Where Do You Stand in the Great Bathroom Debate: Shower or Tub?

via. Lita Dirks & Company via Builder Magazine

Shower or tub? In the building industry it is a big question, for all the wrong reasons.

It's hard being a TreeHugger sometimes. We write about green living and building, go to conferences, promote energy efficiency and Net Zero and PassiveHouse and think that we are getting somewhere convincing the building industry that energy and carbon and water actually matter, and then I read Builder Magazine on The Great Bathroom Debate: Shower or Tub?

In this lengthy article, Kathleen Brown talks to people in the industry; she talks to "builders and designers on both sides of the aisle to see if showers or tubs are more in demand these days." Some like the tub as a place to relax; others like large showers with multiple heads. The future appears to be a happy medium of both -- big "wet environments."

[Designer] Jordan loves the “progressive” nature of the shower-tub combination because it meets the needs of older millennials like herself, who enjoy the practicality of a shower but are also starting families. Bathtime is playtime for young kids, says [designer] Thee, especially in a space that can contain epic handheld-showerhead water fights.

Nowhere in the entire article did it mention a word of what used to be the driver in this discussion: water and energy use. In fact, these "wet environments" appear to be designed to use more water and energy (and real estate) than ever before. So perhaps it is time to revisit the issue.

1. Water consumption

water consumption

© Alliance for Water Efficiency

Of course, the water consumption in a shower is proportional to the length of a shower, whereas a bath uses a fixed amount of water. But according to the Alliance for Water Efficiency, the average shower is 8.2 minutes, meaning that someone using a modern shower head is probably using half as much water as someone using a full bathtub of water.

2. Energy consumption

Interestingly almost none of the sites looking at the shower vs bath question discuss the energy used to heat the water. That's probably because it is all over the map; where I live, the water is really cold when it comes into the house, whereas in the south, it is warm. I did the math here in US figures for a 45 gallon bath:

energy consumption

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

As noted before, a shower will use half as much. Given that in the USA a kilowatt/hour produces an average of a pound of CO2, this all adds up. And it doesn't include the energy used to clean and pump all that water, which according to the Guardian, is as much as 60 percent of the energy bill in some cities and "more than 290m metric tons of carbon dioxide (equal to the annual emissions of 53m cars) each year."

So here it is 2017 and the Great Bathroom Debate takes place without a mention of this until the second last sentence, which notes that "several designers are keeping their eyes peeled for bathroom designs that are more health- and eco-conscious, perhaps including an exercise area, aromatherapy, and more resourceful shower fixtures."

So many people in the design and construction business are concerned about the fact that our buildings produce 39 percent of the CO2 emissions in the USA. And yet there is not a peep about it in a Hanley Wood magazine, the same company that runs Greenbuild and promotes green building. That's a missed opportunity.

Where do you stand in the great bathroom debate?

I must admit that I love a bath, especially in winter after a long day standing on my feet. What do you do?

Bath or shower? Which do you use?