Energy consumer device 2: Showerhead. Movie hero in the shower
A popular movie scene is where the heroine gets home, visibly exhausted and worn out from her world-saving activities; she takes her clothes off and steps into the shower. Hot running water pours over her shoulders washing away the daily anxieties. In movies, taking long, hot showers demonstrates the lead actresses’ need to relax. No wonder, because the scene is visually powerful and easy to carry out. Just put the actress in the shower, let the water flow, leave her there over the scene and everybody knows what we are talking about. Everyone can relate.
Photo: Hannah XU, unsplash.com
But, with such consequences! I believe that the symbolic role given for showering in cultural imageries, not only as a cleansing activity, but also a pleasing and relaxing activity impacts our collective showering practices – and maintains our elevated (warm) water consumption. The showering questions go not without significance because almost half (45%) of the water consumption of an average household relates to personal hygiene. This is the situation in Finland, at least . Water heating requires energy, that is typically still extracted from fossil fuels. Us westerners take frequent showers and our shower times are long. In Finland, most people take six showers per week with an average duration of 4.3 minutes . We must remember that the Finns also have a related energy-intensive practice – heating up the sauna, but let’s stick to showering for this time being.
Depending on your shower head, the amount of water consumed varies. Remember the old-school shower heads of the ’70s? Back then water was flowing intensively, 15–18 litres per minute. Today, a standard showerhead releases 12 litres/minute and water-thrift heads only 8–9 litres . All the same, you’ll get clean using any of them. In energy and climate terms, a cold shower would have zero CO2 emission. Warm showers of a four-person family require 4000 kWh annually to heat up the water to 38 degrees . This equals one ton of CO2 (4000 kWh X 250g_CO2ekv/kWh) if the water is heated up with average electricity available in Finland .
Luckily, the energy-thrift showerheads are gaining popularity, and bathing is less popular today than in, let’s say, the ’70s. But I believe that many of us could easily turn off their showers several minutes earlier. Recently, intensified hand-washing as a pandemic precaution increased the warm water consumption, however, this energy practice is yet another one not to be compared with showering for pure habit or pleasure.
I kind of understand the film directors. Compared to other human ways of relaxing, such as spending time with friends, getting a massage, sleeping, just sitting, doing sports, you name it, would not send an as straightforward visual movie-fit message, due to their many parallel meanings, requiring explanation and film duration. Presenting other bad habits as ”cool” (such as smoking or sexist behaviour) in hero movies has gained attention and deserved critique. Displaying how characters take showers could also change. A true energy-hero might just say it out loud: ”Oh, what a hard day. I could take a one-hour water and energy-consuming shower but I won’t. I will find other ways to relax”.
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 OpenCO2.net. (2020). Päästökertoimen tiedot. Suomen keskimääräinen sähkönhankinta, kansallinen sähkön jäännösjakauma, URL: https://www.openco2.net/fi/paastokertoimet/sahko/suomen-keskimaarainen-sahkonhankinta-kansallinen-sahkon-jaannosjakauma/1177 (accessed 10 October 2020)