Saving Water While Out of The Shower

Written by tom


According to my wife, among my most obnoxious green peccadilloes is letting the water run while the shower is warming up.

We have long pipes from our hot water tank to the shower and it can take a few minutes to get hot water in the morning. As a consequence, my hectic morning routine often has me reading email while steam pours from the bathroom. Shameful: heating water consumes tremendous amounts of fossil fuels, and, especially in California, water is energy. My wife often takes these opportunities to remind me I work at TerraPass.

Clearly an intervention was required.

A new offering from the TerraPass store that I’ve been testing does the trick quite nicely. The Roadrunner is a handy little combination of a low-flow showerhead (1.59 gallons per minute) and a “ladybug” — a temperatures sensitive valve that shuts off the water when it reaches 95° F. So turn the water on and go do your email. The ladybug valve will shut off the flow when the water gets hot. Get in the shower, pull a simple cord to restart the flow, and enjoy a warm green(er) shower.

Installation was simple. Less that a minute with a monkey wrench and my green task for the day was done. We also sell just the ladybug, which you can attach to your current showerhead.

As part of my test, I installed the Roadrunner without telling my wife about it. She proved her green superiority by asking, “Why does the shower go off about a minute into it?” Apparently, some people don’t wait for the water to heat up before getting in.

Now, we could do even better if we had instant-on hot water, or if I cut showers down to Victorian-era norms. Or even captured the waste water for plants like one of my colleagues. But I’ll celebrate the baby steps on this journey and just pause for a daily moment of morning smugness.

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  1. Robin

    I recent read about a recirculating hot water pump. This device is supposed to save the cold water that you would normally send down the drain as you wait for the hot water to reach the tap. Maybe you could do a review of it here? I can’t quite figure out how it works. At $225, it’s pricey, but maybe worth the cost?

  2. Bob

    Tankless water heater @ bathroom would save lots of water and tons of energy as it only uses energy when the water is running (hot).
    Little on pricey side but payback should be quick.

  3. Anonymous

    My parents recently installed a recirculating pump in their home. They purchased it at Home Depot and it did indeed cost a little over $200. It’s a pretty simple idea and has been very effective for them.
    This roadrunner device sounds great too!

  4. Anonymous

    My parents recently installed a recirculating pump in their home. They purchased it at Home Depot and it did indeed cost a little over $200. It’s a pretty simple idea and has been very effective for them.
    This roadrunner device sounds great too!

  5. Russ

    Robin, the recirc pump circulates hot water by pushing it back down the cold water pipes, where it will end up refilling the hot water tank. Normally, you would put it on a timer, so it’s doing this only when you’re most likely to need instant hot water. The downsides? It uses electricity to do the recirculation; it taxes the water heater, which has to reheat the water that’s cooled off while flowing through the pipes; you’ll get hot water out of the cold water spigot unless your house is specially plumbed for this feat.
    The problem I have with tankless water heaters is that they require a gas hookup (not usually available other than in the kitchen) or rather high current electric service. That would tax my PV system something fierce!

  6. Jed

    I have the same problem, but i also care about the water, especially since I live in Las Vegas.
    I fill a bucket from the bathtub as it is not low flow, and therfore it takes less time for hot water to reach the bathroom. I then take a hot shower using the low flow showerhead.
    Finally, I use the bucket of water to water potted plants.
    It’s a routine that I’m used to and cost me nothing.

  7. Mike Dvorak

    Or maybe you could just insulate your pipes for $10? Even a renter can probably payoff the cost of insulation over their stay of 1-2 years. Plus, you can claim the carbon and water savings of the next renters when you move. It’s not tough. All you need is some pipe insulation, a sharp knife, and some electrical tape.

  8. Tom

    I installed Takagi TK Jr. tankless water heater and a “Chilipepper” recirculating pump, and the combination works great. These plus good pipe insulation on short, direct pipe runs puts hot water at the shower in seconds, and very little wasted water, right up until my 14 year-old gets in…

  9. GOPwolf

    Mike Dvorak has the right idea folks. This is just a stop gap. Wrap your pipes so your not wasting so much water at all to begin with. Plus you’ll save money by being able to turn back the thermostat on your hot water heater. Not to mention it will save you money, “and water for that matter” when your pipes won’t freeze or burst in the winter time.

