Water is a precious resource, something learned the hard way when your typical household water use leads to a hefty utility bill. But strategic improvements can instantly trim costs and provide the performance you’re used to on a lot less water.
Start by getting some WaterSense—that is, choosing and using fixtures that bear the EPA’s WaterSense seal of approval for water efficiency. These products are certified to be at least 20 percent more efficient than their traditional fixtures and faucets - without sacrificing performance. Also look at your water-heating system, which just happens to be the biggest household energy cost after general heating and cooling. Greener water heating technologies marry efficiency and convenience, and you can even go tankless to ensure fast, conveniently zoned hot water delivery.
Water-saving fixtures are cost-effective investments, paying for themselves in short order and adding very real value to a home. Go with the flow to create a new, sustainable routine for your family’s daily water use.
The water supplying your bathroom fixtures accounts for over 60 percent of your total household usage. Smart upgrades will actually downgrade water waste, and the EPA’s WaterSense label can guide you toward an entire suite of water-saving solutions, that deliver a sustainable bath.
If you have a toilet that’s over 15 years old, it’s time to consider switching to a high-efficiency model, which can save you up to 4,000 gallons of water a year. Toilets account for about 30 percent of the typical home’s indoor water consumption, and the older and more inefficient a toilet is, the more water is wasted with every flush.
A WaterSense-labeled toilet uses 20 percent less water than the current federal standard while providing equivalent or superior performance. Plus, these efficient fixtures can help you save more than $90 a year on your water bills and around $2,000 over the toilet’s lifetime—a substantial return on this bath renovation investment!
Sinks, Faucets & Accessories
WaterSense bathroom sink faucets and faucet accessories such as aerators can help you save over 500 gallons of water a year without a detectable change to your daily routine—definitely worthwhile, as 15 percent of your indoor water use happens here.
Available in styles to suit any taste, efficient faucets stem water flow by 30 percent and also reduce demands on home water heaters, saving energy in the bargain.
Thirty gallons of water a day—or 17 percent of your indoor water budget—rains down the drain in your shower. If you switch from the 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) flow of a standard showerhead to a WaterSense model that tops out at 2.0 gpm, you’ll still enjoy a soothing shower but feel much more relaxed when you open your monthly water bill.
Efficient showerheads offer just as many spa-style amenities as standard models, but have the appealing potential to save up to 300 kilowatt hours of water-heater-powering electricity.
Though WaterSense has other bath fixture categories on its soon-to-be-certified list, manufacturers are already taking a cue from consumers and doing their best to create water-saving tub faucets, whirlpools and steam showers. Still, these fixtures tend to be big water-users with extra energy demands, so if you can’t live without such luxuries fixtures, look at other ways to bridge the sustainability gap. That may mean choosing between a boffo shower system and an outdoor spa, or finding several smaller ways to trim your overall water usage.
In the typical household, water heating is the second-most-expensive utility cost. But you can make it a very distant second by choosing a water heater built for sustainability as well as dependable hot water delivery. If it’s time to replace an appliance in the eight- to 12-year-old range, you’ll find a number of water heater choices rated and approved by Energy Star. Here’s a quick review of the greenest water heater options and how they rate.
High-Efficiency Tank Water Heaters
High-efficiency gas storage water heaters make use of better insulation, heat traps, burners and the addition of a power vent for an efficiency increase of 7.5 percent or more. That’s a savings of about $30 a year, and you can save around $360 over the 13-year lifetime of the unit.
Heat Pump Water Heater
A newer technology in water heating, the heat pump water heater uses electricity to move heat from one place to another rather than generating that heat directly—kind of the reverse of a refrigeration system.
It’s super-efficient, able to cut household water heating costs by more than half and, when compared with standard electric water heaters, saves nearly $300 a year on electric bills. These savings also compensate for the higher ticket price of a heat pump water heater, paying for the difference in cost in the first three years of use.
Solar Water Heater
Solar water heaters come in a range of designs, but all include a collector and storage tank to transform sunshine into convenient hot water, and most are designed for use with a gas or electric back-up water heater. Circulation systems may either involve pumps or be of the passive, pump-free variety, using natural convection to move water from the solar collectors to the storage tank as it’s being heated.
Go with an Energy Star solar water heater, and you’ll reduce your water heating bill by half.
Tankless Hot Water Heater
Going tankless saves energy, space and gives you heated water on demand. Rather than paying to keep a tankful of heated water hot, a tankless unit generates hot water as it’s needed. You never have to worry if you’re at the back of the household shower queue, because you’ll get just as much hot water as everybody in front of you.
The compact design of tankless hot water heaters makes them great assets for creating multiple water heating “zones” in a home. What’s more, they can save you around $100 year on gas bills and have a 20-year life expectancy.
Whatever kind of model you choose, retrofitting your water heating source for a sustainable future is a great green move. Work with a trusted plumbing professional to determine the water heater size and variety that will work best for your household needs, and remember that zoning your water heating will only add more efficiency.
By zoning your water heating, you replace long, water-wasting waits with instant delivery of desirable warmth. It can be an upstairs-downstairs zoning arrangement or, as it was for a recent caller to The Money Pit home improvement radio show, a matter of reducing the lateral distance that heated water has to travel. The caller had a tank water heater at one end of his house, which was great for the kitchen, laundry and bathroom nearby, but a hassle for the master bath on the other end of the house. To end his long wait for warm water, we recommended installing a tankless hot water heater at each end of the home, thus creating two separate zones for domestic hot water delivery.