The Benefits of Low-Flow Plumbing Fixtures

In 1994, the Energy Policy Act went into effect, creating mandates and amending utility laws to increase clean energy use and improve overall energy efficiency in the United States. One of the requirements mandated in the act was the use of low-flow toilets in residential buildings.

The intent of mandating low-flow toilets was to reduce water usage. These new types of toilets used only 1.6 gallons per flush, compared to the 3.5 to 5 gallons used by older models. There was one big problem; however, the first-generation low-flow toilets were terrible. The biggest complaint was people needed to flush them at least twice to get the job done.

Because they had to be flushed so much, the low-flow toilets were actually using as much or more water as the ones they were supposed to be replace. They also had the problem of clogging fairly often. Needless to say, they were very unpopular. Consumers wanted to return to the older models, but after January 1994, none were available in the United States.

In order to get around the law, people began taking their old toilets from their homes when they moved (replacing them with low-flow models) or buying old ones from salvage yards. There were even people who went to Canada and bought toilets there to bring back to the United States. Yes, people were actually “smuggling” toilets into the country.

Fortunately, the technology that went into designing toilets improved, and the issues with the first-generation models were resolved. Today, low-flow toilets work so well that you would be hard-pressed to differentiate them from ones built prior to 1994. They look the same, they only need to be flushed once, and they don’t clog anywhere near as much as the first-generation models. The only noticeable difference people ever mention is that the newer models are often quieter than the older ones. The big bonus is they still require only 1.6 gallons per flush.

Another item that was developed in the 1990′s was the low-flow showerhead. As with toilets, the early models of low-flow showerheads left much to be desired. They were pretty wimpy and, just like the new toilets, were not well received by the public. People resorted to the same tactics as they did with toilets to get around the new rules.

the low-flow showerhead

The newer versions of low-flow showerheads are greatly improved. They have jet streams built into them, giving them the same pressure and the same effect as older models while using much less water. While older models used anywhere from 5 to 7 gallons per minute, the newer ones used only 0.5 to 1 gallon per minute. This, according to the EPA, results in an average saving of 2,900 gallons of water for an average household. When you add in the water saved from a low-flow toilet, the average household can save upwards of 5,000 gallons per year.

There’s another benefit of low-flow showerheads. Because they use less water, you will also be heating less water when you take a shower. The energy saved from heating less water comes to around 370 kilowatts for an average home. According to the EPA, that’s roughly enough to power a house for 13 days. Another way of looking at that is using low-flow showerheads can give you a day of free electricity each month.

Low-flow toilets and showerheads are now required in all new construction, so there really isn’t an issue with a return on investment. As a retrofit item, you can expect to pay anywhere from $250 to $400, including installation, for a good-quality toilet and $10 to $50 for a showerhead. Considering these are truly necessary items in any home and relatively low-cost upgrades, the return on investment isn’t going to be as important as for something like installing a new garage heater.

If it’s still something important to you, a low-flow toilet will take anywhere from 6 to 10 years for a full return on investment. The return on investment for a showerhead, on the other hand, will easily be within a few months to a year, depending on the price of the equipment. Both of these upgrades, as with anything else that improves efficiency, will enhance the resale value of your home. In that respect, it’s money well spent.

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About the author
Ben White has written thousands of articles on everything home improvement. He has had the privilege of writing for such websites as the Huffington Post, DeWalt,, HGTV, and many others.

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