Water-Conserving Plumbing Fixtures

Households and businesses use four billion gallons of water each day, and 36 states anticipate local, regional or statewide water shortages by the year 2013, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. There is great potential for consumers to conserve water by changing their behavior. Below is a list of options to consider for replacement of plumbing fixtures. Many of these items can provide abundant energy efficiency, and thus, maximum cost savings.

Toilets: Toilets consume about 30 percent of household water used. Since 1992, new toilets use a maximum of 1.6 gallons per flush, but many older toilets are still in operation using double the amount of water.

  • Dual-flush toilets, in which the user selects a full- or half-flush, were first developed in Australia in 1980 and are now available in the U.S. from several manufacturers.
  • Composting toilets use little or no water but instead rely on aerobic decomposition. They are plumbing pipes and septic-tank-free. Care and upkeep is required for a composting toilet to function properly, requiring a committed owner. Although more than 20,000 composting toilets have been installed in the U.S., not all regulators are ready for composting toilets — check with local building and health departments for environmental codes.

Waterless urinals: Standard urinals use from 1 to 3 gallons per flush. Waterless urinals have no water supply but instead use a chemical trap that allows waste to flow down the drain without letting sewer gasses escape.

Showerheads: Showers consume about 22 percent of an average home’s water use.

  • Specify low-flow water-conserving shower-heads.
  • Specify showerhead with a shut-off valve to allow the user to turn off the water while soaping up and turn it back on without having to readjust the water temperature.

Faucets: Kitchen and bathroom sink faucets account for about 15 percent of indoor water use. Newer faucets may not exceed 2.2 gallons per minute (gpm) at 60 psi or 2.5 gpm at 80 psi, but older faucets can operate at 3 to 7 gpm.

Water Heaters: Consider on-demand (tankless) hot water heaters; these can eliminate the need to run water until hot water reaches the faucet. They may also save energy by heating water only when needed.

Maintenance: When renovating or remodeling, take the opportunity to replace toilets manufactured before 1992 and to repair leaks in all fixtures to remain. Leaks can add up to tens of thousands of gallons of wasted water every year.

  • A toilet that runs wastes two gallons per minute, while a silent leak can waste up to 7,000 gallons each month. Silent leaks can be found by adding food coloring to the toilet tank and returning in 10 minutes to look at the toilet bowl. If the food coloring has found its way into the bowl, there is a slow leak requiring a new flapper valve or other maintenance. (Flush to clear food coloring to prevent staining.)
  • A faucet dripping every second wastes 2,700 gallons of water per year. Often replacing a washer will stop a leak. Adding an aerator, which mixes air into the water stream, to existing high-flow faucets can also reduce water usage.
  • To test for other leaks, turn off all water taps and record the water meter reading before leaving home for two or three hours. Upon returning, the homeowner should check the meter reading. If it has changed, there may be a water leak. In addition to plumbing fixtures, sources for leaks may include an evaporative cooling system, water heater or irrigation system.