Water efficient fixtures: Myth vs. fact

The U.S. Energy Policy Act of 1992 created a federal minimum efficiency standard for all toilets, urinals, showers, and faucets.

At the time, the newer 1.6 GPF toilets were a headache compared to their 3.5 GPF counterparts. The low-flow toilets had terrible flushing performance and quickly gained a reputation for easily clogging.

Today, nearly 30 years later, innovations have been made to go even beyond the federal standard. However, many people still have persisting qualms from their memories of the poorly performing early-era models, making them skeptical of the new advances and reluctant to introduce them into their buildings.

It is understandable to associate terms like low-flow with poor water pressure, and ultimately lose interest in the idea of replacing fixtures that are used every day. Surely you would anticipate complaints from your building’s occupants when the newly replaced fixtures do not perform as well as the older ones did.

As someone with a lot of hair, whether I am showering at home, in a dorm building, or anywhere else for that matter, I require good water pressure to wash my hair properly. Honestly, it can be infuriating to feel like you are in a never-ending loop of trying to rinse shampoo out of your hair, and nobody wants an aggravating experience while showering.

But, I am here to remove any doubts you might be having about water efficient fixtures and prove to you with the facts that these units do work—and you do not need to sacrifice comfort and effectiveness with water-efficient fixtures.

Saving more than water

Toilet fixtures are virtually everlasting, so there is a possibility that the fixtures in your building pre-date the units that meet the current regulations. If it isn’t broken, why should it be replaced?

When 100 individuals are flushing the average 1-3 times per day, a 1.28 gpf toilet will save 11,440 gallons and $808.08 per year, compared to a 3.5 gpf toilet. When 50 individuals flush a 0.25 gpf urinal 2 times per day, it will result in 71,500 gallons and $500.50 saved in a year compared to a 3.0 gpf urinal.

The amount of water saved will create a noticeable difference in your building’s water bill and will therefore pay for itself over time.

Shower Heads

There are vandal-proof and non-vandal-proof low flow shower heads to choose from, providing options that suit the needs of your building.

Many sources recommend determining ways to limit your building occupants’ shower times in order to maximize water savings. For example, posting reminder signs around the showering areas may encourage people to take shorter showers.

A standard shower head uses 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm). If 100 people are showering each day, the 2.5 gpm shower head will use 230,000 gallons and cost $1,610 gallons per year, while a 1.5 gpm shower head will use 137,000 gallons and cost $965 per year. The differences will really add up.


Manufacturers learned from their mistakes. Initially there was not much attention and care invested into the 1.6 gpf toilets that made their debut at the dawn of the 1992 legislature. However, they heavily invested in the 1.28 gpf and lower-flow models that followed.

In 2006, the EPA created the WaterSense program, which aims to promote nationwide water efficiency to conserve water for future generations and reduce water-related costs. WaterSense toilets must meet strict criteria that not only considers the water efficiency, but the flushing performance as well. WaterSense toilets meet, and often exceed, all national plumbing standards.

Posted signage reminding users not to use toilets as a trashcan, particularly in educational facilities where people tend to care less for the maintenance consequences, will help to ensure that the toilet will not have clogging issues. Otherwise, a low-flow toilet will not produce clogging problems more than any other type of toilet.


California, among several other states, implemented regulations that require fixtures to be more water-efficient than what is federally required. Frequent draughts among other concerns led to California’s legislature to mandate that urinals must consume no more than 0.125 gpf.

A 0.125 gpf urinal will cut your water usage by 87 percent from a 1.0 gpf unit. Installing a unit that uses only a pint of water per flush, opposed to a unit using a gallon or more per flush, will produce immediate savings while looking and functioning the same way as the older model urinals.

Waterless urinals have the same appearance as a traditional model but require different maintenance. Before you retro fit a waterless urinal into your building’s restroom, you must check that the slope of the drain line is sufficient to avoid sediment build ups.

There are differences from one manufacturer to another, one aspect that could significantly impact your manufacturer preference is the cost of the cartridges and other replacement parts. Some models require fresh water poured down occasionally, possibly creating a slight variance in your typical maintenance routine.  

Kitchen Pre-Rinse

Kitchen pre-rinse spray valves account for approximately one-third of the water used in commercial kitchens, according to the EPA.

A kitchen pre-rinse valve flowing at 2.5 gpm, and used for three hours per day, will use 117,000 gallons per year, while a 1.24 gpm model will only use 59,000 gallons, cutting water usage virtually in half. Low-flow valves are designed to distribute water pressure effectively, so you do not have to lose performance to water savings.

It is imperative that you establish your usage prior to a retrofit project. To help determine which water-efficient units are right for your building’s needs, use tools such as Zurn’s saving potential calculator or Sloan’s sustainability calculator. These resources will allow you to see the actual savings that you will see once the new fixtures you choose are installed. However, be sure to keep in mind the ways in which your building’s occupancy may fluctuate, or how the occupants’ behaviors change, because this may impact usage. Considering every aspect will allow for a more accurate baseline, which is necessary for you to verify the improvements made over time.

4 thoughts on “Water efficient fixtures: Myth vs. fact

  1. Pingback: EPA announces it will maintain WaterSense program specifications – BEST PLUMBING SPECIALTIES

  2. Pingback: Green Living Made Easy: Start Leading a Greener Lifestyle Today

  3. Salvatore

    The overall problem with the 1.28 flush toilets is that there is not enough water to carry the waste through the pipes.
    On horizontal runs of soil lines from these toilets, especially in longer runs, you get a build up of waste that eventually lead to stoppages.
    The 1.28 flush toilets are fine for residential usage with the toilet roughed-in off of the stack.
    In a commercial environment, in my experience, these toilets clog constantly.
    I’m responsible for the plumbing at a college. There are a few of the 1.28 toilets on the campus.
    In a commercial environment, the user will typically overload the toilet with paper. They line the seat with paper as a protective barrier, they do their business, then try to flush everything at once. Constant stoppages. They are a nuance. I cannot even purchase a 1.6 toilet in NYC to replace these with. It’s illegal to now sell a 1.6 toilet here.
    Politician do a good enough job of messing up the country, let’s leave the plumbing to engineers and plumbers.


  4. Michael Mawbey

    I work at a VA hospital and can attest to the clogging problems with low flow valves toilet/urinal, we have invested in Sage Traptex inserts for toilets due to people using paper towels. We use 3.5gpf flushers, as noted in a prior comment, will remove all debris in one flush. The low-flow valves require several flushes to clear waste, negating the water savings. We get frequent complaints about low-flow units so we replace with the dependable 3.5gpf valves, problem solved! I agree that low-flow may be ok for residential use, for our situation, with long term patients, dementia ward and GI , urology, etc. The low-flows are no-go’s.


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