“The Green Picture” with Matt Voorhees: Water Conservation is Really, Really Easy and Doesn’t Need to be Expensive

You don’t need to own or manage multi-housing units to see how effectively today’s high-efficiency conservation fixtures work. Even in a single-family unit, the results of retrofitting with high-efficiency products can be impressive. But when you begin to do math for the multiple units, the results can be downright awe-inspiring. If you are prone to green thinking at all, you can’t help but wonder what it would be like if everyone everywhere decided to conserve water.

The beauty of water conservation is that it is really, really easy. And it can be very inexpensive, too.

High efficiency toilets (HETs), of course, make an enormous difference in the conservation effort. But toilets are a bigger-ticket item, and installing/retrofitting with the latest water-efficient models generally only appeals to owners/managers who are either doing new construction or whose existing fixtures are old and need replacing anyway.

Owners/managers who fall into those two categories are usually candidates for “flapperless” toilet models. The appeal there is that the flapperless guarantees 1.28 GPF (gallon per flush) (because it is not the tank that fills with water, but a tip bucket within the tank, and it only holds 1.28 gallons). The flapperless is virtually maintenance-free, because there is no pesky flapper constantly calling for replacement—and then often leaking anyway if the replacement parts are even slightly off-kilter.

But toilets aside, the easy-to-install, incredible-result-getting conservation fixtures I’m talking about are so small they can fit in the palm of your hand, and are so inexpensive that one retrofit or installation can cost less than a gallon of paint. I’m talking showerheads and aerators.

Replacing an old water-hog of a showerhead with one of the many high-efficiency models that are currently being manufactured is so easy a kid on a step-stool can manage it in just a couple of minutes—and without any tools. But even more exciting is the fact that the high-efficiency models being made these days don’t feel “low-flow” at all.

A special technology uses a flow compensator (instead of a flow resister) to allow less water to stream out but at a higher pressure, so it feels just as luxurious as showerheads that use more water. And the models being made today are just as adjustable as the water-hog models of yesteryear, offering everything from a gentle needle spray to a forceful jet. Today’s high-efficiency models generally offer between 40 and 50 percent reduction of water over standard models. And they are nothing compared to some of the models in development.

Think of it: The average person spends about seven minutes in the shower daily. If we’re talking an average of 1.8 people per household unit showering for seven minutes a day, that’s almost 13 minutes of nonstop water usage, not to mention the electric or gas energy that is heating it. Once you start multiplying 40 to 50 percent savings by multi-unit housing numbers, you can get into some pretty big numbers.

Aerators are in some ways even more of a conservation tool than showerheads. They are outfitted with the same flow compensator technologies, but while their water- and energy-saving percentages are slightly less impressive (they generally offer about a 30 percent water/energy reduction) when looked at on a case-by-case basis, some new kitchen aerators feature a pause lever that reduces water to a trickle while keeping it at the same temperature.

Anyone who spends a lot of time in the kitchen doing dishes can tell you that this fantastic feature can’t be underestimated. It means that you can wash a plate, flip up the pause lever while you place the plate on the drain board and reach for the next plate, and then flip the pause lever back down when you are ready to wash plate number two. People don’t realize how much time (and thus wasted water) passes between plates until they begin to use this feature.

Even owners/managers who are not in a position (because they don’t pay the utility bills) to gain directly from such savings can still experience a gain. By installing conservation products in their units, they can pass savings onto their renters and/or customers. The current standards for showerheads are 2.5 GPM at 80 psi; for aerators it is 2.2 GPM; and toilets are currently at 1.6 GPF. These guidelines were established in the EPA legislation of 1992.

Once you start cutting away at these water levels, and multiplying the savings by units, you are talking enormous savings for the earth too.

Almost everyone wants to go green these days, but many people have no idea where to begin. In this way, owner/managers can actually become leaders in the green revolution.

(Matt Voohees is the business development representative for Niagara Conservation)