Not just a drop in the bucket
Watch Sierra Club’s Owen Bailey install a low-flow showerhead.
Seventy-five percent of the Earth is covered with water but only 1% of that is available for human use. Water supplies are finite–there’s the same amount of water on the planet now as there was 2 billion years ago. But demand for freshwater keeps climbing as human population soars.
Freshwater shortages are already an urgent problem in many parts of the world, including the western United States. But it’s not just westerners who are worried about where tomorrow’s water is going to come from. The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that water managers in 36 states expect water shortages in the next 10 years, even under normal, non-drought conditions.
In the face of a global challenge like this, what difference can a little screw-on faucet aerator make? More than you might think. Faucets account for more than 15% of a typical household’s indoor water use and showers 17%. That adds up to more than 2.2 trillion gallons of water in the United States every year. Cutting that by 40% would save 880 billion gallons of water. Every year.
Watch this video from GoGreenTube to learn how to install a low-flow aerator!
- Turn off the tap. Don’t let the faucet run when brushing your teeth, shaving, or answering the door. Turning it off while you’re brushing your teeth can save as much as 3,000 gallons of water per year.
- Don’t be a drip. Repair leaky faucets. If you ignore the problem you can easily waste 3 gallons a day–or 1,095 gallons a year.
- Measure your flow. Faucet and showerhead flow rates are measured in gallons per minute, or gpm. Some fixtures have the gpm marked on the faucet spout or showerhead. If yours doesn’t, here’s how you can measure it. You’ll need a bucket that holds at least a gallon (and has the gallon level marked on it) and a stopwatch or watch with a second hand. Turn the tap or showerhead all the way on, and see how long it takes to get a gallon. Divide the number of seconds into 60 and you have your gpm. (So if it takes 20 seconds, the fixture has a flow rate of 3 gpm). Today’s high-efficiency faucets, faucet accessories, and showerheads provide 1.5 gpm or less, reducing water use by 40% or more while providing excellent performance. If you don’t like your old low-flow showerhead, check out today’s improved products.
- Install. It’s easy to install a new showerhead. Unscrew the old one, pull away the plumbing tape, wrap on new plumbing tape (it helps provide a tight seal), and screw on the new showerhead. Ta-da!
When shopping, look for
- WaterSense products. WaterSense is similar to the government’s Energy Star program, except it covers water instead of energy. Products with the WaterSense label have been independently tested to make sure they meet the program’s criteria for high efficiency and high performance. It’s a new program, so right now it covers only bathroom faucets, bathroom faucet aerators, and high-efficiency toilets. Look for showerheads and kitchen faucets to be included before long. WaterSense-labeled bathroom faucets and aerators (little devices that screw onto the tip of the faucet to reduce flow) use no more than 1.5 gallons per minute, and some use only 0.5 to 1.0 gpm. If you don’t need to replace your old faucet, just get an aerator. They cost only a few dollars and screw right onto the tip of the faucet’s spout.
- A store that aims to please. Not all showerheads are created equal, so buy from a store with a good return policy in case you want to exchange it for a different brand.
- Low flow is the law of the land. Since 1994, federal regulations have required that new showerheads and kitchen and bathroom faucets have a maximum flow rate of 2.5 gallons per minute. But millions of older homes still have water guzzling fixtures, and even if your fixtures meet the 2.5 gpm standard, you can do much better.
- You don’t have to spend a lot to get a good faucet. Consumer Reports tested 16 brands ranging in price from $80 to $600 and found little difference in performance or durability.
- Manufacturers use two different technologies to reduce flow: aeration and laminar flow. They can provide the same water savings. Aerators restrict flow but add air to the stream of water to beef it up. Not everyone likes the feel of aerated water or the way it can splash in the sink. Laminar flow fixtures and screw-on tips don’t add air. Instead they produce dozens of parallel streams of water that come out in a wide, solid-looking stream. It flows silently and doesn’t splash when it hits the sink.
- Tired of waiting for the hot water to reach you? If you live in a large home where the fixtures are far from the heater, a demand-controlled hot water circulation pump may solve your problem. When you want hot water at a faucet, shower or bath, you push a button next to the fixture. The button activates a small pump that delivers it fast. The cool H20 that’s been sitting in the pipe gets rerouted back to the water heater instead of going down the drain. Don’t confuse a demand-controlled circulation pump with a continuous circulation system.Continuous circulation systems waste a lot of water heating energy because they constantly circulate hot water through your home’s pipes. Demand-controlled systems deliver hot water only when you need it.
…to your wallet
Using less H20 reduces your water and water heating costs. Replacing an old showerhead with a high-efficiency model can pay for itself in a few months due to lower heating energy and water costs. A 1.5 gpm showerhead costs no more than a 2.5 gpm model and will save $300 to $500 in reduced energy and resource costs over its lifetime.
…to the Earth
Efficient faucets and showerheads help preserve the nation’s H20 resources and reduce demand on aging municipal water supply and treatment systems.
- Shower towers. Showers with multiple heads and body nozzles circumvent the federal mandate of no more than 2.5 gpm per fixture. Some of these “shower towers” use a whopping 20 gpm–so much volume that your water heater might have a hard time keeping up with it. (If you have a septic system, that could be overwhelmed too.) Unless you have a greywater system and are using the shower wastewater to irrigate your garden, leave the shower tower in your fantasy house.
- Look, Ma, no hands! Faucets that come on automatically when you put your hands under them may seem like a water saver. But Environmental Building News, which reports on the green building industry, says these motion-sensing faucets often increase resource use because they remain on longer than needed. They may also turn on inappropriately, for instance, when you put a dirty dish in the sink but aren’t ready to wash it. If you don’t want to touch the handle when using your sinks, have foot-pedal or knee-operated controls installed.
Recycle old faucets and metal showerheads rather than giving them away. It’s best not to keep wasteful fixtures in circulation.
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