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If you want to know what I'm on about in the shortest time then please read the introductory first post and my current action plan. Comments are very welcome. And if you like this blog, please tell a friend. Thanks!

Saturday, 5 May 2007

In hot water

Some aspects of attempting to live more sustainably are easy, even fun. But I'm finding that there are some real sacrifices required too.

One of my favourite things in the whole world is a long hot shower. It washes away the grime and stress of the day. It relaxes the muscles and the mind. It's an oasis of calm where exuberant or grouchy two-year-olds can be legitimately shut out of your attention for a short(ish) moment in time. With all the distractions out of the way and the body being calmed it's a perfect place for dreaming up solutions to problems big and small, or mentally rehearsing for some task or exam which you might be facing.

But for all its personal benefits it's also a slap in the face of sustainable living.

For starters there's the water. In some parts of the world this is less of a problem (the best shower I've ever had was a fancy double-headed setup in a hotel in San Francisco where I'm told the water is plentiful) but in Brisbane, Australia we're so short of water that we're banned from washing our cars and are being urged to limit our showers to four minutes a day.

Four minutes is certainly sufficient to carry out the tasks essential for hygiene, though I've had to stop using my "ShowerShave" anti-fog mirror and have reverted to shaving over the bathroom sink. But it just doesn't make the grade in terms of relaxation or problem solving. Sometimes I compromise by turning the water right down so it's literally a very hot trickle and extending my stay for another minute or three. Wish I was rich and extravagant enough to get one of these installed.

But this isn't a brag post... it's a confession. Because even though I'm making sacrifices to save water, my home is among the inefficient greenhouse-gas-spewing majority when it comes to heating the water in the first place.

We bought this place a couple of years ago and along with it the existing "electric storage" hot water system. That's the common variety which has a big tank at ground level and an electric heating element inside it. Using electricity to produce heat is horrendously wasteful and inefficient - more on this in a later post - but compared to the technology these systems replaced (which involved chopping wood) they are vastly more convenient and relatively cheap to run. That is, they're cheap when you source the energy from burning coal.

I'm investigating my options for installing a water heater that will make use of some of the plentiful solar energy that's available in this region. One involves a $4,000 outlay over two years for a system that keeps the tank at ground level and uses a small electric pump to cycle water up through the solar collectors on the roof. There's also the more common type which puts the storage tank on the roof above the collectors, allowing gravity to pull the colder water down, but I have no way of knowing whether our roof is designed to take all that weight. Will check it out.

Whichever way I look at this, sustainable living is going to cost me when it comes to my beloved hot shower.


Arienal said...

One thing which you may wish to look into is the proposals by Labor with regard to their policies on global warming etc. I noticed that you haven't yet mentioned anything about the political policies and unfortunately, thanks to Plexis, I am forced to follow these sorts of things :P

The proposal by Labor if they get into government is they will provide for all households with a comined income of under approx $250k per year an interest free loan to upgrade their homes into energy friendly/generating houses. Solar panels etc. Not only will your house become it's own power generator when you need it, any excess electricity (ie what's created when everyone's at work etc) will be sold back to the electricity grid.

I haven't looked into the details of it, but from the sounds of it I think it's a brilliant plan.

TB said...

Hi Arienal, thanks for reading and especially for contributing. You will see posts about policy and other strategic stuff here. But there are plenty of other great sites where that kind of thing is discussed in detail and I don't see much point in replicating their effort.

This blog is about individual action: the idea that even a 21st century first-world family whose primary skills lie in medical science and information technology can embrace a philosophy of sustainable living and take significant steps towards saving the world without sacrificing quality of life.

I'm not entirely clear on the details of Labor's proposal - I got the impression it had a $300m budget cap which is really not going to get us very far. The basic idea is exciting though, and I think it's exactly the sort of action a government should take.