Water is a finite and precious resource, we all know that – or at least we should. I was reminded when I visited Bermuda. Here the architecture is influenced by the need to collect rainwater. Stepped and whitewashed roofs are a key feature of many buildings with their wedge-shaped limestone ‘glides’ designed to channel rainwater into underground storage tanks. This is the main source of fresh water as there are no rivers or lakes.
In the UK we tend to worry less about water but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t. Water doesn’t just come out of a tap. Sometimes it’s in short supply and providing clean, safe water uses valuable resources and energy. The water has to be collected, purified with chemicals and pumped. Hot water has to heated. Once we flush it away down the drain it has to be treated and pumped again. In times of heavy rainfall this waste water can add to the pressure on already swollen streams and rivers.
There’s a lot we can do to save water. A brick, or one of the devices offered by water companies, installed in an old toilet cistern will cut the water used per flush. When buying new shower heads, taps or sanitaryware look for those that score well on the water efficiency product label. If you’re renewing or refurbishing pipework try to minimise the length of the hot water pipes running between the boiler and the tap or shower to reduce the amount of water that you have to run off before the hot water arrives. And don’t forget, try to buy a water saving washing machine.
Many of us have a water butt installed at the base of a downpipe but it’s worth thinking whether it’s possible to add more, perhaps linking them together. A step up from this is to install a full scale rainwater harvesting system. Like water butts, these collect rainwater from roofs but they generally store it in a large tank that’s usually buried in the garden. The water is then pumped through dedicated pipework into the house and may be used for flushing toilets, or even in washing machines, and of course for watering the garden and washing cars. Grey water systems are an added way of saving water. These collect water from basins, baths and showers so that it can be reused for toilet flushing. They’re relatively easy to install in a new build situation but are harder to incorporate during renovating projects.
Lastly, don’t overlook maintenance. A dripping tap, overflowing tank or leaking pipe can waste a huge amount of water and may also stain sanitaryware or cause damp problems within the building. It’s worth checking where your mains water stopcock is and, at least once a year, ensure that it can easily be turned off and on.
Image: Whitewashed roofs in Bermuda: © Roger Hunt