  10. Tom Harrison

    I tried the Roadrunner, and it is indeed a pretty good shower head. However, we also tried the Oxygenics Elite 700 and prefer it to the Roadrunner.
    The main appeal of the RoadRunner would seem to be what they call “shower start” — a device that detects that the water has warmed up and shuts the flow down to a trickle. At first, I thought this was a good thing — we do have a long run from our basement to the shower, but it’s not that sensitive, so tends to run the shower longer than I would. So I would get in when the shower was warm … then it would shut off. I used to turn on the tub spout and switch to shower when it was hot; this was faster and used less water (yes, I measured).
    The RoadRunner has a nice low-flow spray; on the bright side, it’s not overly forceful; it’s quite gentle and reasonably effective.
    I had been using the Oxygenics Elite 700 for a month before I tried the Roadrunner. The Oxygenics is also a low flow head, and after a long time comparing, my whole family prefers it. It has a nice forceful (yet not stinging) spray, and also includes a flow-reducer that provides a gentler spray, nice once you’re warmed up and wet.
    Neither of these shower heads is comparable to the horrible ones that shoot stinging needles of water into your back and gave low-flow shower heads a bad name. They are both really nice (and I prefer them both to my old 2.5GPM head.
    While both are a little pricey, the Oxygenics is a little less expensive (it’s available on I have done more extensive reviews of both on my blog (linked above), and also encourage you to check out who has checked out some other low flow heads.
    We save very significant amounts of water with these shower heads. We also keep showers short, use cold water for most clothes washing, and so on. Our water use has gone down by about 1/2 since we started thinking about using this resource. So have our water and fuel bills 🙂

  11. Adam Stein

    Thanks for the detailed feedback, Tom. By the way, we do sell the “ladybug” valve separately as well, so you could use it with an Oxygenics head.

  12. Monty

    Just keep a bucket near your shower and fill the bucket while the water warms up. I know the hassle of waiting for the water to warm up might cost you a minute, but it is a small price to pay for the environment. Then you have a bucket of water you can use for anything — use it for your toilet, plants, humidifier — whatever you like. If you are waiting longer than a bucket full of water, then it really is time to contemplate how the hot water is heated in your house.

  13. Sara Rodgers

    I really like this idea, but unfortunately, it would cause the casing on my water filter to crack! What is needed is a place to put the a chlorine filter between the “bug” and a low flow shower head. As we all know chlorine is not good for you and I’d rather waste a few gallons of water than give up my chlorine filter!

  14. Tom Harrison

    @Tony (Comment 12) —
    The Hot Water Lobster is a very interesting device; simple and clever. The “saves energy” claim is a little bit dubious, though.
    Their explanation is that warmer water that has been recirculated via the cold water pipe is used to replace the water in your tank, rather than cold ground water. This is true. A secondary claim is that short uses of hot water such as hand-washing and so on can use the cold water tap, since the water will be warm already. Also true.
    The first claim is a little bit of a stretch, as it would only save the amount of water contained in the hot water pipe between the heater and the tap (the rest of the shower uses the water that comes in at ground temperature). And while the second claim seems reasonable, I cannot see how the combined benefits outweigh the costs.
    The main problem with hot water tanks is that they keep water hot 100% of the time, even if you only need it to be hot a few times a day. They mitigate this problem by providing very good insulation for the water, thus requiring the burner or heating element to come on as little as possible. Keeping the water in the tank is the best place for it, when not in use.
    Unlike a water heater, hot water pipes are usually uninsulated copper running through the walls. Having hot water flowing through the pipes much of the time would expose it to the cooler interior wall spaces; water would cool more quickly than if it stayed in the tank.
    Unless I am missing something here, it seems to me that such a system would require *more* energy for a typical household (we use hot water in the morning for showers, and evening for dishes; the rest of the day and night is wasted). So perhaps the difference is not a lot, but I guess I am skeptical of the “saves energy” claim this company makes.

  15. Leila

    Can you use the valve like an on-off switch to take a navy-shower? (In this case: shower warms up and shuts off, you turn the valve to release the flow, turn the valve back to pause the flow)