‘Every Drop Counts’ is the motto of a new EPA program designed to prime the market for water-efficient products.

Beginning this year, you’ll be able to install plumbing products bearing the new WaterSensesmlogo courtesy of the EPA. The agency announced the labeling program last year in order to set standards and promote consumer choice for water-efficient products.

Residential toilets are the first product for our industry to sport the logo, with residential faucets likely to be next. (Commercial toilets and faucets may follow in 2008.)

WaterSense will provide third-party certification for water-efficient products that perform their jobs at least 20 percent more efficiently than their less efficient counterparts.

As a result, consumers will have more information about water-saving products and gain a better understanding of water conservation overall. The WaterSense label will be adhered directly to the product, featured on in-store displays, and found in manufacturer literature and Web sites. In addition, the EPA will develop its own registry of labeled products on a WaterSense Web site.

To that end, it’s similar to the well-known Energy Star program. The EPA started that 15 years ago to identify and promote energy-efficient products. In 2005, the EPA reported that Americans experienced about $10 billion in annual energy savings thanks to the Energy Star program.

The EPA estimates savings of 128 billion gallons of water annually just from toilets, faucets and irrigation equipment, another category that’s already a part of the WaterSense rollout.

So which toilets are part of the program? How were the specs determined? Who are the third parties to certify these toilets? And what testing will they use? Here’s a quick guide to some common questions about the emerging program:

Q: What toilets are part of Water-Sense?

A: High-efficiency toilets or HETs are the only toilets that are part of the program. HETs consume no more than 1.3 gallons per flush. In other words, they are more water-efficient at flushing than a 1.6-gpf toilet.

Q: How long have HETs been on the market in the United States?

A: Caroma, an Australian company, introduced a gravity-fed, dual-flush HET in the United States in 1998. Since then, many other manufacturers have marketed HETs. Sloan, for example, makes a pressure-assist 1-gpf HET. According to the EPA, there are more than 80 different models on the market today from 16 different manufacturers.

Q: What is the WaterSense performance criteria for HET flushing performance?

A: Toilets have to flush at least 350 grams of solid waste using no more than 1.28 gpf.

Q: What now?

A: It helps to back up a bit and consider just how much of this came to be. Keep in mind that a committee of executives from plumbing manufacturers, including American Standard; Kohler Co.; Toto USA; and Waterless Co., along with representatives of public water utilities and environmental associations, has been a part of this process for the past three years.

The EPA refers to these folks as “stakeholders.” But as this ad-hoc committee was formed, many water utilities - particularly those in California, but also through the United States and Canada - already were working on developing their own standards for water-efficient toilets that were over and above ANSI standards. A large part of that work resulted in the Uniform North American Requirements for Toilets or UNAR. The WaterSense specs are based largely on UNAR.

Q: So it’s a cabal of water utilities ganging up on us plumbing contractors and telling us what to do, right?

A: If you say so. Another way to look at the issue is to consider this: Everyone has heard plenty about maintaining the supply of potable water, but less attention is paid to the demands placed on public utilities to treat wastewater. Water supply infrastructure is a major cost for most local markets across the United States. In 2002, an EPA report identified a $224 billion gap in planned infrastructure investment as compared to needs. Water efficiency is one key way that local utilities can help manage their infrastructure needs.

To take some of the burden off their infrastructures, the utilities developed a set of minimum standards for toilets that would be subsidized through a utility’s own water conservation program.

Hence, UNAR - a supplement to other performance standards, but now a national standard at least in terms of HETs for WaterSense. UNAR is also voluntary; ANSI standards must be met in order to market a toilet.

We should also note that as the utilities were developing UNAR, at least two executives from Kohler Co. and American Standard also were on a council that helped review proposals.

Q: How does the spec ensure that HETs will perform as expected?

A: Don’t forget about that 350 grams of solid waste that has to be flushed away.

Q: I’d rather not. What exactly are we talking about here?

A: That’s 350 grams of soybean paste. If you’ve ever had miso soup in a Japanese restaurant, you’ve basically had a bowl of soybean paste mixed into hot water.

Q: What about those little plastic balls I always see used at trade shows?

A: We have to back up one more time and talk about MaP. That stands for “Maximum Performance.” MaP is part of WaterSense, and UNAR for that matter, but was developed prior to either. It’s the work of Veritec Consulting, which wanted to develop a better way to test toilets using a more realistic test media than plastic balls.

According to Veritec, soybean paste has similar physical properties to human waste. So they used progressively greater amounts of the paste, along with toilet paper, to judge how much waste a toilet will flush away rather than simply its ability to clear the bowl of a minimal amount of media.

(Using soybean paste may be new in this country, but we saw it used on a 1999 trip to Japan to tour Toto facilities.)

Q: So manufacturers like soybean paste better than plastic balls?

A: No. There is plenty of controversy about using soybean paste as the only, or at least a better, way to test toilet performance. Most manufacturers say they use both along with other tests. Sure, the soybean test has made some manufacturers go back to the drawing board to better design toilets. But it’s not the only way.

Keep in mind, the pros and cons we’re talking about are regarding testing 1.6-gpf toilets. As far as WaterSense is concerned, flushing 350 grams of miso paste is the only way a toilet can be approved.

Q: How much can HETs save?

A: The EPA’s WaterSense doesn’t offer the best way to put this since they use the old 3.5-gpf toilets as a benchmark. On average, a family of four will use about 26,000 gallons of water per year with a 3.5-gpf toilet. By replacing the older toilet with an HET, the family could reduce that by more than 60 percent. Savings could be three or four times that amount if replacing a leaky toilet or a pre-1980 model that uses 5 gpf or more.

Q: What about moving waste in the drain line?

A: A 2005 study by Koeller & Associates showed that HETs use sufficient water to move waste to the sewer in a typical home.

With regard to municipal sewer lines, most proponents of HETs say supplementary wastewater flows from other end-uses are always sufficient to move solids through the system. Furthermore, some wastewater utilities are co-funding and sponsoring the toilet replacement programs and other water-efficiency initiatives of the water utilities for the very purpose of reducing sewer flows to their treatment plants.

Q: How is WaterSense like the Energy Star program?

A: Both programs are designed to increase public recognition of and prime the market for energy- and water-saving products. One of the main differences between these two programs, besides one focusing on energy and the other on water, is that WaterSense requires third-party certification of its products.

For additional information about the WaterSense program, visit www.epa.gov/watersense.