every meal on the boat, and I do a lot of baking, including most of our bread, so there are considerably more dishes to wash than most people have.

We have a 6 gallon water heater that resides near the bottom of our lazarette. That would be the lazarette that is in the cockpit. The cockpit that would be 20 feet from the shower. Just for curiosity's sake, I one day took a gallon jug and ran the shower hose into it until the hot started coming out. A little more than ½ a gallon just to get the warm to the shower. Even if Tim and I took our showers one right after the other, that would amount to ½ a gallon per day, 183 gallons per year just to get the water to the shower. We do use our gray water to flush the toilet with, but that was too much water even for that duty so it would have to go down the drain. Considering that water is hard to come by, has to be either carried in jerry cans or involves moving the boat, and in the Bahamas costs upwards of $.50 per gallon in some places, that was not going to work. It also involved using a lot of energy to heat 6 gallons of water, of which only 1-1/2 were going to be used. So now we don't use the hot water heater, we just heat water in a tea kettle on the stove which takes only a minute or two and wastes no water. We still flush our toilet with gray water so that we're not introducing biological growth from the saltwater in the holding tank.

Washing dishes involves heating just a bit of water and keeping the faucet turned down low when rinsing. It's amazing how much water we blow away just because we have the faucet turned on too high, most of which goes down the drain unnecessarily.

We still do our laundry at a laundromat. The quantity of water for that is not included in our 157 gallons, although I do an occasional load by hand on the boat which will use a couple gallons.

If we're washing the boat, we first scrub with salt water from a bucket on a line dipped overboard, then rinse with fresh sparingly or we have been known to wait for a rainstorm and don our swimsuits and scrub the boat in the rain. You can also get things amazingly clean just with the dew in the morning and a rag.

We would love to have a water maker onboard so that we could cruise in some more remote places without worrying about running out of water, but to be honest, at the moment it's good to be aware of our usage and to be careful with this precious resource. I think cruising has ruined me for sure. My land-based showers are now not without guilt. But the green lawn? Don't miss it at all.


Alex Rooker said...

if you'd like another water conservation idea-
we use a spray bottle to wet, wash, and rinse our hands.
Though we have to pump it a bit faster and longer- it rines plates and silverware quite well.

Happy Tuesday! My first web-read this morning was your blog. Now I'll move on to USAToday and The Hickory Daily Record.

Robert Sapp said...

Deb and TJ,

Get yourself a cheap solar shower. You put a gallon or so of water in it and hang it in the sun, and in an hour you'll have piping hot water. If the anchorage is private enough you can bath off the stern and then rinse off with the solar shower - if the neighbors are close or you're too modest, run the hose from the shower through a hatch or port into the head. No waste waiting for the warm water to make it to the faucet!

By the way, we're closing on a bigger boat and we're hoping to head out and join you guys soon. We sent you a mail not too long ago but we've no idea whether you received it or not. We're blogging the transition to the third act of our lives at



Deb said...

Robert - we did get your email and I have added your blog to my Feedly reader, just not too much bandwidth here! on the solar shower, we have two onboard and have tried them but since we're in the Abacos in winter they don't get very warm. I'm much happier with a tub of warmer water and actually use less. The solar showers hold 3 gallons and I usually only use one gallon in tub.

Deb said...

Alex you see a lot of people down here with those garden sprayers. They keep them in the cockpit and spray off when they finish swimming. Nice thing about them is they pressurize, unlike the solar showers. I suppose you could paint them black to get warm as well.

Levi Eslinger said...

Conserving water is vital even though some people do not see the importance. Using energy efficient equipment is another aspect altogether. I use solar panels, and they are highly efficient. The problem is they do not get the shower very warm during the winter. But I think I will also heat water in a kettle or paint the system black during winter.

Levi Eslinger @ Capital Plumbing

Deb said...

@ Levi - I've seriously been thinking about installing a solar hot water system something like this one: