Mother Earth Living

In the Flow: Water-Saving Toilets and Showerheads

What’s new and hot in saving water in the bathroom.
By Kelly Smith
September/October 2005
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One of the biggest water hogs in a typical home is the bathroom. The average person uses twenty-seven gallons of water per day just flushing the toilet, and a five-minute shower uses between fifteen and twenty-five gallons, according to the American Water Works Association. Multiply those numbers by a household of people over the course of a year, and that’s an enormous volume of water down the drain.

So how do you conserve water in the bathroom while still taking care of life’s necessities? Check out these cool new water-miserly products; when combined with a conscious effort to conserve, they can make a real difference.

Straight flush

Historically, the toilet has been the bathroom water hog, using three to five gallons per flush (gpf). After the Environ­mental Protection Agency’s 1992 Energy Policy Act mandated that all new toilets abide by a 1.6 gpf rate, all new installations are of the low-flow variety. Still, millions of older homes use the old inefficient models.

Initially, toilets functioned poorly, forcing folks to flush twice—negating the low-flow benefits. “One of the biggest shifts in the past decade or so is that 1.6 gpf toilets now work reliably,” says Nadav Malin, editor of Environmental Building News, a monthly newsletter devoted to sustainable building practices. “At first, many manufacturers used the same toilets, just with less water. Now they have fundamentally redesigned the toilets, and new testing protocols help ensure quality products.”

Though toilet mechanisms look virtually the same to the casual observer, there are now a number on the market. The conventional model, used in millions of homes and businesses, is a gravity-assisted, “flapper” style. Improvements on this design include a larger diameter flush valve (the big hole that drains the toilet) and a “flapperless” model. Both of these improve on flushing effectiveness.

Others, such as dual-flush and pressure-assist models, can use much less water than the mandated 1.6 gpf. With the turn of a handle, the dual flush releases either the full 1.6 gpf when larger volume is needed or a smaller volume of water. In a pressure-assist toilet, a water-pressurized vessel inside the tank “turbo-charges” the flush. Some of these pressure-assist models use just one gallon each time you flush, but the drawback is the noise—a big “whooshing” sound. The vacuum-assist toilet, as the name implies, uses a moderate vacuum to help clear the toilet bowl. It’s much quieter.

Finally, composting toilets convert waste into soil amendment using virtually no water. Be prepared, though: Installing a composting toilet involves a huge retrofit of an existing bathroom and a big investment in a new one. Permit and health code issues come into play, and most cities still require you to have a septic system in case the toilet doesn’t work properly. Composting toilets can affect home resale values, too—not everyone wants one. “From a theoretical standpoint, composting toilets are great,” says Malin. “In practice, they’re tough to implement.”

Shower power

The shower is the next biggest water drain. Here, water- saving solutions run the gamut from no-brainers to large investments. Installing a low-flow showerhead is one of the single easiest changes you can make to reduce water waste. The low-flow uses a vacuum to aerate the water so it “explodes” as it exits the showerhead, creating a powerful shower stream at a very low flow rate. Screw-on faucet aerators use the same concept at the sink, decreasing water use by creating a dispersed stream of water from the faucet.

Stop-valves on showerheads let you pause the water while soaping up and shampooing, then easily return to the water temperature and volume you had set.

THE WATER MISER'S GUIDE TO BATH APPLIANCES

Cimarron Comfort Heigh Toilet (Kohler)

Features: 3.25-inch flush valve, 1.4 gpf
Average Water Savings: Approximately 2,000 gal./year
Price: From $246
Find it: (800) 456-4537, Kohler.com 

UltraMax Toilet (Toto)

Features: 3-inch flush valve, 1.6 gpf (siphon jet flushing action)
Average Water Savings: Faster flush (50 gal./minute) saves 20 percent
Price: $514
Find it: (888) 295-8134, TotoUSA.com 

FloWise High-Efficiency Toilet (American Standard)

Features: 3-inch flush valve; uses 1.28 gpf
Average Water Savings: 4,000 gal./year (over old 3.5 gpf models)
Price: $395
Find it: (877) 442-1902, AmericanStandard-US.com 

EcoQuantum Toilet (Mansfield)

Features: Pressure-assist dual flush, 1.1 gpf/1.6 gpf
Average Water Savings: 40 percent better than 1.6 gpf models (3.8 gal./person/day)
Price: $333
Find it: (877) 850-3060, MansfieldPlumbing.com 

Envirolet Composting Toilet

Features: Uses no water or chemicals; runs on AC electric
Average Water Savings: Nearly 100 percent
Price: $1,550/system
Find it: (800) 387-5126, Envirolet.com 

Controllable Flush (Athena)

Features: The toilet handle replacement converts an existing standard toilet to a dual-mode flush.
Average Water Savings: 30,000 gal./year (family of 4)
Price: $30
Find it: (888) 426-7383, AthenaCFC.com 

Prismiere Showerhead with Soak & Soap Valve (Niagara Conservation)

Features: Has optional on/off valve. Choose from 2.5, 2.0, 1.7 or 1.5 gallons per minute.
Average Water Savings: Up to 50 percent of water over conventional models.
Price: $12.50
Find it: (800) 831-8383, NiagaraConservation.com 

WOW Shower

Features: Filters and recirculates warm water pooled in the tub back through the showerhead.
Average Water Savings: 20,000 gal./year per household (family of 5)
Price: $99
Find it: (509) 637-4041, WowShower.com 

THE HUMAN FACTOR


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