With 435 members of Congress elected from across the country, it is hard to keep track of all of the names. Everyone knows Newt and Dick Gephart, but beyond that, it takes some act of publicity to gain name recognition. Representative Joseph Knollenberg (R-MI) is doing just that with the plumbing industry. Unless you haven’t read a plumbing magazine lately, he is the congressman that has proposed that the federal government get out of the plumbing business. In short, his bill will remove the minimum flow rates for showers, kitchen sink faucets, lavatory faucets, water closets and urinals.

Many plumbing contractors have been rallying around Knollenberg’s bill, the Plumbing Standards Act of 1997. The comments are, “See, we told you the 1.6 gpf water closets were no good,” or “More water in my shower, more water to flush it away.”

Of course, it is fashionable to be anti-government. It is also fashionable to be anti–1.6 gpf water closet and anti–2.5 gpm shower. So many plumbers have blamed the government, rather than try to adjust to the water conservation measures.

Before you jump on the Knollenberg bandwagon, you had better analyze the implications of his bill. Water conservation and low-flow water closets will not disappear. Plumbing codes and standards will not change overnight, nor will manufacturers begin making all kinds of water hog fixtures.

What Knollenberg’s bill will do is allow the states to regulate water conservation, just like they did before the Federal Energy Act was passed into law. That means we could end up with 50 different water conservation requirements. We could have even more if states allow local jurisdictions to set their own rates.

I can just see it now — California will require all water closets to flush with 0.5 gpf because they need to save water while Chicago requires a 7 gpf water closet under the premise that you can’t suck Lake Michigan dry. Shower heads could range from 0.7 to 10 gpm.

As far as prices go, watch the fixture prices skyrocket as manufacturers have to develop a multitude of fixtures to meet all of the different requirements. It seems like the whole idea of standardizing the industry will go out the window.

The way I see it, Knollenberg will take a SNAFU and turn it into a FUBAR, or even a BOHICA. (If you have never heard of these expressions, ask someone who was in the military, or read the definitions at the end of the article.) One of the requests made to the good congressman was to get the government out of the business of setting flow rates and let the nationally recognized consensus standards set the limits. If that is the way the bill read, I would be jumping on the bandwagon supporting the measure.

No State’s Rights: To be effective, the states would have to be prohibited from setting any water usage rates that are different from the national standards. For the first 200 and some odd years of plumbing in the United States, that is how plumbing was regulated. It has only been in the past 25 years that non-plumbing types have been “straightening” out our industry.

For all of the cursing we have done regarding water conservation, it really has been beneficial to our industry. The engineering community has developed better fixtures. If you still have experiences with lousy flushing water closets, you haven’t done your homework investigating the best fixtures out there. Just because a particular water closet has big sales numbers doesn’t mean it is the best flusher. I have been very impressed with the performance of a number of water closets. Then there are others that I feel like taking a sledge hammer to.

I was visiting a medium-sized plumbing shop in New York City. They went through the trouble of testing every 1.6 gpf water closet available in their area. They didn’t use any fancy medium like polypropylene balls or bulk media, they used the real stuff. With the water closets installed in their shop they could evaluate each fixture. Some fixtures lasted less than a week. Other fixtures they wanted to keep, but they changed them out to test the next group. The ones that they liked were put back in and are currently used should you visit them.

The information they generated was extremely important. Every one of their plumbers had first-hand experience as to which water closet worked the best. It became a lot easier to sell a customer on a water closet that might be higher in price. They could also talk the customer out of high-priced water closets that didn’t perform. They realized that price is not everything.

What is extremely disturbing is the plumbing contractors who complain to me about how lousy a flusher XYZ’s Model 123 is. I then ask whose water closet they are installing. The response is XYZ’s Model 123. If the water closet is a lousy flusher, stop using and installing them! The only way to get the message across is to stop using the XYZ Model 123 and switch to an ABC Model 789. Manufacturers can read sales figures. They also hear about the sales figures of their competitors.

Low Flow OK: In addition to water closets, the next biggest complaint I hear is regarding the flow rates to shower heads. I don’t care what anyone else claims, 2.5 gpm is plenty of water to shower with. Individuals removing flow restrictors are simply greedy. I fully support the measure to have a shower head leak all over the place if the flow restrictor is removed. Again, we have the problem of good shower heads vs. lousy ones. I personally think every plumber should be installing pressure-compensating shower heads, not ones with flow restrictors.

A flow restrictor continues to restrict the flow as the pressure gets lower. While they provide 2.5 gpm at 80 psi, they could be down to 1.2 gpm at 20 psi. For this type of shower head, the public is correct, 1.2 gpm is not enough water to shower with. If you gave your customer great service, they would have a pressure compensating shower head. At 80 psi the shower flows 2.5 gpm, while at 20 psi it only drops to say 2.2 gpm. There is a big difference in the type of shower head.

Some manufacturers have started to build the flow control into the body of the shower valve. For these types of showers, if you remove the flow restrictor, the shower still flows at 2.5 gpm. Most of these types of shower valves come with pressure-compensating shower heads. Back to Knollenberg. The worst thing that could happen is a return to the states setting flow rate requirements. If you really want the government out of the plumbing business, let your congressman know the correct way to do it. In my opinion, that would be to have the ANSI/ASME national consensus standard committees set the flow rates. This group is privy to all of the latest test data and field installation reports. Additionally, their goal is to conserve water.

As far as those acronyms, if you’ve never served in the military, SNAFU means Situation Normal, All Fouled Up; FUBAR means Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition; and BOHICA means Bend Over, Here It Comes Again.