Water Conservation is the Wave of the Future

In the latter half of 2007, the southeastern U.S. had to ask itself a serious question: where was the rain? While water use has long been a concern for areas like arid Central Asia, or China, whose pollution-choked waterways are well documented, the U.S. had been largely spared such woes, at least up until recently.

However, the drought that began as a small blip on the national radar brought the need for water conservation to the forefront of the public consciousness in a hurry.

Indeed, no topic is more relevant to the creation of an earth-friendly, human-healthy bath than water conservation.

Watersheds

Unless you’re a fan of the Navy shower, you’re probably averaging 15 minutes under the stream, like most Americans.
While there will always be a place for the tub in a luxurious bath, the average nine-to-fiver requires a shower. With the advent of complex shower systems the trend is, as always, the bigger the better. But while your client has you searching for that perfect brushed nickel showerhead, consider that many manufacturers now produce showerheads that are either low-flow or can be adjusted to low-flow rates. Pressurized correctly, your clients won’t know the difference until they get their water bill. And then they’ll be glad they chose you.

Remember waiting for the shower to heat up? Well, catalogue the experience for your grandkids, because today’s technology is making waiting a thing of the past, in favor of instant hot water, instantly the temperature the user desires.

“These are great products because they produce hot water on-demand and can be easily retrofitted to any existing set up,” says Maureen Pape, general manager of Santa Rosa, CA-based Sonoma Kitchen & Bath. Such systems are an alternative to traditional water heating systems that automatically make hot water, turning on and off several times per day whether or not hot water is needed. Because the on-demand systems produce water, well, on-demand, they use significantly less energy than traditional set-ups.

Thermostatic valves, too, are a good idea for similar energy-saving reasons, but perhaps the most convincing reason for baths done in homes with small children is the burn factor. In homes where water heaters can’t be limited manually to a certain temperature, it’s up to the parents to take other precautions, and it’s up to their designer to know what to suggest.

HotStop partnered recently with the nonprofit Home Safety Council to conduct a national survey which found that a majority of people didn’t have a clue as to what temperature could harm a child. So the answer is to specify smart products to take the burden off your client.

The toilet and the shower have a complicated relationship, as anyone who’s been in the shower when someone decides to wash the breakfast dishes can attest. Delta makes a product called Scald-Guard, which keeps the water temperature within three degrees of the set temperature, as another way to avoid accidental burns.

Thermostatic valves not only promote safety, but they conserve energy as well. Look for systems that can set a firm temperature, such as Kohler’s DTV series, which uses smart technology to control every aspect of the showering experience, including a steam system, multiple programmable showerheads and spa-like chromatherapy.

Some smaller companies are onto this trend, like Scottsdale, AZ-based Evolve Showerheads, which manufactures solely low-flow showerheads. Some of their firm’s products feature ShowerStart, the company’s patented technology which alerts the user to when the water is hot enough to get under, by slowing the stream to a trickle which, according to the company, can save up to 2,700 gallons of water annually.

The Alternative Side

The argument for water conservation comes down to a numbers game: According to the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency, Americans use 100 gallons of water each day (enough to fill 1,600 drinking glasses); a house full of leaky faucets can drip more than 3,000 gallons of water down the drain in a single year; bathroom faucets run an average of two gallons per minute, and to fill a bathtub takes an average of 50 gallons of water or more per soak – it’s enough to make anybody’s head spin.

Nontraditional products have begun flooding the market for those with a dedicated eco-conscience.

TOTO’s Washlet, a personal cleansing system which eliminates the need for toilet paper in the bathroom, is among the more mainstream of these ‘alternative’ products. Part toilet seat, part bidet, part wind tunnel, this unconventional loo takes personal cleanliness and environmental responsibility in a different direction. Designed to fit on pretty much any toilet, it has other comfort features like integrated heat.

Graywater systems, illegal in some states and with formal legislation pending in others, is another way of conserving water, tapping into the “reuse” part of the recycling triangle. A graywater system is a way of diverting used water (“graywater”) from the kitchen and bath sinks and the shower to other parts of the home for further usage in places like the toilet or to water a garden. The idea is that the more the water is used before it returns to the earth, the less fresh water will be utilized. Building codes can be stringent on this, regulating everything from size of the PVC pipe used in the system’s construction, to the exact point of reentry for the used water, so be sure to learn the codes in your area.

The future will see a continuing array of inventive product to meet the expanding need, such as Sancor Industries’ Envirolet, a waterless composting toilet. In today’s expanding market, if your client wants to save water, you’ll have no shortage of ways to meet that desire.

A terrific place to start your water conservation education is by visiting the EPA’s WaterSense program Website, www.epa.com/watersense. WaterSense is a clearinghouse for information on managing water responsibly. WaterSense labels products which it has deemed to be water efficient, similar to its appliance-grading sister program, EnergyStar.

To paraphrase KBDN columnist Mary Jo Peterson in her July ’07 “Planning & Design” column: The sooner we accept that water is a finite and exhaustible resource, the sooner we can start plugging up the problem...pun very much intended.

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