What is the Future of Green Plumbing and Water Efficiency?
Reeves Journal interviews plumbing manufacturers
Reeves Journal: Is green plumbing still a separate entity, or has it become integral to plumbing manufacturing companies? Will contractor and consumer education continue to be important goals?
“The need for sustainable plumbing solutions is needed now more than ever,” says Patrick Boyle, director of sustainability at Sloan. “As the global population continues to grow, the strain on our water resources continues to increase. While gallons per flush have continued to be driven lower, the need to consume less potable water for flushing needs to be implemented. We also need to continue pushing for product transparency. How our product impacts the environment is just as important as the amount of potable water flowing through them.”
Sloan has taken sustainable plumbing fixtures and fittings beyond just water conservation and has invested into product Environmental Product Declarations and Health Product Declarations, Boyle explains. “We’re looking at how we manufacture our products, the materials utilized to make them and how the life cycle of these products impacts our environment. We’ve even taken the data from our EPD’s and have gone the extra step to offset the embedded carbon in most of our high efficient products.”
“Yes, green plumbing is still a separate ‘thing,’ but also a growing movement which is driving manufacturers to produce more eco-friendly products,” says Sammy Alvarado, marketing assistant at Noritz. “Today, many government and state agencies are incentivizing the adoption of greener products. These incentives come in the form of tax breaks and rebates and catch the eye of new customers looking for a long-lasting green product. They help make green solutions more attractive and affordable for the average consumer.”
“At Uponor, green plumbing is not a separate ‘thing.’ Green, or sustainability, is very much integrated into our business both from the way we operate internally, as well as how we interface with our customers, community and stakeholders,” says Dale Stroud, a senior business advisor and co-founder of Uponor’s Sustainability Team.
“It has long been part of our curriculum to encourage sustainability by teaching engineers and plumbers how to design and install long-lasting and reliable plumbing systems that can both conserve and reliably deliver water, thus providing benefits to both the end-user and the water purveyor.”
A focus on green is integral for vitreous china manufacturing, says Lovin Saini, senior product manager for Gerber. “An estimated 30 percent of the U.S. population lives in municipalities that mandate WaterSense standards as code. New York and Oregon just made the switch as of November 1, 2017, and other states are reviewing their plumbing codes, particularly in the West, to further conserve resources.
“We expect these code changes to increase in the future and thus, our manufacturing and technology needs are driven by this to make our products more high performing in a lower water usage world,” Saini says. “We also expect that sometime in the next 10 years, municipalities will begin to lower flush codes as far as 1.0 gpf maximum, so next level investments are being made to ensure we are ready for that technology shift and that we do our part to not repeat the problems of the ‘90s, post the 1994 mandate from 3.5gpf to 1.6 gallons per flush).”
“In our view, hot water recirculation is the very essence of green plumbing. The benefits include, but aren’t limited to, substantial reduction in the use of water and energy. Of course, the technology also greatly improves home comfort, and convenience,” says Mark Chaffee, Vice President, Governmental Affairs and Sustainability, Taco Comfort Solutions.
“Whether installed in large commercial buildings with public restrooms, an athletic facility with large and variable shower loads, or your own home, Taco has a host of products and control solutions to optimize the efficient distribution of domestic hot water. A highlight for Taco was winning the 2017 AHR Innovation Award for the SmartPlug Instant Hot Water Control.”
RJ: Is there still work to do to educate plumbers and/or consumers on the importance of green products and sustainability?
“Education is, and will always be necessary, whether it is on new product information, evolving green building codes or continuing education credits for professional accreditations,” Sloan’s Boyle says. “As subject matter experts, we need to ensure we pass along product, compliance and/or sustainability information to architects, designers, engineers, building owners, plumbers and even the end user.”
“We need to increase awareness with society in general, not just plumbers, that safe, clean water is a very valuable—and increasingly scarce—resource,” Stroud adds. “At the present time, and in most areas of North America, we take access to drinkable water for granted. However, if we don’t manage this resource carefully, we will someday be faced with serious water shortages.
“We must remember that sustainability is a journey, not a destination; thus, education about the future of access to water is essential. And, even more importantly, we must all take action to assure that we will have an ongoing ample supply of clean water.”
“This is our major focus,” Saini asserts. “As water savings measures increase over time we have to continue to educate plumbers that lower-flow doesn't mean lower performance. We have to clearly differentiate how newer products will maintain and/or exceed performance from their current favorite choices using 1.6gpf.
“As the plumber base is highly fragmented nationally, we will be making significant investments to ensure we scale that message across the estimate 200,000 plumbers that need to be able to understand our products and educate their customers as to why lower flow is not lower performance.”
Yes, educating the plumbing community is a never-ending endeavor “due primarily to new product releases and improvements and ever-changing industry concepts and standard practices,” Noritz’ Alvarado says. “Plumbing is an art and skill that takes many years to develop. Many green products, such as tankless water heaters, are designed to help plumbers better harness their abilities.
“Consumers are now also seeking to learn basic plumbing skills more than ever thanks to venues such as Reddit and YouTube, which help DIY-savvy viewers educate themselves on the newest plumbing concepts. Consumers are becoming more educated on the ‘plumbing know how’ to better understand the products they invest in and ensure that their investment goes the distance. “
One Example from Texas
Taco offers several hot water recirculation solutions – ideal for retrofit uses, or for new installations where a dedicated return water line can be used to complete the supply-return loop, says Mark Chaffee vice president, governmental affairs and sustainability, Taco Comfort Solutions.
“Few consumers know that a hot water recirculating system can save homeowners a significant amount of water. But continuously running circulators and improperly programmed timers can waste energy by operating the circulator and water heater at times when hot water isn’t needed.
“So, the patented SmartPlug upgrades a hot water recirculation system to a “smart” system. SmartPlug technology makes any corded circulator up to 94 percent more energy efficient by learning hot water usage patterns and delivering hot water when it’s needed. This increases hot water comfort, reduces energy use and helps to extend the life of the water heater. The technology is so easy to implement: just plug it in. Yet, it can have a large impact. It’s something everyone can do today in their own home to make a difference.
“I’ll give an example of a mother of four girls in Texas, and what she did recently because she grew increasingly concerned about how depleted the local aquifers had become,” says. Her search for a solution to long waits at the shower took her to Bob Lemons, owner of Austin-based Mr. Tankless. “With Lemons, she explored hot water recirc solutions. Lemons recommended TacoGenie, as it can be retrofitted to existing plumbing, eliminating the need for a new hot water return pipe.
The device is a silent pump that attaches to the hot and cold water lines in the cabinet under the most remote kitchen or bath fixture in the home. When the pump is activated, the cool water that normally escapes down the drain is recirculated back to the water heater through the cold water line.
When this consumer learned about the effectiveness of hot water recirculation, she readily told others about it. She said, “Think of it. When simple, inexpensive technology can save 12,000 gallons of water a year for an average household of four, there’s good reason to champion the cause.”
“Water, resources, dollars and time. All can be affectively saved with simple technology, easily installed affordably – and yet profitably, too. In my opinion – there’s no down-side to that,” Chaffee says.