Saving Water in the Bathroom and the Laundry Room
Certified master inspector Dwight Barnett gives advice on conserving water.
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Q: I recently moved to a state where we have to conserve water. We used to live near the Ohio River, and water usage was not a concern. I need some ideas on what I can do to conserve.
A: You didn’t mention the area of the country to which you’ve moved, but I venture to guess it’s one of the Western states, where drought has forced major changes in consumption.
The bathrooms and the laundry are two areas of the home where water usage is high but can be controlled by installing modern equipment.
In the laundry, a new front-loading washing machine will drastically reduce water consumption. You will save not only water but also detergents and softeners.
In the bathroom, the toilet is the major water-consuming appliance. The new 1.6-gallon toilets, mandated by law, reduce water usage by about half of what the older 3-gallon toilet tanks use each time the toilet is flushed.
You could install new toilets or do as one fellow I heard of who would use buckets to collect the cold water from the shower while he waited for the water to warm up. He then used the water to flush his toilets.
Waiting for the water to warm up the pipes wastes a lot of water. By some estimates, the average household wastes up to 10,000 gallons of water a year waiting for the hot water to get to the faucet. Here, too, there are devices to help in conserving a limited resource.
Hot-water-on-demand pumps keep hot water at the tap all the time. In new construction, a third water pipe is installed to form a hot-water loop from the fixtures to the water heater, where an electric pump circulates the water either 24/7 or at certain times that can be set at the pump’s timer.
In existing homes, installing a third water pipe might be too costly, so manufacturers have devised circulating hot-water and storage systems that can be installed without re-plumbing the whole house.
One system requires a pump at each fixture, which would also require an electrical connection at each fixture. Another system stores the water in a tank, to be used later to flush the toilets. Maybe the guy who used the buckets invented this one. There’s also a system that uses a bypass valve at the plumbing fixture that allows the entire hot-water system to work from a single pump. It uses the existing cold-water pipe in place of a third loop, eliminating the need for expensive retrofitting or additional pumps.
The presence of hot water at the valve will slightly temper the cold water when the faucet is first turned on, but cold water arrives quickly at the fixture.
Most pumps retail for about $320 and require an electrical connection. One system includes one bypass valve, with additional valves available for under $40 each. By installing a bypass valve at each fixture, you could save thousands of gallons of water annually.
Circulating pumps are available nationwide through plumbers and plumbing wholesalers.
(Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors.)
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