Bath remodeling usually means a "makeover" for the most utilitarian room in the house. While there's no discounting the influence that fashion, color and style have had recently in the bathroom, here's another "trend" to think about this year — drought.
"This is a sleeping giant," a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center, in Lincoln, Neb., told the Associated Press last March. "The impact is still to come."
We're not climatologists, but basically a warm winter paired with miserly snowfall, plus little spring rain have left water reservoirs precariously low.
Currently, more than a third of the United States is technically suffering from drought conditions, possibly the worst in a century for some areas, according to government data gathered by various agencies.
By and large, the most severe conditions persist in heavily populated New England and down the Eastern Seaboard. The U.S. Drought Monitor, a joint project of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and various academic partners, classified the entire East Coast from Maine to Georgia as being in "severe" or "extreme" drought conditions. Another part of the country hit hard is an area of the West running from Montana down to Texas.
If the dry trend continues (and it is expected to), many regions of the country could encounter severe water shortages as summer starts to heat up. Some states have already announced drought emergencies. A statewide water emergency was declared by the governor of New Jersey last March, creating mandatory water restrictions and conservation measures. New York City, parts of New York state, Maryland and Pennsylvania have followed suit.
Already the collective cry of environmentalists is calling for more government restrictions on water use. Here's where you can ride to the rescue. Plumbers should always be remembered for ensuring the delivery of safe supplies of water. Now it's your turn to make sure those supplies are used as wisely as possible.
"Faucets, showerheads and toilets don’t use water, people do," says Ray Kennedy, vice president/marketing, Delta Faucet Co. "We’re constantly looking at ways to deliver products to help reduce the amount of water that’s wasted while not sacrificing performance."
Certainly, one of the largest uses of residential water comes from the bathroom. While there’s no choice but to install 1.6-gpf water closets and low-flow faucets and showerheads, last spring's Kitchen & Bath Industry Show included plenty of options for "green" remodeling. Here's a rundown on some water-conserving highlights we saw at K/BIS:
ToiletsAll right already. We know how disappointed you were in the first-generation 1.6-gpf toilets. Manufacturers were, too. If you hung around Mike Chandler, sanitary products specialist for Kohler Co., long enough you'd hear plenty about what makers have learned along the way from 3.5 gallons to 1.6 gallons.
"There’s a fine-tuned, high-performance engine inside this toilet," he says, speaking of Kohler’s Ingenium model. Chandler described how research helped pinpoint how various separate aspects of the flush — trap, siphon jet and bowl design — could precisely work together to provide flushing performance that the company says is just as good as the old 3.5-gpf models.
One interesting part of the Ingenium is a 2-inch flush valve that releases the ideal amount of water required for each flush, regardless of a range in water pressure "We're basically trying to eliminate the variables that can affect each of the components of the engine."
The Ingenium is a gravity toilet, but here's a couple of developments in pressure-assist models:
- Sloan Flushmate unveiled its Flushmate IV, operating on 1.1 gallons per flush. In light of the drought conditions affecting the country, Paul DeBoo, sales manager, has been working on possible retrofit programs with a number of regional water districts. "The new model uses 45 percent less water than other conventional 1.6 technologies." DeBoo also mentioned additional enhancements to improve on performance. "We're always trying to address contractors' concerns about drain line carry and simply flushing the bowl."
- WC Technologies recently partnered with Geberit Mfg. on a new pressure-assist toilet. The design combines the PF2 pressure vessel and Geberit's in-wall system. The wall-hung toilet creates 6-9 inches of legroom.
While not exactly gravity and not typically pressure-assist (and for that matter, not a new development either), Kohler's San Raphael Power Lite model does offer an interesting twist on the same old flush. Inside the tank is a 0.2-horsepower pump. An actuator on the side of the toilet lets users choose either 1.6 gallons to flush or 1.1 gallons for liquid waste. The toilet does need an electrical outlet to power the pump; right now company executives told us that only 10 percent of homes have such an easily reached outlet. However, this might be a more attractive option in the future.
