Bathroom fixtures have come a long way in the past couple of decades. Even a few years ago, most toilets used around 3.5 gallons of water each flush. Today’s high-efficiency models go as low as .8 gallons a flush, saving thousands of gallons of water. As water becomes an increasingly precious resource (at least 36 U.S. states will face water shortages by 2013), conserving it makes a bigger impact on our global community, and it is starting to pay off more in our pocketbooks.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense Program website offers tons of information and resources on water-efficient appliances. By following their ratings, you’re certain to find the best options on the market.
Faucets account for more than 15 percent of indoor household water use, so reducing their flow (by up to 30 percent) with WaterSense-labeled products will amount to a deluge of savings. WaterSense estimates the United States could save more than $350 million in water utility bills, $600 million in energy costs for heating water, and 60 billion gallons of water each year if we all installed efficient faucets or accessories. Good news for those of us with older faucets: You can achieve the same water savings with very inexpensive faucet aerators, which attach to any sink.
Before 1992, showerhead flow rates were as high as 5.5 gallons per minute (gpm). Today, federal regulation mandates that flow rates don’t exceed 2.5 gpm at 80 psi (pounds per square inch, the standard measure of water pressure). WaterSense showerheads use less than 2 gpm. WaterSense estimates that the average household could save more than 2,300 gallons a year by installing a WaterSense-labeled showerhead—which would save more than 250 billion gallons of water annually in the United States. Replacing showerheads offers the added bonus of reducing hot water use, which means big energy savings, as well.
A quick test can help determine whether you should consider replacing your showerhead: Place a bucket with gallon or liter markings under your showerhead and turn it on. Time how many seconds it takes to fill the bucket to 1 gallon (3.8 liters). If it takes less than 20 seconds, you should replace your showerhead. Look for showerheads with the lowest gpm—most efficient models today use 1.5 gpm. Some showerheads also offer a “pause” button, which halts water flow while you lather up or shave.
If you live in an older home or apartment building where water takes a while to heat up, the Evolve Ladybug adaptor, suitable for nearly any showerhead, could help you reduce waste. When you turn on the shower, the Ladybug allows water to flow until it reaches a comfortable temperature of 95 degrees (35 Celsius). Then it activates “trickle mode,” lowering the flow to nearly nothing until you press a button to return to normal flow. (Catch that warm-up water in a bucket and use it to water the garden!) The manufacturer estimates you’ll save an additional $75 a year with the device, which costs $30 to $40, depending on finish.
Replacing an out-of-date toilet will make a huge difference in your water bill. Toilets are the main source of water use in the home, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the average home’s indoor water consumption, according to the EPA. You will likely flush the toilet 140,000 times over the course of your lifetime. You can save about 4,000 gallons a year by installing a WaterSense toilet. WaterSense estimates the average family of four will save nearly $100 a year on water bills, and more than $2,000 over a low-flow toilet’s lifetime. Several varieties of low-flow toilets exist. Many, known as dual-flush, offer the option of an extremely low-flow or a slightly higher-flow flush.
You can save even more with a composting toilet, which requires very little water and sends waste to a processing bin, often outdoors or in a basement. Composting toilets have greatly advanced in the past decade. No longer just for camp cabins, modern composting toilets use zero water to flush (some models use tiny amounts of water to process compost), provide a nutrient-rich soil amendment, and require little maintenance. (Read more about modern composting toilets in our recent guide.)
If you’re not ready to upgrade quite yet, a few companies (try Gaiam) offer kits that can convert any toilet into a low-flow model. You can also save water by filling a 2-liter bottle with sand or gravel and putting it in the toilet tank.
Bricor B100 UltraMax
.55 GPM; about $75
Ultimate .50 GPM Low Flow Showerhead
.5 GPM; $38
0.5/1.0/1.5 setting; about $20
Oxygenics SkinCare Series (models 630, 640, 650)
1.5 GPM; about $30
0.5 GPM; $520
Moen Eva (model 6400)
1.5 GPM; $192
Toto EcoPower Faucets
.8 to 1.0 GPM; $747 and up
.35 GPM Faucet Aerator
.35 GPM; $2.50
Niagara .5 GPM Tamperproof Aerator
.5 GPM; $4
American Standard FloWise Dual Flush
1.6/0.8 GPM; $340 and up
Caroma (several models)
1.6/0.8 GPM; $200 and up
Toto Aquia Dual-Flush Toilet
1.6/.09 GPM; $600 and up
0 GPM; $1,300 and up
0 GPM; $2,835
0 GPM; $2,000 and up
0 GPM; $1,595 and up