A Shower’s Dirty Little Secret: The Cost and Savings of a Daily Shower

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It’s summer, and a nice long shower is so refreshing, but how much does a shower really cost? ClearlyEnergy calculates the water and energy costs of a daily shower, and offers an easy way to avoid throwing money down the drain.

Shower illustration

Showers are Like Calories: Very Easy to Underestimate

Showers are like calories: very easy to underestimate. It turns out, showers are one of the top culprits for a high water bill: the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that showers account for more than 1.2 trillion gallons of water a year, which is about 17% of residential indoor water use and more than the entire volume of Lake Okeechobee in Florida. The cost of water has been rising rapidly in the past few years and is quickly becoming one of household’s costliest utility bills, but like energy costs, they vary immensely from city to city.

Recently, Unilever announced a contest to crowd-source a “sustainable shower,” with prizes with the most creative entries and the promise of minimizing the shower’s impact on the planet. Which begs the question, what does a daily shower really cost?

Before 1992, shower-heads had a typical flow rate of 5 ½ gallons per minute (gpm). After 1992 the EPA set a mandated flow rate standard to 2 ½ gpm. Switching out an old shower-head saves 55% in water use, without shortening the shower time. As a quick test, a bucket marked in gallon increments will take less than 24 seconds to get to the one gallon market with an old shower-head, more than that with a new one.

“The average shower lasts about 8 minutes, so that low-flow shower-head saves 24 gallons for each shower, or at one shower a day, 8760 gallons per year per person. On average across the US, water costs about eight dollars for a thousand gallon, which means that a low-flow shower-head pays for itself very quickly, to the tune of $70 saved each year per person in a household,” comments Norma Autry, author of the study. ClearlyEnergy research shows that water rates vary immensely across the country, “the savings of a low-flow shower vary from about $35 in cities such as Kansas City, Chicago or San Antonio which have some of the lowest urban water rates in the country, to $100 in Washington DC, New York City or Los Angeles, $150 in San Francisco and over $200 in Seattle which has the highest rate” comments Véronique Bugnion, co-founder of ClearlyEnergy. Every shower requires electricity or gas to heat the water, so any reduction in shower time or water flow has a double dividend. “In addition to saving money on water costs, consumers save thirty to a hundred dollars per person each year in energy costs by using a modern shower-head, which will typically pay for itself in just a few months,” adds Autry.

More recently, the EPA began the voluntary WaterSense program, challenging manufacturers to create shower-heads that will have a flow rate of no greater than 2.0 gpm without changing the overall shower experience. “At 2gpm, a WaterSense shower saves an additional $11 a year for each person the in household in water alone, and an additional $6-$16 in energy costs depending on whether the water is heated with natural gas or electricity,” comments Bugnion. Assuming Unilever’s Sustainable Shower comes out at 1gpm, those numbers would all be tripled.

As of the latest National Climatic Data Center's drought monitor, 45% of the US is still experiencing moderate to severe drought conditions. A five-minute do-it-yourself shower-head swap that will pay for itself in a matter of months might seem like a refreshing idea!

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Veronique Bugnion

Norma Jean Autry
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