Green Homes—Water-Efficient Plumbing Fixtures

Save water and energy by investing in WaterSense certified low-flow toilets and faucets.

By Maureen Blaney Flietner | Updated Nov 12, 2013 7:50 PM

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Water Saving Faucets, Water Saving Toilets


Efficient Products
Managing the country’s water supply is a rising concern, yet many Americans are unaware of how much water they waste. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that each person uses about 80 to 100 gallons of water per day and a lot of it goes down the toilet.

One program raising awareness is the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program created in 2006. The voluntary partnership encourages consumer demand for water-efficient products and services, similar to the way the Energy Star program has created energy-saving awareness. So far, WaterSense has qualified products in two categories—toilets, and bathroom faucets and faucet accessories. The products have started to appear on store shelves with more available online or by special order. In addition, the marketplace offers options, such as waterless urinals.

The first category targeted by WaterSense was toilets, the greatest home water consumer. The thought of more “low-flow” toilets may, at first, turn away homeowners. Some early attempts before WaterSense performed poorly as they tried to achieve the federal law of not exceeding 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf). One of their problems was requiring repeat flushes to remove waste.

But WaterSense specifications require both high efficiency and high performance. With new technology and design modifications, more than 60 toilets have earned the WaterSense label. They were independently tested and certified to perform as well as or better than their market counterparts while using an average of 20 percent less water per flush than the industry standard of 1.6 gallons. For those homes still using old toilets with 3.5- and 5-gallon flushes, the savings percentages are even greater.

These toilets accomplish the task using several methods: single flush gravity fed; pressure assist using a tank storage device or water line pressure; power assist using a small pump to force water at a higher velocity; and dual-flush gravity fed.

Kohler’s gravity-fed Persuade® toilet is one example that offers the dual-flush technology. Using a two-button actuator integrated into the top of the tank lid, the user can flush either 1.6 gallons or half that amount, 0.8 gallons, depending on need. According to Kohler, the latter flush option, if used routinely to remove light or liquid waste, could save a household of four between 2,000 and 5,000 gallons of water per year versus standard models. The Persuade features a skirted toilet bowl, which the company notes as significantly more hygienic than other models, and eliminates potential debris buildup around the trapway and bowl-tank connection.

Waterless Urinals
Another way to cut bathroom water use is something not readily considered for a residential setting. However, interest in waterless urinals at home is rising, says Klaus Reichardt, president of Waterless Co. Requests are coming from families with several boys at home, those concerned about water conservation and water and sewer costs, and from builders of large spec homes with his and her bathrooms.

The product does work in retrofits if there is enough space in the bathroom, says Reichardt. Often there is room enough, about two feet, for a urinal between the sink and toilet. The plumber only needs to open up the wall to provide a line to the drain line. There is no need for a water line.

The system is simple. The trap is filled with a liquid sealant that prevents sewer gas and odors from escaping the plumbing below. Urine is temporarily stored in the trap. As it accumulates, it overflows into the drain pipe.

On the assumption that a male resident might use the urinal three times a day, the water savings is more than 1,700 gallons a year, says Reichardt. In addition, products such as the Del Casa No-Flush® Urinal by Waterless are available in a variety of colors, including granite for a high-end look.

Bathroom Sink Faucets
It is estimated that there are 222 million residential bathroom faucets in the country and about 17 million new bathroom sink faucets sold each year for new homes or as replacements. The faucets, depending on age, operate at various flow rates. In homes with pre-1992 bathroom faucets, the water may come pouring out at from three to seven gpm. A faucet from between 1992 and 1998 may flow at 2.5 gpm. In 1998, new bathroom faucets had to meet the 2.2 gpm at 60 psi standard.