Don't let the morning go to waste


Arguably, more tasks are accomplished in a short time in the bathroom than in any other room in the house.

Think about it. In a pinch, you can (not necessarily in this order) shower and wash your hair, towel off, shave, dry your hair, brush your teeth, maybe splash on a product or two, toss the towel into the hamper and head off to start your day.

What did that take, 15 minutes?

You're forgiven if you never took the time to consider where you might find energy savings in the process, but here are some points to consider:

Shower vs. bath

Though time is usually the deciding factor in this calculation - and really, who has any? - there is a significant sustainability piece here as well.

The luxuriance of a bath goes beyond the relaxing soak. On average, you'll use between 30 and 50 gallons for a bath. A shower will use about 5 gallons a minute, half that with a low-flow shower head. If you get in and out fairly quickly, you could save a bunch of water and the energy it takes to heat it.

Tip: This goes for everybody, if you really care about smart water use, no more shaving in the shower. Guys can shave at the sink with a fraction of the water that goes down the drain while standing in the shower.

Shaving the legs can be done while seated on the side of the tub, without the water running.

Verdict: Everybody's entitled to the occasional soothing bath, but a quick shower is the hands-down winner from a sustainability standpoint.

Electric toothbrush vs. manual

While some folks may find something vaguely goofy about using an electric toothbrush, there seems to be a widespread assumption that the practice is more effective from a dental hygiene standpoint. It's not really true.

Researchers in England discovered that, with the exception of power brushes that offer a particular rotation-oscillation action, which most don't, or for people with physical limitations like arthritis, proper technique with a manual brush is just as effective.

The energy use for a battery-powered brush, whether rechargeable or not, is minimal, and while used toothbrushes represent a bit of a landfill issue, so do nonrechargeable batteries.

Tip: Do not let the water run in the sink while you're brushing your teeth. That's wasteful and just plain lazy.

Verdict: Go old school with a manual toothbrush.

Electric razor vs. nonelectric

Like an electric toothbrush, an electric razor is not exactly a resource-devouring monster.

Its recharger will draw a little electricity, but hardly more than any number of small appliances that you don't hesitate to run all day, like a clock radio.

Yes, the newer machines can set you back as much as $250, but depending on how much mileage you get out of a disposable razor, the popular choice for most men, the outlay for those and for shaving creams and gels could catch up in time.

Industry types maintain that an electric razor provides a closer shave by pushing skin in front of it and exposing more of the hair follicle, but it also stands a better chance of irritating your skin.

Newer-generation disposables can provide a comparably close shave, but wet shaving can be rough, too, actually taking off a layer of skin.

Moreover, while some electric razors allow you to use water and shaving cream, they are meant to operate dry. That's a savings in water use.

Verdict: The old-fashioned wet shave is the sentimental favorite, but on balance, it's too close to call.

Reusing towels vs. one-and-done

Strictly speaking, disease could be transmitted through used bath towels, which live in the steamy, bacteria-friendly world of the bathroom. No hospital would dream of asking a patient or customer to use one.

At home, on the other hand, most folks will tell you they give a towel a good weeklong run before tossing it into the wash. Of course, they're dealing with much smaller populations.

If you hang them where they can dry between showers, and try to keep people in the house from swapping towels, there's probably no health risk involved. And you're gaining a two- or threefold savings in water and energy use in the washing and drying.

Verdict: Reuse towels, but on a limited basis, say, no more than two or three times.

Blow-dryer vs. towel

Again, time is a factor here. Unless you're of those people who somehow creates a wealth of time for yourself before work in the morning, it can be hard to do all the necessary styling without the aid of a little hot air.

If you can put away the blow-dryer, you'll save 3 to 5 cents in energy spending per 15-minute use, not much more than running your stereo. Also, finishing quickly might actually save you a penny or so by allowing you to leave the bathroom and shut off the light.

Verdict: Technically, doing without the blow-dryer is a sustainability plus. Realistically, use it sparingly when you must.

Low-flow toilet vs. conventional

In the 1950s, toilets used more than 7 gallons of water per flush.

By the '80s, improved technology had cut that usage in half. In 1995, the federal government issued guidelines limiting GPF (gallons per flush) to 1.6, so we're all doing much better.

Nonetheless, builders say there is a wide range of quality out there in the market. If you're building a home or suspect your john is underperforming, start shopping.

Verdict: Low-flow is pretty much the only game in town anymore.


For many of us, the most frenzied moments of the day often come right at the beginning.

That doesn't mean we can't be mindful. Build in some resource-saving habits and you'll be making a difference before your day even really starts.

- Eric Bartels