Welcome to the blog of the course and textbook Facing up to global warming: What is going on and what you can do about it. This course is run by Professor Nick Gray of the Trinity Centre for the Environment at Trinity College Dublin.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Living sustainably without hot water

Last week an electrical fault in my flat left me without hot water for a few days. At first, I shrugged it off as a cold shower was unpleasant, and didn’t leave me feeling as clean as I would after a hot one, but this lefty me increasingly annoyed. As the week went on, however, my attitude changed. Washing the dishes with cold-water was difficult and time-consuming. So too was the work-around  boiling water manually as both my kettle and microwave are quite small. They were inadequate substitutes for a broken water heater designed for 4 people.
I noticed though that without my heater, I was consuming much less water. Showers were uncomfortable and quick and the water used washing dishes was kept to a bare minimum, because of the time that would be used getting more. Then, in the middle of the week, the electrician called and fixed the heater. I had hot water again, more than I could ever want.
After that, however, I began to think, in terms of water/carbon footprints, embedded emissions, etc. What had been the difference, in those terms, between the days without my heater and any average day in my life? The difference seemed staggering, the average shower uses 3.5 litres per minute, and with cold water I’d gone from 5 minute to 1 minute showers. The amount saved, 15 litres, was already one third of the water poverty threshold. In the bigger picture, this was negligible; not even 10% of the daily average per capita usage in Ireland. But this was where I could exert control over my water usage, and begin to approximate sustainable levels of consumption. I can’t really know the specific environmental footprints of everything I consume, and while I have time to boil the kettle, I don’t have time to do an in-depth investigation of every different brand of bread.
In the broader picture, the change I effect in my own habits is marginal: most of the (unsustainable amount) of water I use is embedded in the products I use - 1,000 litres used in the production of a carton of milk, 1,300 litres in the production of a loaf of bread etc. Maybe my gesture is partially an evasion. The real problems we face with water are ones of distribution. It doesn’t matter if I use 120 litres or 180. What matters at this moment is that I will have access to this amount regardless. Of course I cannot change this on my own, but through my approximations of sustainable living, a proportion of the finite amount of usable water on the planet (my savings counted for roughly a third of what a person needs at minimum every day) is “freed up”. If this was done on a broad scale, it would be half the battle in constructing a global society that manages, distributes, and uses water sustainably.
Cathal Murphy


  1. A broken water heater is really an annoying experience, but after reading your post, I think otherwise. This is a great realization. I guess the saying is true, that we can only know the importance of one thing when it's gone. I suggest you get a water heater that has warranty and have it installed by a pro. _Launce @ HarrisAireServ.com

  2. Thank you for sharing. Face it, there are two times when you think about your water heater. The day it’s installed and the day it breaks down. If your water heater is more than 10 years old you can expect it to fail at anytime.
    Water Heaters Reading

  3. With that thought in mind, you can always apply your bare minimum despite having a heater. At least you can still enjoy the comforts of having warm water for your bath and choose to step out of it sooner than you probably would have before your heater broke. That’s a win-win if you look at it that way. Cheers!


  4. That’s a very practical way of looking at a broken water heater. And no, your gesture isn’t an evasion. It may be just a small contribution towards the conservation of water, and maybe too small to even make a dent, but it is this kind of awareness that is needed if ever we are to hit the ground running towards the conservation of water.

    Levi Eslinger @ CapitalPlumbing

  5. Admiring the time and effort you put into your blog and detailed information you offer!..

  6. The hot water heater and tank are actually accessed from the outside of the Roadtrek on the driver's side. hot water heater

  7. في شركة شركة عزل فوم بالدمام نعمل قدر الامكان علي حل المشكلة واعطاء العميل فكرة كاملة عن الوضع وكذلك التكاليف المفترض دفعها مع العمل علي اصلاح وصيانة مكان التسرب فقط وليس البدء من الصفر داخل الحمامات او المطابخ كما نقدم في شركة شركة عزل فوم بالقصيم كافة خدمات الصيانة بعد الكشف ويشمل ذلك ( تكسير – اصلاح – ترميم ) كل ذلك بخدمات مميزة وفنيين علي كفائة عالية جدا ومعدات حديثة تضمن صحة النتائج لذلك تعد ركن نجد افضل شركة تسليك مجارى بالرياض
    للمزيد يمكن زيارة
    شركة تسليك مجارى بالخبر
    شركة كشف تسربات المياه بالخبر
    شركة كشف تسربات المياه بجدة

  8. Envirosolar sold us our Magic Box thermodynamic hot water heater. It has stopped working for over 2 weeks and they will not answer any of our correspondence.