Smart Water: Faucets, Heaters, and Systems

Learn about devices for controlling energy-saving home water systems.

Photo: Flickr

Consumers who are thinking about conservation, convenience, and green issues alike will find an enormous range of “smart” water accessories designed to improve upon both the home’s water system and usage.

Healthy Fixtures
In 1986, the federal government severely restricted the presence of lead in pipes and solder used in residential plumbing fixtures. Many homeowners mistakenly believe that because their home was built after 1986, their plumbing and water fixtures are safe from lead issues. Not so, says Eric Goldman, president of MGS USA, an Italian stainless-steel faucet company with USA headquarters in Boca Raton, FL. “Brass faucets have lead in them, and they have soldered pieces, which contain lead.” The current limit on lead in pipes and fixtures is 8 percent, but many on the anti-lead campaign believe leaching of lead into the water poses a dangerous risk, particularly to children.

MGS markets high-end stainless steel faucets, using recycled metal and without solder or lead, with kitchen faucets in itsVela collection listed at about $1,600. For those who want better water without the high price tag, other lead-free options exist.

Both Federalloy of Bedford, OH, and EnviroBrass of Denver, CO, have been producing lead-free brass and bronze alloys for use in plumbing fixtures and faucets. Concast Metal Products of Mars, PA, started GreenAlloys.com as a resource to the metal industry and a way to increase awareness of low-lead or no-lead alloys for use in plumbing fixtures and faucets. Homeowners looking for healthier drinking water should consider a low- or no-lead faucet alternative, and look for fixtures that contain lower lead levels than the maximum 8 percent.

Instant Hot or Cold Water
The water accessory market is saturated with “instant” devices. Smaller, under-the-counter hot water dispensers are proving an economical convenience for the busy kitchen, supplying instant hot water for perfectly brewed coffee or tea, easy dishwashing, quick hot cereals, and ready-to-drink baby bottles. The EverHot from Bradford White is a half-gallon under-the-sink unit that can supply 190-degree water in a flash, with a 60-cup-per-hour capacity. The 110-volt system uses less electricity than a 40-watt light bulb and costs $350 to $500, depending on additional accessories and faucet style selection.

On the flip side is the instant cold water dispenser, such as Bradford White’s EverCold, which is installed under the sink as well. The InSinkErator is an all-in-one under-the-sink product that combines an instant hot water dispenser, a water chiller and a filtration in one packaged unit. InSinkErator’s mix-and-match options allow for any number of combinations with prices that can range from $200 for the hot-water only dispenser to over $900 for the hot water, filtration, and water chiller units.

Tankless Hot Water
Whole-home tankless water heaters like Rinnai’s line of interior and exterior products save on water heating costs and can pay back on the upfront costs in a handful of years, but they can still be quite an investment. The tankless system is an alternative to the traditional hot water tanks that require constant heating — and thus, constant energy use.

Heating water can account for up to 20 percent of a home’s energy costs. In a conventional gas or electric storage tank water heater system, the water is heated to a set temperature. This temperature is maintained through periodic operation of the system, whether or not water is being used. Excessive heat loss through the walls of the tank or the system’s flue results in more frequent operation and higher costs.

Tankless systems, also called instantaneous or demand hot water systems, heat only the water that is being drawn through the system. The tankless units will vary in size and application from larger, whole-house designs to smaller, under-the-counter products used for individual bathrooms, dishwashers, or clothes washers. Systems will be rated by gallons-per-minute (gpm) of heated water, with costs as little as $200 for 1-gallon-per-minute units to over $1,000 for units that can heat as much as 5 gallons per minute.  

Drip Irrigation Systems
The hot, dry spring and summer months have home’s lawns thirsting for water. Many regions of the country face serious water conservation issues, however, which force homeowners to make tough decisions about landscaping.

One water-saving alternative is the drip irrigation system, which installs above or inches below the ground and supplies a steady, low-volume supply of water to the roots of grass, plants, and flowers. Drip irrigation systems eliminate water waste due to overwatering, surface evaporation,  and wind drift water loss associated with watering by hand or sprinkler systems. Starter drip irrigation kits can be purchased for as little as $50 and often come with the tubing, pressure regulators, and parts necessary to assemble and install a complete system. A system that can cover a entire home garden costs $200 to $600 on average.

More advanced systems can include digital timers to regulate the schedule and duration of cycles or a shut-off device that can automatically detect rain and moisture. Online retailers like DripWorks and The Drip Store offer whole kits, parts, and guides on buying and installing a drip irrigation system.