Jun 27, 2011

How to select a water-efficient fixture

Water saving fixtures and surfaces make this a gorgeous and sustainable bath.

Bath fixtures—toilets, showerheads, and faucets—are one of the easiest places in the home to make an immediate impact on water efficiency. Engineering and design of these plumbing fixtures has caught up with regulations and demand and you can make the switch with confidence in function and appearance. The EPA's WaterSense program states that toilets, showerheads, and lav faucets are not only certified to offer flows 20% lower than federal requirements, but also to perform up to consumers’ expectations.  With options at every price point offering both lower flows and a satisfying experience, there is simply no excuse not to specify water-efficient fixtures for new or remodeled homes. Here is a summary of what to look for in each category:

TOILETS  In the 90's consumers had very little confidence in the term “low flow.” Now, these products are highly engineered and often rated for flush power.  Units perform well at federal-standard levels, and can now go as low as 1.28, 1.0, or, in the case of Niagara’s new Stealth model, 0.8 gallons per flush (gpf). The EPA’s WaterSense standard  is for high-efficiency toilets (HETs) to use 1.28 gallons or less per flush and that dual-flush toilets (which offer separate flushing options for liquid and solid waste) average 1.28 gpf. It also specifies that such toilets must be able to dispose of solid waste of 350 grams or more in a single flush in four of five attempts.  The methods for meeting lower flows vary. Pressure-assist mechanisms are some of the first and most reliable options for adding oomph to the flush. Now that suppliers have had time to re-work entire systems, traditional flush mechanisms work as well with smoother bowls, adjusted shapes and inlets to reduce friction points, tanks with larger openings, and altered flow paths to move water and waste more effectively and help keep the bowl clean. Fired-in glazes aim to reduce streaks and bacteria.

SHOWERHEADS  According to the EPA, showering accounts for 1.2 trillion gallons of Americans’ annual water use. But with our collective passion for the shower “experience,” adoption of low-flow models often takes some convincing.

WaterSense-certified showerheads use no more than 2.0 gpm, 20% less than standard fixtures of 2.5 gpm. In addition, devices must meet performance guidelines for both spray force and spray coverage, whose comfort thresholds were determined through research into consumer preferences.  Simply restricting the flow doesn't ensure a drenching spray, so, like toilets, many manufacturers have re-engineered devices from the inside out. Tactics include changing the shape and number of nozzles, tweaking nozzle patterns, and injecting air into or otherwise reshaping water droplets. A turbine in American Standard’s FloWise showerhead, for example, chops droplets into a size and shape engineered to provide for a drenching feel.  WaterSense-certified showerheads install the same as regular units. 

FAUCETS  Of the three types of bath fixtures, faucets have raised the least amount of concern among buyers. In fact, many manufacturers converted their entire lav inventories to WaterSense products—which flow at 1.5 gpm, 32% less than the 2.2-gpm max set by federal standards—with little to no fanfare or price increases.   Like toilets and showerheads, WaterSense faucets must meet performance criteria to ensure flows are strong enough for tasks such as rinsing a toothbrush. Most devices were an easy fix, with manufacturers swapping in pressure-compensating aerators engineered to reduce water without altering force.