Faucets and fixtures are more miserly than ever before, but your behavior plays an important role, too.
THE FAUCET AND FIXTURE INDUSTRY has consistently delivered the eco-friendly goods. Their products get more efficient and more durable almost every year, yet remain remarkably affordable. Every year, bath, kitchen and laundry gadgets help us reduce water usage by about 5%. But as a nation, we’re still slipping—using about the same volume of fresh water every year. Why? Because the U.S. population grows at about 5% per year.
The problem, says author and water expert Robert Glennon, is that the total amount of fresh water available is getting smaller. Some sources have become polluted. Groundwater that takes decades to replenish is being drained like there’s no tomorrow. Dry times lie ahead, unless we all change our habits along with our fixtures. It’s time to treat fresh water like blue gold.
It’s important to make sure all the faucets, fixtures, and showerheads in your home are on their best behavior. That means installing the most durable, water-stingy, appropriately priced models available. If you’re not sure how to recognize these parameters, here’s a quick overview.
Faucet Function: Better Technology
In modern faucets, ceramic washers have largely replaced rubber ones. These diamond-hard discs should last forever. But in our experience, that’s not always the case. We’ve seen less expensive faucets and shower handles, even ones with ceramic discs, develop leaks within a year or two of installation, possibly because other parts of the assembly are not as tough. Fortunately, many faucets—even low-cost ones—now come with limited lifetime warranties that cover all part failures for the original owner. Still, who wants to chase down warranties? The easiest solution: Spend a little more up front for a brand that cares about its reputation, and chances are you’ll get a better made, more durable product.
The Benefits of Bidets
Bidet toilets work by using water, rather than toilet paper, to clean the nether regions. Bidets save more water indirectly by eliminating the need for toilet paper, the manufacture of which is a water-intensive process. But is a bidet really a better choice than, say, a water-efficient dual-flush toilet?
Annual toilet paper use in the U.S. tops out at 36.5 billion rolls. This equals 473,587,500,000 gallons of water and 15 million trees—and that doesn’t account for the additional water required to treat and dispose of toilet paper waste. As the chart shows, a bidet attachment in combination with an efficient toilet saves about 200 gallons of water annually, compared to a dual-flush toilet. Other advantages? Water cleans better and is less abrasive than toilet paper, and bidets keep hands free—and clean.
If you’re ready for a hands-free toilet, you don’t have to purchase a new one; instead, you can opt for a bidet seat attachment. Depending on the model you choose, the money saved by crossing toilet paper off the grocery list will potentially pay for the bidet seat in a matter of months.
Water Savings? For this analysis, we assumed bidet users would still require 20 percent of the toilet paper used by “conventional” toilet users, and would require 0.125 gallons of water per use, in addition to the water required for flushing.
Faucet Finishes: New Durability
Ever heard of physical vapor deposition finish? It’s just one of the high-tech finishes being used on faucets. With these advanced surface treatments, alternatives to chrome (one of the longest lasting finishes) make more sense. In some cases, metals such as bronze and brushed nickel are simply protected with a polymer coating. In others—Delta’s “Brilliance” finish comes to mind—the coating emulates a metal such as brass.
The green angle? Durability. When faucets corrode, people throw them away, whether or not the mechanics still perform properly. Tossing functional hardware in the landfill is not a green choice.
Plumbing: Think Flexible
Flexible PEX (crosslinked polyethylene) plumbing has become widely accepted as a substitute for other standards of household plumbing. Fittings have improved, problems are rare, and most plumbers have come to embrace the technology.
From a green perspective, tubing made from high-grade plastic is a welcome alternative to vinyl-based PVC pipe. And from a practical perspective, PEX is ideal for tricky retrofit jobs, because the flexible tubing can snake around obstacles, so you can avoid unnecessary demolition.
Super Toilets: Water Misers
The toilet efficiency race has been a big win for the environment. We’ve seen models with water usage of less than .8 gpf in dual-flush models, and a 1 gpf single-flush model. Flush technology is probably approaching its bottom limit.
But other approaches may squeeze water savings. For example, graywater-fed toilet tanks are now on the market (ones that use lavatory water to fill the toilet tank), along with hand-washing faucets built right into the top of the tank.
Manufacturers will continue to tweak toilet efficiency, no doubt, but the biggest gains could probably be made by simply adjusting our behavior: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow.”