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How saving water at home can help in the fight against climate change

03 February 2021 | Aimee Tweedale

Most of us don’t think twice about having a daily shower, flushing the toilet, or washing the dishes.

Here in the UK, turning on the hot tap is so quick and simple that it’s easy to not realise all the work and energy that goes into making it happen. But the truth is, water is even more of a precious resource than we realise. And our water use is also responsible for significant carbon emissions, contributing to climate change

A woman wraps a child in a towel in the bathroom

In this guide, we’ll explain which appliances in your home have the biggest impact, and how to save water.

What’s the link between water use and climate change?

Even though we’ve got a reputation for rainy skies here in the UK, water isn’t quite as abundant as you might think. In fact, 12 out of 23 UK water companies are said to be under “serious” stress1.

But while water supplies are under strain, our demand for it is only rising. It’s expected that we’ll need 2-9% more water by the 2050s2.

This is a global problem. A report from the UN predicts that by 2050, as many as 5.7 billion people around the world could be living with water shortages3.

The scarcity of water itself isn’t the only concern. There’s also the carbon emissions created by how we use it. 

The carbon footprint of our water use

You might be surprised to hear that water’s biggest carbon footprint isn’t related to the water industry itself, but how we use it at home. 

In fact, all the emissions created by treating and transporting water around the country amount to around 0.8% of the total carbon emissions created in the UK. But the emissions created by our use of water in our homes takes that number up to 5.5%4.

Why do our homes have the biggest impact? It’s mainly because of the energy we use to heat up water, in order to run warm baths and keep our radiators toasty. And if your home has a gas boiler, it’s responsible for 46% of your water-related household emissions5.

In older homes, the kitchen sink is the biggest culprit – with the running hot tap responsible for an average of 157kg of carbon released into the atmosphere per year. (That’s about the same as burning through 50 litres of petrol.) In newer homes, showers tend to have the biggest carbon footprint6.

Outside of the home, major industries such as fruit and vegetable farming, animal agriculture, the fashion industry, and car manufacturing also use  huge amounts of water. 

Keep reading, to find out more about how to save water at home. If you’d like to find out more about how to reduce your carbon footprint at home, read our handy guide – and see our top 10 green resolutions for an eco-friendly 2021.

How much water does the average UK household use?

Water used at home accounts for more than half of all public water use7

A person who lives alone typically uses about 149 litres of water each day – and a household of two people uses around 276 litres8. That amounts to roughly a large bathtub of water per person9.

The average UK household uses 330 litres of water every day10.

All these numbers making you realise you want to cut back on your water use? UK non-profit Waterwise is running a campaign to Save 2021 Litres in 2021. You’ll find more tips on saving water at the bottom of this article.

Mum and child washing the dishes together

Does a shower or a bath use more water?

If you’re trying to save water, common sense might be telling you it’s better to hop in the shower than it is to run a bath. 

If you live in an older home, then you’d be right. But recent research shows that many newer showers are actually more wasteful – with an 8 minute shower using more water than a full bathtub. In new-build homes, showers have a carbon footprint of 161kg, while baths account for 91kg11

Obviously, showers are often the most practical and economical option when you’re in a rush – but maybe think twice before you get that state-of-the-art rain shower installed. And perhaps consider installing a water-saving shower head instead!

How much water does a dishwasher use?

Dirty dishes piling up in the dishwasher? Congratulations – you’re doing your bit for the environment! 

Contrary to popular belief, running the dishwasher rather than hand-washing could actually save water. A modern dishwasher uses between 11 and 13 litres of water per cycle. But, if you wash your dishes by holding them under a running tap in the sink, you could use a whopping 9 times more than that12.

So powering up the dishwasher can actually be more efficient. Just make sure you only run it when it’s full, and on a lower temperature setting if you can.

How much water does a washing machine use?

Laundry is a major source of water consumption at home. Most modern washing machines guzzle about 50 litres of water per cycle13.

Your machine is responsible for roughly 118kg of carbon emissions per year14 – about the same as you’d create by driving from Bristol to Leeds in a petrol car.

Just as with a dishwasher, it’s best to run a washing machine only when it’s full. Try doing bigger loads, less frequently – it’s a great excuse to cut down on your household chores. And whenever you can, turn down the heat!

Will a water meter help to save water (and money)?

Water meters make it easier to track exactly how much water you’re using. They also mean that you only pay for exactly how much water you use (rather than paying a fixed monthly amount). So if you use them right, water meters can help you to save both water and some extra cash.

If you live in England or Wales, you should be able to ask your water company to install a meter in your home for free. Find out more about water meters and how to get one at Citizens’ Advice.

Wondering if a water meter is right for you? Use this handy calculator to check if it’s likely to help you save money.

