Dear Umbra,

Is it suitable to justify peeing (urinating) while showering in order to save a toilet flush? Any health issues to your feet or shower algae growth?

Luke Whistler
Brisbane, Australia

Dearest Luke,

If I told you that my editor picked not only this question, but also the previous question about organic likker, what would you guess about her interests? It’s party time upstairs at Grist when she’s around. Maybe she can test out the efficacy of urine for ending shower mold in the Grist Test Bathroom. And you, down there in Australia, drinking your Foster’s and peeing in the shower — I have a lot of questions for you. Do you use gallons or liters? Does your toilet flush backwards?

The queen of wishful tinkling.

Photo: iStockphoto

The crux of your question, from a water-saving vantage point, will rest on the gallons-per-minute flow of your shower and the gallons per flush of your toilet. Here is where our questions truly begin — not only for Luke from Brisbane, but for all of you curious about justifying your ablutionary micturition.

First, how often do you flush? Remember — and this is a key point — it doesn’t need to be every time. You can gauge your water usage by checking your toilet, which probably has a gallon per flush number printed upon it. If you can’t find such a number, assume six gallons per flush on an older toilet, 1.6 gallons on a low-flow model (a gallon is 3.78 liters).

Now: what is the per-minute flow of your shower? All of us — renters, owners, anyone able to own the computer upon which they read these words — should have inexpensive, low-flow showerheads that deliver about two gallons per minute. But maybe we haven’t bothered to get one and our shower still delivers five to 10 gpm. If you don’t know, run the shower into a bucket for 10 seconds, measure the amount of water you collect, then do some simple math. Then, next time you are peeing in the shower, take note whether the peeing adds time to the experience: Are you scrubbing and peeing simultaneously, or just spacing out? If peeing is a stand-alone activity, you need to time how long it takes you to pee. Two minutes in a five gpm shower would be 10 gallons of hot water flushing your pee down the drain (and a very full bladder, but you get my point).

How do we add the energy embodied in hot water to this vexing dilemma? Sigh. Do you begin to grasp the enormous debts my party girl of an editor owes me?

I just spent a few moments trying to get you a kilowatt-hour per gallon of hot water number (0.13), but, upon reflection, that’s a red herring. Obviously, if you are going to waste any water at all, it’s better to waste cold water than hot water. So from an energy-saving (and climate) perspective, standing in the shower to pee is a poor idea unless you are efficiently multitasking (lathering plus peeing). And remember, not flushing is a good option. That’s my two cents. A third cent: pee in a bucket and pour it onto your compost pile for some high-nitrogen fun!

I get to eschew health questions if I so desire, so I’ll wrap up by saying that if you choose to pee in the shower, the hot water should wash the pee off the basin and your foot. You do clean the bathroom regularly, right? Stay tuned next week for more environmental concerns of fun-lovin’ editors the world over.

Urea-ly,
Umbra