ShowersNeed to dream up a new advancement in showerheads? Evidently, there's no better way than getting a bunch of consumers to allow themselves to be filmed while taking showers.
That's what Moen did recently. "Our research helped us uncover showering myths," says Jack Suvak, director of marketing research. "What people think they do in the shower and what they actually do are sometimes quite different. More force isn't always better, higher water flow isn't always more stimulating and a 20-function showerhead isn't always what consumers want." (For more information on the market research, see our "Behind The Curtain" feature.)
What Moen uncovered helped the company develop the Revolution showerhead. While water may come out at the same rate as other low-flow products, the Revolution provides essentially a "wetter" experience with the same amount of water. The showerhead spins each drop and then twirls the entire stream. A dial allows consumers to further manipulate the spray.
In other showering news, Moen also highlighted a line of shower valves designed to provide more "horsepower."
"The valve systems provide a flow rate of 6.3 gallons per minute at 60 psi," says Tim McDonough, senior product manager. "That still allows the maximum flow rate of 2.5 gpm for the shower, but allows for the tub spout to produce a maximum amount of water, as well as provide a better overall showering experience, particularly if you have body sprays and hand showers."
In a nutshell, Moen's Posi-Temp, Moentrol and ExactTemp allow consumers to do more with less water. This isn't quite water conservation since more shower outlets mean more water. But it does allow contractors to meet high expectations even at low-flow rates.
Along somewhat similar lines, Delta's second-generation Monitor 1800 Jetted Shower System features an integrated diverter valve that makes quick work out of installing an additional handshower or jet module. A six-position diverter enables consumers to mix and match the outlets in various combinations. Plus, consumers now can adjust the spray pattern by turning the outside of the jet.
FaucetsWhile we originally saw this at the 2001 K/BIS, Delta Faucet Co.'s e-Flow line was the industry's first attempt at moving electronic faucets from commercial restrooms to the home.
The digitally calibrated electronics adjust to the particular installation, preventing false activation when, say, a toothbrush falls into the sink. In addition, the faucet operates with a 30-second maximum run time that automatically resets once the obstruction is removed, preventing any accidents when someone forgets to turn off the faucet.
Powered by four "AA" batteries, the faucets can run for approximately 150,000 uses or, generally speaking, one year. A low-battery light turns on when about 3,000 cycles remain. The unit also can be hard-wired.
Company executives told us this year that they were still tinkering with broadening this line in the future. According to marketing research, Delta says this type of faucet would be ideal for a children's bathroom; not only does it shut off automatically, but the hands-free operation can obviously prevent the spread of germs.
We also saw a new product from an equally new company called Diana Faucet. The Faucet Automator turns a regular manual bathroom faucet into a dual-mode manual/automatic faucet. The add-on hardware essentially is installed at the base of most faucets with one infrared sensor, one solenoid and one valve in the retrofit.
Hot Water DeliverySo the bathroom has a low-flow toilet, showerhead and faucet. How about saving water by delivering hot water to the shower and sinks without letting cold water run down the drain? At least a couple of manufacturers are attempting to cut the waste by using pumps that get hot water to the point of use faster — if not instantly.
Grundfos Pumps Corp.'s Hot Water Recirculation System puts hot water into the hot water line immediately, using a pump with a built-in timer at the water heater and one or more bypass valves.
"It's an inexpensive way for homeowners to add the comfort and water-saving benefit of hot water recirculation systems to existing homes," says Hans Kircher, HVAC segment manager. "Before this, adding such a recirculation system would have required the installation of more piping, multiple pumps and electrical installations. This new system requires only a single pump and valve."
According to the company, waiting for hot water to get hot typically wastes two to three gallons per use. For a family of four living in a 2,000-sq.-ft. home, that can add up to 16,000 gallons of water down the drain.
While press material was still in the works, we did see a similar product from Watts Regulator called the Hot Shot.