All Homes Should Have Sustainable Plumbing
Technology plus behavior change saves water. Here’s the lowdown on how easy it is to be water efficient in your home.
Faucets and fixtures are more miserly than ever before, but your behavior plays an important role, too.
If water is the new “blue gold,” faucets and fixtures are the bankers. But we’ve hit a plateau. Rainfall is way down. Droughts are perennial, and faucet and shower flow has been reduced. But it’s not enough. New technologies can squeeze our usage some, but as usual, it’s behavior that will seal the deal.
Any faucet or fixture you install should be WERS-compliant, meaning it’s certified to be frugal with water. But it’s not just our water use indoors that needs belt-tightening. Lawn irrigation accounts for up to 35 percent of water use in many homes. A combination of native landscaping, rainwater harvesting, graywater systems, and smart irrigation controls can greatly reduce water waste.
Want more articles like this? Download the Homeowner’s Handbook of Green Building and Remodeling.
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 upfront for a brand that cares about its reputation, and chances are you’ll get a better made, more durable product.
Durable Faucet Features
Faucet Body and Finish Solid stainless steel is durable, hygienic and resists chipping and scratching. Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) finishes, which are molecularly bonded to the surface, are durable.
Inside the Faucet Stainless steel components will last much longer than plastic. Ceramic disc cartridges are far superior to compressed rubber seals and are standard on most faucets.
Spray Hoses If your faucet has an extender, make sure the hose is made from braided stainless steel rather than plastic.
Faucet Finishes: New Durability
Ever heard of physical vapor deposition finish? It’s just one of the new 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 hard-to-keep-clean 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.
The FloWise three-function showerhead from American Standard uses a turbine to rotate the head. This provides the user with a full, satisfying spray, while only using 1.5 gallons of water per minute, well below the limits set by the EPA’s WaterSense program. www.americanstandard-us.com
Plumbing: Think Flexible
Flexible PEX (crosslinked polyethylene) plumbing has become widely accepted as a substitute for other standards of household plumbing such as soldered copper. Fittings have improved, problems are rare, and most plumbers have come to embrace the technology.
Along with PEX, some projects may benefit from the use of CPVC, primarily because of its special resistance to chlorine. Know your local water qualities, as you choose your pipes.
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.”
The Rachio Wi-Fi Smart Sprinkler Controller offers “set it and forget it” intelligence that can compensate for weather, season and the unique characteristics of irrigation zones. It can also track water use over time. www.rachio.com
Backed by Lixil, one of the world’s leading makers of faucets, fixtures and water conserving gear, Hydrific is developing new products aimed at leak detection and conservation.
Check in on their latest innovations at the link below. www.lixil.com
Daily Residential Indoor Water Use (Before Conservation Measures)
If all U.S. households installed water-saving features, water use would decrease by 30 percent. This would save an estimated 5.4 billion gallons of water per day, resulting in daily dollar-volume savings of $11.3 million, or more than $4 billion per year.
The largest daily user of water in the home is the toilet. By replacing this one product with a high-efficiency toilet (HET) you can greatly reduce a home’s total water use.
The next step would be to install a bidet, which would cut overall residential water use by hundreds of gallons a day (what it takes to make toilet paper).
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.
Publisher’s Note: This content is made possible by our Today’s Homeowner Campaign Sponsors: Whirlpool, Vivint, myQ, Sonos and Jinko Solar . These companies take sustainability seriously, in both their products and their operations. Learn more about building and buying homes that are more affordable and less resource intensive.
Plumbing Terms: FAQs
What is a low-flow toilet?
Also known as a low-consumption toilets, these fixtures typically using a maximum of 1.6 gallons per flush.
What is ultra-low flush?
This is a term to describe low-flow fixtures, this may also refer to a single- or dual-flush model that uses as little as .8 gpf.
What is an aerator?
A small screened device that fits inside a faucet nozzle, mixing air into water so less is required to do the same chore.
What is a widespread lavatory faucet?
This refers to the style of faucet, typically one with two separate handles, 8” apart.
What is Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD)?
High-tech finishing technique that allows for faucets with many different looks, including “metal on metal” surfaces that are extremely corrosion and wear resistant.
What is PEX tubing?
Crosslinked polyethylene plastic pipe. Increasingly popular as a replacement for PVC or copper plumbing.
What is a cartridge faucet?
Most modern faucets contain ceramic cartridges that allow water to flow, whereas older faucets used compression—squeezing a rubber o-ring that would eventually wear out.