Should all water-saving practices be added to the plumbing codes?

I recently attended a committee meeting on the IAPMO Green Plumbing and Mechanical Supplement, otherwise known as the Green Code. This is a group of fine professionals dedicated to helping the plumbing industry continue its move toward green construction practices. Both the IAPMO and ICC green codes are voluntary. You can use them if you want, but nothing in the code is mandatory.

The U.S. Green Building Council’s  LEED program has been around for many years. And many of you have installed green plumbing systems in LEED-rated buildings.

When I attend these meetings or visit a LEED building, I always think back to a friend of mine who claims, “I was green before green was green.”

Many of you fall into that category, for which I applaud you. Water conservation has been a part of plumbing installations since plumbing was brought indoors.

At the same time, some in our profession do everything to avoid water-conservation measures. Showerheads are tampered with to increase flow rates, ballcocks are adjusted to increase the flush cycle and other water-wasting measures are put into place. Willfully violating the code or federal law has no place in our profession.

But here’s my thought: Should we leave water-conservation provisions in the green codes or should they be a part of our public policy?

Low-flow WCs and urinals

When I hear discussions about flow rates and water use, it seems obvious to me that it should be a part of our public policy, not something left for a voluntary green code. Let me start with water closets.

All water-closet manufacturers have developed a 1.28 gal. per flush water closet meeting the U.S. EPA’s WaterSense program requirements. Yes, 1.28 is a strange number, but it is equal to 30% savings over a 1.6 gpf water closet.

So, I ask you, why would you still be installing a 1.6 gpf water closet? Shouldn’t you be installing water closets that are 1.28 gpf, or less? You cannot provide a good reason for continuing to install 1.6 models. And don’t say you are trying to save your customer money, because in the long run, you are costing your customer money every month with higher water bills.

Another quick change-out you should be doing is switching the handle on manual flushometer valves to dual-flush handles. This takes very little time and can be done without turning off the water. What could be easier? Dual-flush handles work on any water closet.

The user can flush down for a full flush and flush up for a partial flush. The flushing upward saves 30%  or more of water. Think of how many times a water closet is flushed every day. Then think of how many times only urine is present in the bowl.

Plumbing manufacturers couldn’t have made it any easier to save water than providing the dual-flush handle. Every plumbing contractor should carry a number of these handles in his truck. Offer the change-out as a service to your customers. They will feel good about saving water. They also will feel good when they get a positive response from the public.

When it comes to urinals, why flush 1 gal. when you can flush 0.5 gal.? Or, for that matter, no gallons? Some of you claim you don’t like nonwater-supplied urinals. Well, men are using them all over the country without a problem. But, if you do have a problem, there are low-volume urinals - 1/2 gal., 1/4 gal. or 1/8 gal. flush.

It is time to switch to low-flush-volume urinals. This is another easy decision for you to make.

Water-saving faucets

Many lavatory aerators  flow less than 2 gal. per minute. I have found that, after using a 1 gpm aerator for the past 10 years, I have gotten used to it. My daughters also like the aerator and asked for one in their bathroom. I expect that with them moving out, they will want a 1 gpm aerator in their apartments. They have gotten used to it.

Showers have become a stumbling block in the water-conservation movement. A loud chorus of “DON’T TAKE AWAY MY SHOWER WATER!” has been heard from consumers who don’t want what they believe will be compromised shower quality with low-flow fixtures. However, I don’t agree. You can lower the shower flow rate to 2 gpm and not suffer any consequences. Having used lower flow rates for years, I can attest that it really isn’t a big deal.

When I stay in hotels with older showers, tampered showerheads or multiple showerheads, I personally don’t like it. I feel as if I am drowning in the shower from  too much water. You don’t need that much water to get a comfortable shower.

These are just a few water-conservation ideas that are a part of the green codes. I don’t believe these requirements belong in the green codes, however. They belong in the plumbing code. This should be a part of our public policy. We don’t need to say we are green to save water. It is just a part of being a good citizen. If you want to call yourself green, that is OK, too. You are still being a good citizen.

The model plumbing codes cannot change until the 2015 edition. Let’s hope that all switch to lower-volume-flush water closets and uninals, and lower-water-use aerators and showerheads. If we don’t do what is right, watch out because the Feds may get involved again. I would prefer that we as an industry make the changes, not the federal government.

Water conservation is more than being green. It is good public policy. We should all be proud of the water conservation banner.