Getting Into the Low Flow

by Dave on June 25, 2009

First seen in Coastal Sussex Weekly, June 4, 2009:

by Matthew Peterson

When we think about water conservation, most of us think that turning the water off when you are brushing your teeth or taking a quicker shower will do the trick – I mean, we have to use some amount of water, right?  Right, but what if you were to find out that for less than $10.00 you could decrease your water usage between 30% and 50%.  If that sounds too good to be true, e-mail me and I will come over and install conservation aerators in your kitchen and bath faucets and only charge you $500.00 – that’s a good deal….oh, wait, you can do most of what we will discuss today in minutes, with minimal tools and the payback time is two months.

So what are these little environmental miracle products?  They are faucet and shower aerators.  When we turn on the faucet to brush our teeth, wash our hands or wash dishes most of the water coming out of the tap is wasted – it goes down the drain and unless you have some ingenious grey water system (which we will discuss in this column soon – because I love the practice and Element will be instituting this soon within a house in Rehoboth) it gets away into the public sewer system.  An aerator mixes air into your faucet’s water stream to limit the amount of water that slips away and there is no noticeable difference in water pressure.  In other words, nothing changes in how you wash dishes, brush your teeth or shower – you are just using less water.  A little geeky factoid – if we all did this, the United States would use 60 billion gallons less of water each year – that is a number similar to the amount of money that the stock market lost last quarter…oh, wait, wrong column.  Seriously, this simple addition to your kitchen sink, bathroom faucets, and shower head will reduce your water usage and it will also lower your water heating electricity/gas use because less
water is being heated.

Typically, faucets deliver around 3 gallons of water per minute (GPM).  A water conserving aerator can reduce this easily to 1.5 GPM and can you can get as aggressive as .5 GPM.  That alone shows you the math of how much water and hot water you will conserve by making this easy change.  Your faucet already has an aerator on it – it is the piece where the water flows out with the little screen in it.    To replace this, you simply unscrew the one that is currently on the faucet, go to your local plumbing supply store (read:  hardware store) and buy the same sized replacement.  Head back home and before your coffee is cold; the new aerator can be installed.  That being written, you may want to consider a bit more flow for the kitchen faucet – like 2 GPM – so that you can fill up your pots or the coffee maker quicker.

Showering accounts for approximately 17% of water residential water usage in the US.  Low-flow showerheads conserve water by restricting the flow of water through small apertures and creating a high-velocity spray by forcing compressed air into the water stream.  The shower is the third biggest user of water in a typical home next to the Clothes Washer and the Dishwasher.  Before Federal restrictions in 1992, most shower heads delivered 5.5 GPM.  After 1992, the maximum is around 2.5 GPM.  This can be reduced to 1 GPM with a conserving shower head.  Some of these shower heads have a feature that allows them to be shut off at the shower head (so that you don’t have to adjust it back to the “perfect” temperature) to allow you to soap up when the water is not flowing.  I know this sounds unconventional and a bit out there – but it can conserve up to 20 gallons per shower.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently introduced the WaterSense.  This program is to water what EnergyStar is to electricity.  The user friendly website (http://www.epa.gov/watersense/index.htm) is great whether you are looking for products for your new home or how to ‘green up’ your existing home.  The products displayed on the website must use 20% less water than their standard counterpart.  WaterSense goes beyond faucet aerators and goes into toilets, landscape irrigation and whole house water conservation methods.

Thinking about the water leaving the faucet and heading to that useful sewer should convince you that this is a great simple thing to do – or to institute as a general practice if you are a builder – and the results to you are about as immediate as you can get and the payoff is in a couple of months.  Join me in conserving water this summer by using some of the products and skipping a shower – no, wait, just shut it off while you soap up.

Matthew Peterson is the Principal of Element Design Group. Email Matthew at
matthew@elementdg.com.

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