December 2, 2010
Plumbers are the infantry soldiers on the front lines of water conservation and each has an array of tools in their arsenal to help customers solve water use problems.
Very often, a homeowner is unaware of how easy it can be to reduce water consumption in the home or how inexpensive it can be compared to the water savings that might result.
Ed Del Grande, a master plumber in Smithfield R.I., and water conservation expert for Kohler Co., tells people that "saving water can be as simple as 1 - 2 - 3."
By that, Del Grande means there are three main steps-all easily achieved and affordable-that any plumber anywhere can recommend to a homeowner to reduce wasteful water use.
"Putting high-efficiency aerators on faucets is the number one step," Del Grande said. "Plumbers can pick them up at a supply house and keep them on the truck where they won't take up much room. Aerators have a universal thread and cost about $5 each, but allow a plumber to get extra work at a service call."
While faucet aerators can be a first step, a better idea, Del Grande pointed out, would be to recommend that the homeowner install 1.75-gpm high-efficiency faucets in bathrooms.
"These new products are designed so the homeowner doesn't have to change his lifestyle, only the fixture," Del Grande said. "They are engineered so the performance levels feel the same as the previous strong flow you would get from a 2.2-gpm faucet."
Del Grande noted that using 1.75-gpm faucets can save about 14,000 gallons of water annually for a family of four, reducing faucet water use by about 30 percent.
The second step plumbers can suggest to homeowners is to change the showerheads in a house, he said.
"Changing a showerhead should be a cakewalk for any plumber," Del Grande said, "The homeowner can pick up about 30 percent savings in shower water use. That will save a family of four about 7,000 gallons of water a year."
But the biggest water savings comes with step three-installing a high-efficiency toilet, according to Del Grande.
"The old 3.5-gpf toilets are the biggest water-wasters in a house," he said. "It's estimated there are still 100 million of these toilets in use throughout the country. Those should be replaced with 1.6-gpf toilets at the very least."
Del Grande estimated that replacing a 3.5-gpf toilet with a high-efficiency toilet of 1.3-gpf or less will save a homeowner about 16,500 gallons of water a year.
John Smith of The Arizona Green Plumbers in Tucson, said it's important to educate consumers on the products that plumbers have available to help them save water.
"We have to help them get past the 'low-flow' word and use terms like 'high-efficiency' to show the difference the new products can make," Smith said. "We also have to make sure the products we promote do what the maker say's they'll do."
Smith noted that he tells customers that he'll install a high-efficiency toilet and if it doesn't work well for the homeowner, he'll replace it free of charge. He has yet to have to replace a single unit.
Smith also espouses helping consumers change their habits, which cost nothing, yet can save vast amounts of water.
"I talk to my customers about limiting their time in the shower, turning off the faucet when they're shaving or brushing their teeth, and putting a spray nozzle on a hose instead of using the half-inch opening," Smith said. "Once I give them the free things they can do, then they can start thinking about high-efficiency toilets, faucets and showerheads."
Smith also recommends three things a plumber can suggest to homeowners. First is to change showerheads from 2.5-gpm to 1.5-gpm fixtures. Second is to put aerators on all lavatory sinks, taking the fixtures from 2.5-gpm to 0.5-gpm.
"On a lavatory sink, the customer will not notice a difference in the flow," Smith said, "But I wouldn't do that on a kitchen sink because it will only frustrate a customer trying to fill a pot with a reduced flow."
The third thing he recommends is to change habits, like taking a 5- or 10-minute shower instead of a 20-minute one, and shutting off running water when not actually using it for a particular function.
Derek Kirkpatrick, North American general manager for Caroma, believes most plumbers want to be sure they're doing their part in fostering water conservation.
"Conservation needs to come from the idea of protection of resources, and plumbers have a direct access to homeowners, allowing them to put things in their home that not only work well, but conserve water too," Kirkpatrick said.
Kirkpatrick recommends that plumbers have the support of the Environmental Protection Agency's WaterSense program where third-party testing is done on products to gain the WaterSense label and certification.
Promoting WaterSense products, he maintained, "helps plumbers elevate their contribution to conservation by showing the benefits of saving water."
