Most communities are trying to proactively plan for future water supplies as well as promoting public conservation. Water is one of our most precious resources and population growth and industry expansion continues to put a strain on good economical water supplies. The public is finding that personal water consumption is becoming more expensive as each year passes.
There are some who call out for dramatic changes in life style to the point of abandoning all modern conveniences and go back to the time of horse and buggy. Not only is this pragmatically impossible, but it is missing the valuable role technology can play in water conservation.
Hand washing dishes vs. the dishwasher: The latest studies shows that a fully loaded energy star rated dishwasher uses 4 gallons of water per cycle, more traditional dishwashers use 6 gallons. According to Tree Hugger, for some one to even come close to that usage by hand washing, they would have to be able to wash and rinse a soiled plate in a little over a cup of water. I think when you consider the variability of hand washing being done by millions of people and compare that to a highly controlled automated system like a dishwasher; the hands down best way to conserve water washing dishes is technology. Thumbs up to energy star rated dishwashers.
Washing machines vs. hand washing clothes: I can’t image anyone realistically thinking about hand washing all clothes, but there are legitimate reasons for hand washing. Some fabrics are simply too delicate to chance an automated wash. Traditional clothes washers use approximately 41 gallons per load (GPL) while high efficiency machines use only 23 GPL. I was not able to find any reliable comparison studies on hand washing consumption, except that it is widely believed that machine washing (even traditional) uses less water. Automated washing systems offer much more control and the spinning system is much more effective than hand ringing to get the soapy water out. Thumbs up to efficient automatic washing machines.
Automated sprinkler systems vs. manual lawn watering: I guess the first question is what kind of lawn do you have and how “green” do you need your lawn to be. Not watering is an option that’s hard to beat from a water conservation standpoint, but for keeping and maintaining a showcase lawn, automated sprinkling can do optimal watering day in and day out. What is optimal watering? According to the experts optimal watering means that you water enough to get water deep into the roots, water uniformly, water early in the day, water as infrequently as possible and only water grass and shrubs. Watering driveways, patios and sidewalks wastes a lot of water. With automated sprinkler systems you can meet all of those criteria precisely. Moving manual sprinklers around the lawn tends to promote over watering. Concerns that I have about some automated systems are:
1. If they are not set up properly you can have a built-in over watering system.
2. If it rains, turn your automated system off, I have seen many occasions when it is poring rain out and someone has their automated sprinkling system on. So automated systems must also have water or moisture sensing systems to have full optimization. Thumbs up to a properly installed and controlled automated sprinkler system.
Washing car by hand vs. automated carwash systems: What technique is used when hand washing? Typical washing in the driveway can waste a tremendous amount of water. Sprayed water can hit the driveway with out taking any soap off the car, over rinsing is very possible as this is a judgment. A hose set on the ground running while the person is attending to something else, using leaky nozzles and hoses are all variables that can cause high water usage. On the other hand automated carwash systems are controlled and consistent. Each year, better carwash equipment is being developed that more effectively uses water. Also many carwashes now recycle water.
Additional consideration is water run off, if you are washing a car in your drive way, untreated soapy contaminated water is draining off into sewer systems; carwash systems are required to treat water before disposing.
So who wins, well in my opinion, hand car washing can beat automated carwash systems if the washer takes water conservation very seriously. If they wash with rags and buckets, use extreme care when rinsing and wash the car on the lawn to eliminate run off, I find it hard to believe that even the automated carwash systems that recycle water can beat them. However, just take a drive around your neighbor hood and watch how people wash their cars. I see lots of hoses with continuously running water, leaky old spray nozzles and hoses, over rinsing and water run off. I give qualified thumbs up to automated systems because the variability with manual hand washes.
It would seem that in each case the more expensive option was given the thumbs up. Does the investment really pay off economically? Prices per gallon of water even in some of the more expensive areas in the US are still less than $.008. So if you just look at investing in an energy star dishwasher, according to energy star, an average household would save 5000 gallons of water per year which would result in a savings of around $40.00. This turns out to be about a 10 year payback.
The automated lawn sprinkler systems save a lot more water perhaps as much as 200 gallons on a ¼ acre lot per watering. So if you water 3 times per week during a typical 12 week season, you can save over 7000 gallons of water per year. The $60.00 per year savings is not much return for a $1500.00 investment.
While cost savings may not give you much incentive, the time savings and convenience are major considerations as well. If you factor your time into most of these equations, the economics come out strongly in favor of the automated system. Water conservation will continue to rise in importance as the population grows, we may not have to undergo dramatic lifestyle changes, but continued investment in water conservation and simply increasing awareness can go a long way to reducing water usage.
Douglas McLain has been president of A-OK Equipment & Supply Company since 1979. A-OK Equipment design and builds car wash equipment including self service car wash equipment and touchless car wash equipment.