Washing the dishes can use more water than you think

How to save water at home: 10 top tips

  • The golden rule: don't leave the tap running. Sinks are responsible for a surprisingly large amount of household carbon emissions, and it’s all down to the energy needed to heat up the water as you run it from the tap. Remembering to turn them off while we’re brushing our teeth, or doing other tasks, can add up to big savings.
  • Use the dishwasher – but only when it’s full. An efficient, full dishwasher on a low heat setting will actually save more water than rinsing your dishes under the tap.
  • Take shorter showers. Showers – especially newer models – are energy-intensive, and they send a huge amount of water straight down the drain. In some instances, a nice old-fashioned bath is better. But the best option of all is to take shorter, cooler showers, with no hanging around! If you cut back on showering by one minute per day, you could save around 270 litres of water per month15. Some people even say we should stop showering every day.
  • You could even bring a bucket in the shower with you. The excess water you catch could be recycled – for example, to water plants, or wash your car.
  • Do less laundry. Not only will this help save water, it’ll also cut down on the amount of microplastics being shed by your clothes, and entering the water supply. Try airing out your clothes instead, and maybe using a scented spray to keep them fresh. Find out more in our guide to how fast fashion impacts the environment.
  • Don’t throw that pasta water down the drain! Cooking experts recommend that you save the starchy, murky water you get after cooking pasta or rice. You can use it to bulk up soups, stews, or delicious pasta sauces.
  • Keep cold water in the fridge. Having some chilled water in a jug the fridge stops you from relying on the tap every time you fancy a glass – which uses up energy, as you wait for it to be cold enough to drink.
  • Get a more efficient shower head. There are lots of gadgets you can buy to reduce the amount of water flowing from both your shower head and your taps. Most UK water companies will also supply you with a small water-saving device for your toilet cistern if you reach out and request one.
  • Repair any leaks. If you’ve got a leaky pipe or a dripping tap somewhere in the house, that’s a glaring source of water waste. Those little drips can quickly add up to a much bigger problem! It’s worth getting a plumber in, to make sure any leaks are fixed properly.
  • Upgrade your appliances. If you’re ready to make even bigger changes, you could replace your dishwasher, washing machine, and other thirsty home goods with models that use less water. Remember, though, that there’s a big carbon footprint attached to manufacturing a new appliance – so don’t replace your appliances if they’ve still got a lot of life left in them. Check out our guide to the best energy-saving fridges and freezers for more information.

Saving water at home is a great start – but remember that our choices outside the home affect climate change, too. Water use is a huge problem in the fast fashion industry, and in other areas like agriculture. Making informed choices about where to shop, and what to eat can also play a role in fighting the climate crisis. After all, everything has a carbon footprint – even this webpage.

To find out more about using appliances more efficiently, read up on how to use less energy while staying at home.

Switch to OVO for greener home energy

Want to make a real difference to the carbon footprint of your home?

Here at OVO, we supply all our members with 100% renewable electricity16, and we plant a tree for every year that you’re with us. 

And if you want to go even further, we offer the OVO Beyond upgrade: it gives you 100% carbon-neutral energy17, and we’ll plant 5 pollution-busting trees for you each year18.

Find out more about how we’re powering homes around the UK with renewables, and get a quote in under 2 minutes, to see how much you could save by switching to OVO.

Sources and references

https://www.iow.gov.uk/azservices/documents/2782-FE1-Areas-of-Water-Stress.pdf

https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/CCRA-2-Updated-projections-of-water-availability-for-the-UK.pdf

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/19/water-shortages-could-affect-5bn-people-by-2050-un-report-warns

4 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/291728/scho0708bofv-e-e.pdf

https://www.waterwise.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Energy-Saving-Trust-2009_Quantifying-the-Energy-and-Carbon-Effects-of-Water-Saving_Full-Technical-Report.pdf

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200326-the-hidden-impact-of-your-daily-water-use

7 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/69346/pb13562-future-water-080204.pdf

https://www.statista.com/statistics/827278/liters-per-day-household-water-usage-united-kingdom-uk/

https://bathbarn.co.uk/bathtub-capacity-how-much-water-does-a-bath-hold/

10  https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/why-we-should-all-be-saving-water/

11  https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200326-the-hidden-impact-of-your-daily-water-use

12 https://www.money.co.uk/energy/guides/energy-efficient-dishwashing-dishwasher-versus-hand-washing

13  https://inthewash.co.uk/washing-machines/how-much-water-does-a-washing-machine-use/

14  https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200326-the-hidden-impact-of-your-daily-water-use

15 https://www.therighttoshower.com/ethical-living/3-things-you-can-do-to-save-water-in-the-shower

16  The renewable electricity we sell is backed by renewable certificates (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates (REGOs)). See here for details on REGO certificates and how these work.  

17 Enjoy even greener energy with OVO Beyond in comparison with our standard OVO plans. In addition to 100% renewable electricity as available with our standard plans, OVO Beyond reduces your yearly carbon emissions from the energy used in your home that is supplied by OVO to net zero by providing 100% carbon-neutral gas (15% green gas and 85% offset) and offsetting all associated lifecycle carbon emissions involved in the production and consumption of your electricity & gas, you will also get 5 trees per year in UK schools and communities and other green benefits. The renewable electricity we sell is backed by renewable certificates (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates (REGOs)). See here for details on Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates and how these work. The green gas we sell is backed via renewable certificates (Renewable Gas Guarantees of Origin (RGGOs)). See here for details on Renewable Gas Guarantees of Origin and how these work. We offset the remaining emissions by supporting UN REDD+ carbon reduction projects that are certified to the Verified Carbon Standard or the Gold Standard. See here for more information on how we restore nature and protect rainforests with our offsetting programmes.

18  OVO plants 5 trees for every OVO Beyond member through our  award-winning I Dig Trees programme with The Conservation Volunteers. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so tree-planting helps to slow down climate change. Since 2015 we have planted over 1 million trees.

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