This article was originally published in the July/August 1998 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.
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Home Energy Magazine Online July/August 1998
Water Saving Gadgets Make a Splash
by Scott Chaplin
A roundup of some fascinating water conservation devices, from low-pressure showerheads to dual-flush toilets.
However, performance studies of the 1.6 gpf toilet have found that many models perform as well as (and for some models, better than) the older 3.5 gpf models. For example, extensive surveys in Los Angeles and New York City found that the Toto Kiki and Kohler Wellworth-Lite had very high levels of satisfaction (see The Toilets Conservationists Like Best, HE Mar/Apr '97, p. 9). Also, pressurized-flush toilets all got very high marks.
Even 1.6 gpf is more than necessary for flushing only liquid wastes. In Australia, the 6/3 liter cistern has been required in most areas for several years. This toilet uses two buttons--one releases 6 liters (approximately 1.6 gallons) for a full flush; the other, for liquids only, releases just 3 liters. With properly plumbed modern sewer lines, the reduced water flows are still adequate to carry the wastes. On average, the 6/3 toilet consumes about 3.6 liters per flush, a little less than a gallon.
Until now, Australian-style toilets have been available almost everywhere in the world--except in the United States. This month, Caroma, a major Australian appliance manufacturer intends to begin marketing them here. (Information on cost and distribution was not available at press time.)
An alternative is the 1-2 Flush, a newly available device that retrofits front-flush or side-flush toilets. It releases smaller flushes for liquids only. It is being marketed primarily to consumers who don't want to give up their pre-1992, 3.5 to 7 gpf toilet, but the device also works on 1.6 gpf fixtures. The full flush remains at its original level; the small flush can be adjusted to release from 0.5 gallons to a full flush. The device is for sale on the Internet for $22.
In Germany, many 6-liter toilets have a flush button. As soon as wastes are cleared, the user releases the button, shutting off the flush. This keeps the average flush below 1.6 gallons. For light-duty residential uses, the Swedish-made Ifo Aqua can be adjusted to use between 0.5 gpf and 1.5 gpf.
Several toilets that require less than 1 gpf have been on the market in the United States, but they tend to be much more expensive than regular toilets, and they generally utilize either power-assisted flushing mechanisms or foams. One of the lower-cost models is the Sealand Micro-flush, which can be adjusted to release between 1 and 3 pints of water. This works well in applications where the carrying distance is not long. It is distributed by Ecos Incorporated, which also distributes several other models of micro-flush toilet. One is the Japanese Nepon Peral, which uses a foamy water-soap mixture to flush wastes away; each flush releases about one pint of water.Showerheads: Better Sprays, Less Water Showerheads are improving in terms of both quality and efficiency. The current U.S. standard of 2.5 gpm represents a dramatic water savings improvement over the fixtures that were sold in the 1970s. Some of those delivered up to 10 gpm, and they averaged 4 to 6 gpm.
In the past, there wasn't much consumer choice regarding spray patterns for 2.5 gpm showerheads. This led users to take them out and hunt desperately for an older water-wasting model in order to get a decent shower. Now, however, there are over 30 different models available in the United States, with spray patterns ranging from soft and pulsating to sharp and spiny. Not only that, but many consumers find that they are very happy using models with even lower flows. One casino hotel in Nevada installed 1.5 gpm showerheads from Energy Technology Laboratories (ETL). They soon ordered more, because guests were requesting the showerheads for their homes. The 1.5 gpm showerhead reduces water use and energy by approximately 40% compared to the 2.5 gpm model, and 70% compared to an older 5 gpm model.
According to the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP), the 1.5 gpm showerhead will save a homeowner $300-$500 over its lifetime compared to a 2.5 gpm showerhead; yet it costs the same.
Most showerheads deliver their rated gallons per minute when water pressure is 20-80 pounds per square inch (psi). But for residences with rainwater or wellwater systems, ETL makes one that works with pressures as low as 6 psi.Taps Dancing to Lighter Flows Some relatively unknown products allow residential faucets to use less water for many purposes, from washing hands to washing dishes. These are the laminar flow faucet and the on-off pedal.
Many low-flow faucets on the market today incorporate aerators, which add air to the water stream in order to make a small stream feel bulkier. Aerators are fine, but a relatively new faucet developed by Omni Products is more fun. Rather than adding air to the flow, the laminar flow faucet produces dozens of very close parallel streams of water. When the tap is turned, a clear, wide, solid-looking stream of water leaves the faucet--it looks like a ton of water. This stream flows silently to the bottom of the sink, where it flattens out, without a splash, into a thin sheet of water that spreads evenly in all directions. Hands actually get wet faster under this faucet, as parallel streams prevent water from splashing off. When visitors see these faucets in action on tours here at Rocky Mountain Institute, they love them. They are available with 1.5, 2.0, and 2.5 gpm flow rates.
At least as important as the flow rate, however, is turning off the tap. How many of us learned to brush our teeth, shave, or clean the bathroom with the water running the entire time? Pedal-controlled faucets make saving water easier and make certain chores easier too, such as turning the water on to wash dirty hands without getting the faucet handle dirty.
The hot- and cold-water lines are redirected through two connected valves on the floor. Water temperature is still adjusted through the regular faucet handles. The manufacturer claims that these pedals can save a family of four up to 7,500 gallons of water per year when installed in a kitchen sink alone.
Together, these low-flow technologies, along with other water saving technologies, such as graywater systems and water-efficient washing machines and dishwashers, may make it possible for homeowners to reduce indoor water use by 90% or more while saving substantial amounts of energy.A Splash from the Past Water conservation can lower water and energy bills. But in some locations, individual homes can go further by collecting their own rainwater. This can be expensive, but it can make homes in drought-prone or remote locations less susceptible to water supply problems.
Rainwater cisterns were very common in homes built in the United States through the turn of the century. If you're working on a water conservation retrofit, check the clients' home--they may already have one. Depending on the catchment area, the storage capacity available, and the annual rainfall, rainwater collection systems can provide for most, if not all, of a household's non-potable water needs. In some cases rain can also supply potable needs. In less industrialized countries, rainwater collection is still common. In regions with diverse climates such as Hawaii, Texas, and Australia, rainwater collection systems provide the entire water supply for many homes. Rainwater collection can be useful even in areas that are not hard-pressed for water. When used in conjunction with a graywater irrigation system, rainwater can flush salts from the soil. Washing with rainwater, which is naturally soft, can reduce the need for detergent and leave one's hair feeling silky. Finally, rainwater collection systems can reduce urban storm water runoff.
Another technology that some homes can use to reduce their need for outside water is greywater reuse. John Todd's Living Machines have pioneered neighborhood biological wastewater treatment plants, which make it possible to clean all wastewater to the point where it can be reused for irrigation and toilet flushing. These tanks use snails, hyacinth, and duckweed to create small, biological wastewater treatment facilities small enough for single family homes or large enough for small communities.
Scott Chaplin worked on this article as a senior research associate at the Rocky Mountain Institute. He is now a water efficiency consultant based in Carbondale, Colorado.
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