Water-Saving Technologies Keep Flowing

Flushing with low-flow toilets saves resources and wallet.
By: Dan McLeister

Water conservation is important for the environment, as well as for the pocketbook of homeowners. New water-saving products and technologies can also provide a builder or remodeler with a strong competitive edge, as well as a way to project an environmentally responsible corporate image to the local community.

Matt Belcher of Belcher Homes, St. Louis, Mo., a builder of homes in the $500,000 price range, positions his company as a green builder. He promotes this message by placing signs in his model house noting water-saving features and directing buyers to contact him for more information. "When they ask questions, we give them additional details and pricing," Matt says. "We also encourage them to use their computers, go online and educate themselves about water conservation. This way of dealing with homebuyers makes my people seem more like partners."

As with every other aspect of building – and selling – quality homes or remodeling projects, it pays to know the technology of the fixtures and appliances involved, especially if you want to discuss upgrades with your clients. Even though Matt's St. Louis market has fewer water-shortage problems than some other parts of the country, his education process results in about half of his buyers upgrading to water-saving toilets, showerheads and faucet aerators.

The latest water-saving devices range from pressure-assisted, dual flush and flapperless toilets to advanced hot-water delivery systems. In this article we'll focus on the low-flow toilets mandated by the federal government.

State-of-the-Art Toilets

The biggest source of water waste in the home — and the biggest opportunity for water savings — is the toilet. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more than 4.8 billion gallons of water is flushed down toilets in this country each day. The average American uses about 9,000 gallons of water to flush 230 gallons of waste down the toilet per year.

Although low-flow toilets started out with a very bad reputation in the United States, the technology has improved enormously. Simply replacing an old toilet (installed prior to 1994) with a new 1.6-gallon-per-flush gravity fixture can save the typical household 7,900 to 21,700 gallons of water per year. Low-flow toilets also help extend the life of septic systems.

Though a bit more expensive than gravity toilets, pressure-assisted toilets are a good option for people concerned about the toilet's performance. They use the normal water pressure in the water line to compress air in a tank in the toilet. When the toilet is flushed, less water is used because waste is also forced out of the toilet bowl by the released compressed air. The Flushmate Pressure Assist Toilet Operation System is offered inside toilets from many different manufacturers. Tanks on the latest units are made from resin instead of stainless steel and are, therefore, less noisy.

You'll find similar technology used in the Niagara Flapperless Toilet, which incorporates a water reservoir bucket within the unit to provide a surge of water when flushed, which eliminates double flushing.

One of the latest innovations is a dual flush toilet brought from Australia by Caroma. The tank’s design lets the user decide how much water to use to flush the bowl—1.6 gallons or 0.8 gallons. There is one flush button for liquid waste and another for solid waste.

Matt recommends that contractors and homebuyers visit the EPA website to learn more about water-saving devices. For those with analytical minds, the site includes a calculator for determining the amount of money that homeowners can save by retrofitting their homes with water-efficient fixtures.

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