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The EPA WaterSense Program

How It Can Help You & The Planet

Simply put, "WaterSense" is the term coined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for their program to conserve water. It's a partnership between the EPA, companies and organizations to foster a collaborative effort for better and more efficient use of resources.

What it means for you as a homeowner is that it makes it easy to help you conserve water which not only benefits the environment but can reduce your water bills too.

But before we get into what this program is about and how it can help both you and the environment, let's look at a few facts about water and why it's important to conserve.

A Few Water Facts (..And Why We Should Conserve)

Most of the earth is covered in water but only about 1% is consumable by humans. That's because the vast majority is either in the oceans (which isn't readily usable) or locked up in other places that aren't accessible like glaciers and icecaps.

earth in water

Here's the bottom line -- looks are deceiving and this "blue planet" we live on is miserly with regard to it's fresh, consumable water.

Another fact is that the earth's water doesn't really 'go away'. It changes form and location through a process called the "hydrologic cycle". Crudely put, this cycle is really a closed system and we don't actually "lose" water so it's not like the tank is running dry.

But if that's the case then why the need to conserve if the earth doesn't lose water?

The answer is so that there's sufficient water, when and where we need it, to meet the needs of humanity around the planet. Some places have water in abundance while other places don't. And with population growth and the variable nature of that "hydrologic cycle", the challenge of having enough usable water, where it's needed, becomes even greater.

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Putting Your Home On A Water Diet

Our own water habits form a big part of the overall water consumption picture but the products in our home that actually regulate the water play a role as well. If you're planning to remodel you can make a positive impact on your home's "water gulp" by choosing fixtures like showerheads, faucets and toilets that are a bit more stingy than current standards.

Putting your home on a water diet isn't that hard to do and you can do it through good water-use habits and choosing efficient faucets and toilets. It's no secret that changing habits can be hard to do, especially if you have teenagers who take tank-draining marathon showers. But choosing fixtures that don't use as much water might be an easier solution (and your teenagers won't be any the wiser).

That's where the WaterSense program comes into the picture. Products that meet the lower-consumption WaterSense standards are clearly labeled. You could say that at its core, WaterSense is a program that certifies and labels various water-use products that meet reduced consumption and higher efficiency standards. When shopping for new fixtures simply look for those products that have the WaterSense label.

So if nagging your shower-indulgent child has no effect, you might want to look at putting some WaterSense products in your home.

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How WaterSense Can Save Water (And Perhaps Some Money Too)

The WaterSense program covers several household products and includes showerheads, bathroom sink faucets and toilets. It even includes new homes that use these water-saving fixtures.

Kitchen faucets aren't included at this time because of the varied nature and performance expectations associated with their use compared with bathroom faucets. In other words, greater demands like rinsing dishes and filling pots might be adversely affected by reduced-capacity faucets, lowering user satisfaction.

You can still save a lot of water however by using certified showerheads, toilets and lavatory faucets.

dripping faucet

According to the EPA, toilets use the most household water, approximately 30%. Older toilets use about 3.5 gallons of water per flush whereas high efficiency toilets use about 1.3 gallons. Installing a more efficient toilet could save upwards of 4000 gallons of water per household per year according to the EPA's estimates.

Now there are probably folks who will decry the practicality of low-flow toilets, saying they're less effective than older higher-flow models at getting rid of 'stuff'. That may be a valid argument but there's no denying the fact that older toilets use a lot of water. This is one choice where some research on user experience with the particular low-flow toilet model you're interested in might pay dividends.

Despite this argument however there are standards that govern the lower-flow toilets with regard to how much waste they're required to flush. Toilet technology (yes, there's actually some engineering involved here) has also advanced since the first generation of low-flow toilets introduced in the 1990's.

Showering is another large consumer of household water, coming in at around 17% according to the EPA. Standard showerheads use about 2.5 gallons per minute (GPM). In contrast products that meet the WaterSense standard use 2 GPM or less.

If you're concerned that installing a reduced-flow showerhead will mean your morning shower will turn into a morning trickle, you can put those fears to rest. Understanding that user satisfaction is part of the equation, makers of WaterSense-labeled showerheads engineer their products to make them more efficient while maintaining their effectiveness as well as how they 'feel'. It's all about perception.

For example, Delta Faucet makes showerheads that flow at 1.5 GPM but feel (according to Delta) like showers that flow at 2.5 GPM. They create this effect in certain showerheads by engineering the flow pattern of the water. They use larger droplets, which retain heat better than smaller droplets, and a denser spray pattern. The combination of the two retains heat better in the overall spray pattern than conventional flows.

In the end making smart choices about both your water habits and the water-using fixtures in your house can save two kinds of resources: the earth's and your own. Using less water helps conserve a vital resource but it also means reduced monthly water bills. Couple that with a reduction in hot water consumption when showering and you could save some money on your hot-water bill too.

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How To Find WaterSense Products

There are several ways to determine whether a particular product like a toilet or bath faucet is certified for greater efficiency. One way is to look on the EPA website using the product search function.

The website lists a wide range of products broken down into categories such as toilets, faucets, showerheads and others. Within each category you can refine your search by manufacturer and then by model type.

One way to use the EPA's list is to verify whether a product is certified in the program. For example, if you're shopping for a bathroom faucet but don't know if it's a qualified product you can look it up by the manufacturer and model number in the EPA's product search.

Another way to find qualified products is to simply shop for a fixture and then check to see if it is properly labeled. WaterSense products are marked

watersense labelRegistered WaterSense Label Property Of US EPA
(Shown For Illustrative Purposes Only)

with the label shown on the right made up of a green and blue water drop and the words "WaterSense - Meets EPA Criteria".

This method tends to be the more intuitive route since most people shop for fixtures partly based on how they look first, rather than from a listing of certified products.

WaterSense products also include inexpensive components like aerators that attach to the outlet of a lavatory faucet. If you purchase a qualified aerator you can achieve the same water savings as a WaterSense faucet. The only requirement is that your old faucet must have the capability to accept an aerator (typically threaded onto the end of the faucet spout).

One more way to determine if a product meets the EPA's efficiency standards is to look at it's specifications and compare them to the EPA standards. WaterSense toilet specifications dictate a maximum flow of 1.28 gallons per minute (GPM) or 4.8 Liters per minute (L/min). Faucets are limited to 1.5 GPM or 5.7 L/min. Showerheads must be equal to or less than 2.0 GPM or 7.6 L/min. The specifications for any fixture are usually available in the manufacturer's literature or on the website of a retailer that sells them.

If you want to read the actual EPA specifications for each type of product you can do so at this EPA link.

Possible Rebates

Depending on where you live you might be able to get a rebate for purchasing a WaterSense product. Participation and the amount you can receive varies by location. For example, some cities offer rebates of a hundred dollars or more when you buy a new WaterSense toilet.

You can check for rebates in your area by contacting your local municipality. Often times a city or county website will have this type of information contained in subject matter dealing with public works, water supply or conservation efforts. For some locations these rebates might be associated with material that speaks to appliance rebates associated with energy savings.

One quick way to find out is to use a search engine with the search term "toilet rebate (your city)". The EPA also has a rebate-finder page with links to various U.S. locations that offer rebates.

To find out more about the EPA's water-saving program you can check out the WaterSense section of the EPA website.

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Here's More Related Info That Might Be Helpful...

Bath Design Ideas - Good bath ideas actually break out into the 'must haves' and 'discretionary'. Get some great ideas and discover what essentials your bathroom needs (as well as a few that are just indulgent) in this article.

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