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An Almanac For The 21st Century

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Combat Droughtshaming With This Simple Shower Gadget

Combat Droughtshaming With This Simple Shower Gadget

In California we're going through a record-breaking drought, complete with wonderfully shame-inducing letters from our city governments telling us about how horrible we are as human beings for our water consumption. I live in a lovely little enclave of Los Angeles that is one of the worst offenders when it comes to not meeting our required water conservation goals, which I think is why I got a lovely little pamphlet in the mail telling me all the ways I need to become a better water conservationist. The one that got me really riled up was this: Take 5 minute showers. That's all it said.

Okay. On the surface, that's not an unreasonable request at all. I already try to take as short a shower as possible. But I live in an apartment from the 1920s, and I'm one of the furthest units from the water heater, so sometimes it takes 5 minutes for the water to reach even lukewarm levels. And I freely admit that twice a week, I take a longer shower (around 15-20 minutes) because I have to wash my hair. Even if my shower was magically the right temperature the second it was turned on, I couldn't wash this mane in 5 minutes, and I'm sure there are many other humans in the same predicament. Speaking outside of my own household needs, but something equally important: Kids. It can take longer than 5 minutes to fill a bath for a toddler. Basically, our fair city is trying to make parents feel shame for trying to bathe their babies.

This summer my dad was here visiting and I served up the above rant, but in my more characteristic 20-45 minute format, complete with wild hand motions. One thing I mentioned was that I didn't even have one of the shutoff valves on my shower head that we had on our showers in my childhood home, which were a very easy way to save water. "Well, why don't we just buy you one?" My dad said, pragmatically. Problem solved!

If you're not familiar, a shower shutoff valve goes between your shower head and the pipe connecting it to the wall, and you turn it to block the water from coming out of the shower head. Because the water is still held behind the valve, the hot water is still right there, so it's not the same as turning off the water from the tap. When you're ready to have water running again you just give the valve a little twist and you have hot water on demand. In my current shower, the water actually gets hotter, and I have to make sure the shower head is facing away from me for a few seconds, lest I get scalded. Any time I don't need water flow, I use the valve and turn the water off, so I'll suds up my Salux washcloth, twist the valve (water off), soap up, twist the valve (water on), and rinse. I also turn the water off while I'm lathering up my hair, or shaving my legs. You'll start to train yourself to realize that you don't need the water running that much at all. Utilities are included in my apartment, so I can't tell you how much I've saved, but I've heard that some people save upwards of 50% on their water bills after installing these valves.

The other nice thing about shower shutoff valves is that they're a very minor improvement that no reasonable landlord will oppose. They're completely removable (Imagine it like adding a new shower head. You can just take it off later!), and if anything, you're doing it to save them money. Originally my dad was going to buy me the valve and have me ask the handyman to install it for me, but then one afternoon he said, "This is actually really easy. I can do it in 10 minutes, so I'm just going to do it now." Which is good, because who knows when I would have actually called someone to ask them to help me? (That valve might still be sitting on my kitchen table, if I'm honest.) It really did only take him 10 minutes, and I think that's only because it's a tight squeeze in my bathroom, which is about as small as a room can be an legally be classified as a bathroom. I tried to find a YouTube tutorial that could illustrate from start to finish just how simple the job is, but there weren't any decent ones (just watch, there'll be seven in the next three hours), but I found an incredibly useful post on Lifehacker which gives you every bit of info you need. I also found some links to shower shutoff valves if you're inspired to do a little shopping: Here's one at Home Depot for $3.68, but if you're looking to buy one online and have it shipped to you quick and free, here's one on Amazon that's Prime eligible for $8.80. Helpful Dad not included.

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