Water utilities target 'inefficient' plumbing products

BY BOB MIODONSKI OF CONTRACTOR'S STAFF WASHINGTON Members of the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute had water conservation of their minds and on their agenda during their fall meeting Oct. 16-19 here. About a dozen speakers, panelists and guests attended portions of the meeting devoted to the issue. "One of my highest priorities is to work with local utilities to encourage water conservation (on a voluntary

BY BOB MIODONSKI
OF CONTRACTOR'S STAFF

WASHINGTON — Members of the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute had water conservation of their minds — and on their agenda — during their fall meeting Oct. 16-19 here. About a dozen speakers, panelists and guests attended portions of the meeting devoted to the issue.

"One of my highest priorities is to work with local utilities to encourage water conservation (on a voluntary basis)," said Ben Grumbles, assistant administrator for the office of water in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "We are looking at increasing incentives for industries and facilities to save water. Water conservation is not just a Western (states) issue anymore. It has become an issue in other regions as well."

Representatives from utilities and public interest groups in California and Washington state advocated water conservation to PMI members. David Broustis, conservation program manager for Seattle Public Utilities outlined some of his concerns about specific plumbing products, which he labeled as plumbing "code cheating": multihead showerheads and shower systems; code-compliant toilets that flush more than 1.6 gal. per flush with universal flapper replacement; replacement flappers that maximize water use; and showerheads with easily removable flow controllers.

Broustis claimed he had seen one new showerhead that had been packed with a small tool in the box to remove the flow-control device. He gave PMI members his wish list for residential plumbing products: all toilets performance tested to higher standards; all toilets assembled with durable trim; 1.6 gpf means 1.6 gpf — forever; affordable high-efficiency toilets (dual flush or flushing 20% less than 1.6 gpf); readily available, high-quality showerheads flowing 2 gal. per minute or less that are tamperproof; bathroom faucets shipped with aerators at 1 gpm or less; kitchen faucets at 1.5 or 1 gpm with pot-fill diverters; an an affordable point-of-use hot water solution.

Rather than seeking regulations to bring these items to reality, Broustis said that utilities prefer a voluntary market transformation working in cooperation with the plumbing industry.

In the future, utilities will see it as their responsibility to encourage the use of water-conserving products such as high-efficiency toilets, irrigation controllers and leak-free products, including toilet flappers and ceramic disc faucets. Utilities will actively discourage the use of inefficient products such as shower systems and toilets with poor-quality trim, he said.

Mary Ann Dickinson, executive director of the California Urban Water Conservation Council, said that one study estimates that one-third of the state's urban water use could be saved with existing technologies. She listed the top water-efficiency opportunities, including: residential and commercial clothes washers; ultra-low-flow toilets; residential audits and retrofits for energy-and water; commercial dishwashers;and pre-rinse spray valves.

She discussed the need for Uniform North American Requirements for toilets. Citing a study that revealed 100 million inefficient toilets in U.S. residences and another 20 million in commercial applications, she said the goals of the voluntary UNAR system would be to achieve sustainable water savings from toilet fixture replacements and to ensure a high level of customer satisfaction with flushing performance.

The drive toward UNAR started in 2003, she said, with plumbing industry representatives who wanted a single set of uniform criteria created to satisfy all local water utilities across the United States. An UNAR advisory panel includes utilities and manufacturers.

Focus groups that included representatives from water utilities, manufacturers and the irrigation industry were conducted in August. A final workshop is planned for December in Washington before a draft report on UNAR is issued for public comment.