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Faucets & Fixtures

Making the most of every drop.

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.

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.

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.”


Faucet Anatomy

A modern faucet should last for many years, thanks to the ceramic disc technology that has replaced compressed rubber seals. But in less expensive “knock-off” faucets especially, parts (and finishes) can wear out prematurely, requiring repair or replacement.


How Much Water?

The introduction of dual-flush technology is the latest leap forward for toilets. It’s part of a new trend in water saving that puts the onus on the end user to save more water. Existing low-flow toilets can be retrofit with a dual-flush kit relatively easily.

For example, the HydroRight system (shown below) installs in about 10 minutes.