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You’ve Been Saving Water and You Didn’t Even Know It

in Campus Journal by

Throughout this school year, you probably saved around 1,122 gallons of water. And chances are you, you didn’t even realize it.

This past summer, I worked on behalf of the Office of Sustainability and the engineering department to research ways that resources, particularly water, could be conserved on campus. After preliminary investigations into water uses on campus such as irrigation, food services, and laundry, I found a large potential for feasibly saving water in shower water usage.

In the spring of 2016, a Green Fund proposal by Shane Loeffler ’16 jump-started a trial run of low-flow showerheads in the field house. After winter break, several low-flow showerheads were installed in the men’s and women’s locker rooms to gage student response. The main concern with the project was student complaints against the reduced flow. The relatively quiet response paved the way for a broad scale implementation of low-flow showerheads in the rest of the athletic facilities and in dorms throughout campus.

Before recommending the relatively small, but nonetheless significant, investment in purchasing low-flow showerheads, I wanted to confirm that low-flow showerheads could indeed save water. There was a concern that lower water pressure would cause students to take longer showers, thus rendering the low-flow showerheads ineffective at actually saving water.

If you lived in Willets over the summer, this might sound familiar to you. I attempted to quietly change half of the showerheads in Willets (as discretely as a girl in a dress with a wrench can get in the men’s showers of Willets). The new 1.5 gallon per minute (gpm) showerheads replaced old 2.5 gpm showerheads, therefore ideally saving 1 gallon of water per minute of shower use.

To test how much water was actually being saved, I first manually measured the flow rates of 1.5 and 2.5 gpm showerheads throughout campus (it turned out that 2.5 gpm labeled showerheads actually delivered an average of 2.22 gpm and 1.5 gpm labeled showerheads delivered an average of 1.32 gpm).

I also asked Willets residents to time their showers over the course of a week in July and record the times on slips of paper. Despite a few minor setbacks (someone stole my homemade data collection shoe box, along with the data, on Day 5 in Willets 2nd North), I was able to collect 111 shower times and determine that there was not a significant difference between students’ average shower times of the two types of showerheads. Therefore, I concluded that the low-flow showerheads could indeed save water.

I spent the next few weeks installing over 200 low-flow showerheads in dorms across campus. I ran into some fairly legitimate challenges to being able to install low-flow showerheads in all showers on campus, like construction in ML, a different showerhead type for handicapped showers, as well as some less impressive obstacles. Despite breaking a sweat, I simply could not get off a handful of the 2.5 gpm showerheads in Mertz and Worth – I like to blame the wrench for that one. Also, I had thought that no one was living in some of the smaller dorms over the summer, but an awkward encounter with a German exchange student in Woolman proved me wrong and prevented me from installing low-flow showerheads in some of the smaller dorms in use over the summer.

With over 200 out of the total 318 showerheads in Swarthmore’s dorms  replaced with lower flow showerheads, as well as all of the showerheads in the field house and Ware Pool locker rooms, chances are, you’ve cut down on your shower water usage without even realizing it.

Much more can be done, though, to promote Swarthmore’s conservation of water. I chose to save shower water through low-flow showerheads because it involved no behavior change on the part of the student. However, behavior change could further save water. I found that the average shower time for Willets residents was 7 minutes and 27 seconds. I understand that the stress of Swat can make standing under a hot shower seem like a daily necessity, but quickening the pace of a shower or reducing the time allowed for the water to warm up can lead to substantial water savings.

There is also room for energy conservation by reducing the temperature of showers. Last year, more energy went to heating showers in Willets than actually heating the dorm. Not only would taking shorter showers work to save energy, but sacrificing a few degrees can further save resources.

Being aware of the environmental footprint of your shower is the first step in working to conserve resources. Even though you’ve been saving water without even realizing it, a shorter shower or reduced temperature can further contribute to the conservation of water and energy that you have already unknowingly been contributing to. It is important for Swarthmore’s campus and students to take responsibility in a global effort to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

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