Sometime in June 2013, I was working in my office when I noticed a puddle of water seeping in the doorway and running towards my amp and guitar collection. After moving the valuable equipment out of the way, I went outside and noticed that our hot water heater, which was in an enclosure outside my office, had sprung a leak.
After shutting off the water and mopping up the mess, we called in two plumbers to assess the damage. They both said that the heater, which was about 20+ years old, had split and needed complete replacement. One quoted us $2200 for the replacement, and the other quoted $2500. We also got a quote to change over to solar hot water, but that was around $7000.
Now, we had about $5000 saved away in a family savings account, but we had already decided that 2013 would be a year of seriously pursuing our artistic goals. We had already earmarked that money (1) for a portraiture course in August in Adelaide that my wife wanted to do, and (2) for a guitar building course in Melbourne in September that I was keen on.
We thought long and hard about this, then decided that we would defer replacing the hot water heater until the next dry season, about a year away.
This was despite the fact it was one of the coolest dry seasons we have had, and hot water was pretty much the only thing that could warm us up in the mornings and evenings.
But we gritted our teeth and persevered. For arts sake.
Here is what we found.
Time wasted in the shower was reduced markedly. From an average of 10 to 12 minutes each standing under a warm cascade of water daydreaming, the family reverted to short, quick shower in the bracing cold water. Shower times were down to less than 5 minutes as we got in, soaped and rinsed and got the heck out.
Our sons went from sometimes having 3 showers a day, to only having one a day.
This also resulted in the pleasant after effect that the shower and bathroom needed less cleaning due to less usage. Towels and bath mats were also less in need of regular washes.
Now here is a funny thing. I didn't actually realise that dishwashers have a built in water heater (After all, we never had a dishwasher up until we moved into this house, which had one preinstalled). For the first few months, we were hand washing everything, but only once or twice a day.
My wife would boil up a large pan of water on the gas hob and use that for the dishes. Even after we realised we could still use the dishwasher for hot washes, she persevered with the pan heated water, and the dishwasher was reserved for weekend use.
This was probably my least favourite aspect of this experiment. I HATE having the sink filling up with dirty dishes for a whole day.
The boys did learn to only use one cup/plates etc. during the day though, and wash them up, because they could not keep raiding the dishwasher for clean ones 10 times a day.
This was a challenge for me, because I like my hot shaves, so I used to co-ordinate my morning shaves with those mornings where my wife was heating up a pan for the washing up. I used to grab a couple of cups of hot water to shave with.
This meant that we had to really time our activities so that we minimised the number of pans of hot water we needed to make.
After a few months of this, I just reverted to cold shaving, which wasn't the most pleasant of experiences, but I managed to do it.
This was a simple remedy. Our washing machine had a 'cold wash' setting, so we simply bought cold wash soap powder and ran with that.
It seemed to work better. Things like the elastic on underwear etc. didn't seem to break down as fast as they did with hot washes.
I monitored our electricity usage during this time, and noted and power usage dropped by around 40% during this time, which translated to around $400 on our quarterly electricity bills.
I put this down also to less electricity being used by not using the dishwasher as often, or not needing lights in the bathroom for as long etc.
Water usage was also down by about 30% over normal.
It was an interesting family social experiment, and one that we all participated in with a little bit of reservation. I am proud of our two boys for running with it and not complaining too much. At best, they will realise that hot water on tap is a privilege not to be taken for granted.
As the weather cooled down this May 2014, we decided to bite the bullet and replace the hot water system. We now have wonderful hot water available on demand again, and I won't kid you - it is very welcome.
But I won't forget our little lesson learned, and we still try and prioritise our time in the bathroom and be as efficient as we possibly can. Hopefully we can keep in mind that this is a luxury that not everyone in the world can experience, and we will savour it a lot more.
FOOTNOTE: The old hot water heater is currently being converted into a 'nuclear tower' in the garden to be used for an upcoming Nerf battle.