Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Misinformation from Cal-Am

Although I am generally supportive of California American Water's effort to build a desalination plant to solve the Monterey Peninsula's water problems, I have less faith in Cal-Am's public relations department. They just don't seem to grasp the basic realities of modern household plumbing and water use. 

About two and a half years ago I challenged Cal-Am's excuses for sudden unexplained spikes in some people's water bills. Cal-Am argued that they were caused by “silent” toilet leaks, which is baloney because toilet valves made in the last 30 years or so are designed to make noise when there are even small leaks. 

Sometime between then and now Cal-Am ran ads about fixing shower leaks. They had a photo of an attractive lady taking a pipe wrench to a shower head, which was oh so very wrong! Shower leaks, like all faucet leaks, occur at the valves – the handles where you turn the water on – not where the water comes out. Pipe wrenches don't work on faucet valves, and if you used one on a shower head you'd scratch the finish so badly you'd have to buy a new one. 

The latest bit of nonsense was printed on a flyer that came with our last water bill. The theme of the flyer was that saving water also saves energy. It had the usual advice, take shorter showers, install more efficient appliances, most of it common sense stuff that's been drilled into our heads since the 1970s. 

But one piece of advice made absolutely no sense. It said “Run the dishwasher with a full load once a week instead of twice and SAVE.” Now, if they had said “Run your dishwasher only when it's full and not half empty” that would have made sense. But setting a once a week schedule is ridiculous. 

Our two-person household packs a full dishwasher about every three days. If we only ran it once a week we'd have an enormous ceramic backlog in short order! Families with children probably fill their dishwashers at least every two days and maybe even daily. I think only a single person living alone could manage to get by on Cal-Am's suggested dishwashing schedule. Perhaps that is who wrote it. If anyone takes Cal-Am's suggestion seriously they'll probably hand-wash everything that doesn't fit in the weekly load and end up using more water while believing they're using less. 

Dishwashers aren't even big water users. The water-saving dishwasher we bought last year uses only four gallons per load, every three days, which in our household works out to just 2/3rds of a gallon per person per day. Our old “wasteful” dishwasher used a little over five gallons per load. Even that was a wee bit less than a gallon per person per day. Compare that to most modern toilets which use 1.5 gallons per flush, or a “water saving” shower head that pours out anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 gallons per minute, and you realize that dishwashers are nothing to worry about. 

Speaking of showers, one of the best ways to save water is to install a flow control valve between the pipe coming out of the wall and your shower head. It allows you to quickly and easily adjust the amount of water from full blast down to a tiny dribble or anywhere in between depending on your need of the moment. You can save a good deal of water this way without having to rush your cleansing ritual. Since it doesn't require fiddling with the faucet a shower head valve maintains a constant temperature and you don't have to waste time and water readjusting it every time you turn the water back on. Used properly, you'd probably save enough water with a single shower to run the dishwasher two or three times. The valves are pretty easy to install even if you've never worked on plumbing before. Just don't use a pipe wrench! A crescent wrench will do nicely. I'll leave the full installation instructions to the hardware sales people. That's what they get paid for.

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