If consumers are as serious about going green as many in the plumbing industry think they are, then they one day may choose to live with one showerhead in each of their showers.

If consumers are as serious about going green as many in the plumbing industry think they are, then they one day maychooseto live with one showerhead in each of their showers. It’s unlikely that most are ready to make that choice now.

Yet, they may have no choice but to shower with a single showerhead as soon as October. That’s when the U.S. Department of Energy has indicated it will restrict the amount of water per showering compartment to 2.5 gallons per minute.

When DOE issued its proposal in June, it took plumbing manufacturers, contractors and others by surprise. Since the 1990s, the plumbing industry largely has interpreted the 2.5 gpm limit to meanper showerhead, resulting in a variety of multihead shower systems being installed.

Even so, DOE estimates only 5 percent of showerheads on the market today exceed the federal flow limit. While that number sounds low to us, the agency has indicated it could levy civil fines if these products aren’t removed from the market. 

That a government agency would act to restrict the number of showerheads in an effort to conserve water probably should not surprise anyone. The showerhead debate has been going on for a long time.

At its fall meeting two years ago, the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute announced it was developing a white paper to state its position in support of water conservation and multiple showerheads. “We believe strongly that consumers should have a choice for the products they want to buy, including multiple showerheads,” PMI Executive Director Barbara Higgens said at the time.

PMI has led the charge against the DOE’s rule change with strong support from the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association and other groups. Higgens recently issued a statement that put a price tag on the dent the ruling would make on the plumbing industry: $400 million. 

Manufacturers would feel the negative impact from a compliance, financial and production standpoint. Contractors who specialize in bathroom remodeling and who install multifunction shower systems in hotels, schools, nursing homes and health clubs also would be hurt financially.

Much of the attention has been focused on the ability of consumers and building owners to choose their own shower systems. In certain health-care and managed-care applications, multiple shower functions are less a luxury than a necessity. DOE probably will make exceptions for the elderly and disabled.

In choosing most other shower systems, consumers and building owners have to weigh the performance of the system to clean a user’s body and hair; the aesthetics of the showering experience; water utility rates; and the need to conserve water.

With October only a couple months away, we urge DOE to take the time it needs to consider the feedback it has received from the plumbing industry, including the negative economic impact. Further, it should work with the plumbing industry on a longer-term solution to the shower debate.

This solution ultimately will require answers that address performance, aesthetics and conservation. When they shower, people will want to save water and enjoy the experience as they come clean.