The WaterSense program estimates the average American household spends as much as $500 each and every year on its water and sewer bills. If all U.S. households installed water-efficient appliances, the country would save more than 3 trillion gallons of water and more than $18 billion per year, according to the WaterSense website.
A secondary benefit to saving water is saving energy, the WaterSense website stated, because it takes a considerable amount of energy to deliver and treat the water people use every day. It's estimated that American public water supply and treatment facilities consume about 56 billion kilowatt-hours per year, enough electricity to power more than 5 million homes for an entire year.
As an example, WaterSense noted that letting a faucet run for five minutes uses about as much energy as letting a 60-watt light bulb burn for 14 hours.
On the potential overall energy savings of water-efficient products, WaterSense estimated that if one out of every one hundred American homes was retrofitted with water-efficient fixtures, the country could save about 100 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, thus avoiding 80,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. WaterSense noted that's the equivalent of removing nearly 15,000 automobiles from the road for a year.
Further, it estimated that if one percent of American homes replaced older, inefficient toilets with WaterSense labeled models, the country would save an additional 38 million kilowatts of electricity, enough to supply more than 43,000 households with electricity for one month.
Kirkpatrick agreed that plumbers should promote changing household fixtures to high-efficiency showerheads, faucets and toilets.
He cited Caroma's high-efficiency showerhead that runs at a flow rate of 1.5-gpm at 60 psi and 1.6-gpm at 80 psi.
"We didn't want air induced into the shower because air coming into the mix has a negative impact on heat," Kirkpatrick said. "It saves water, but costs more in energy.
He noted that the Caroma Flow product, rather than having a flow restrictor, changes the water droplets and spray pattern to produce a more powerful showerhead.
"From a plumber's standpoint, the looks are there, the performance is there, and the water will be warm when it hits the user's knees because the heat retention is there," Kirkpatrick said. "Another selling point a plumber can use is that it is a quiet unit-not like being in the wind."
Kirkpatrick thinks that the mindset of consumers is changing in that they want to conserve water and will ask plumbers for their opinion on how best to do it.
"Plumbers know which products work and those that don't work," he said. "Plumbers want to install products that make their customers happy. On the water conservation side of things, it costs a lot to use a lot of water and many consumers are much more mindful about doing so."
Kirkpatrick also believes that dual flush toilets are the future answer to wasteful water use in the water closet.
"The city of Vancouver recently mandated dual flush toilets for all new construction," Kirkpatrick said, and he thinks it's only a matter of time before other jurisdictions enact similar rules.
"We were the company that invented and commercialized that technology," he noted, "and we now make dual flush toilets in a 0.8 and 1.28-gpf model and a 0.8 and 1.6-gpf version."
Del Grande predicted that water use will become a more pressing issue, not only in the West where supplies are becoming more limited, but even in states that have traditionally had a surplus of water.
"The EPA estimates that by 2013, there will be 36 states in the U.S. that claim they will face water shortages at least in some of their counties," Del Grande noted. "That's the real emergency that will come to us before global warming. It means some areas could run out of water and will have to start taking water from places that have a lot of it right now."
Del Grande noted that Kohler has four high-efficiency flushing systems that plumbers can recommend to homeowners to conserve water.
"One is a 0.8 and 1.6-gpf dual flush unit that has a quiet flushing action and is usually placed in a master bedroom area," he said. "It nets out at 1.3-gpf."
In a guest bathroom or powder room, Del Grande recommended a Power-Lite flushing system that uses air pressure and rates at 1-gpf.
"You don't want to have to explain dual buttons to guests," Del Grande noted. "So each area of a house may have a different flushing system."
For an area with low water pressure, Kohler has a high-efficiency gravity flushing tower toilet rated at 1.28-gpf, and also a Pressure-Lite pressure-assisted 1.28-gpf model.
"These days trapways are completely glazed inside so they're very slippery, Del Grande pointed out." Also there are no lazy bends or sharp bends restricting the trapway."
Del Grande believes plumbers hold the key to helping people save water.
"Plumbers are the American salesmen for water conservation," he said. "People have to wake up and fix this problem right away."