Install Water-Efficient Faucets & Showerheads

Updated on December 8, 2017
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With a Master's in sustainable development, Susette helps Southern California water agencies carry out their water conservation projects.

When I first moved into the 1920s granny home where I now live in Southern California, I noticed the kitchen faucet had no aerator and was wasting water like crazy. I had just retired from a water conservation consultancy, so the thought of so much waste appalled me. I quickly went out and bought an aerator to screw onto the end of my kitchen faucet. It was an easy job with an impactful result.

Two of the most simple and least costly ways to save water in your home are to replace your bathroom and kitchen faucet aerators with water saving ones and replace your showerheads with low flow ones. Both of these actions can be carried out easily by the average resident in a home. Kids can replace the aerators––just screw off the old ones and screw on the new ones––and adults can replace the showerheads using common tools.

With the new aerator, my kitchen faucet now has a smooth flow of water that doesn't waste.
With the new aerator, my kitchen faucet now has a smooth flow of water that doesn't waste. | Source

What is a Faucet Aerator?

An aerator is the tip of the faucet that screws off that holds a screen that filters particles from the water. Standard bathroom faucet aerators allow water to pass through the screen at the rate of 2.2 gallons per minute (gpm). The newer faucet aerators only pass through 0.5 gpm - a 77% reduction in flow! They use less water by mixing it with air, which saves money on water bills and on the electricity or gas that heated the extra.

Aerators reduce water flow by making the screen finer, so that water splits out into a greater number of smaller jet streams, adding air to the mix. It also constricts the size of the faucet a bit, so a smaller amount of water is flowing through the opening. These two things have the added effect of increasing the pressure, making the flow stronger, which helps a lot in areas where water pressure is normally low - in a third-floor apartment, for example (where I lived before this). The added force helps that smaller amount of water still wash things clean.

After replacing your aerator, you can save even more water by turning the water off when brushing your teeth, shaving, or washing your glasses. Even in the shower you can save by turning the water off while you soap up.

Replace your old faucet aerator with a new, low-flow one. Note that the new one is plastic, whereas the old one is steel mesh that rusted.
Replace your old faucet aerator with a new, low-flow one. Note that the new one is plastic, whereas the old one is steel mesh that rusted. | Source

Difference Between Kitchen and Bathroom Faucet Aerators

In addition to filtering and aerating in the same way, kitchen faucet aerators often come with an on/off flip switch to save more water, if you use it. You wet your dish, flip the aerator switch up to stop the flow, then flip it down again to rinse off after washing. Since the switch is at the end of the faucet, it doesn't change the temperature and it's right there to flick off and on with the back of your hand. This is the kind of kitchen faucet we used to hand out free for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (which they no longer do).

Older kitchen faucet aerators allow a flow of 3 gpm or more, whereas the newer low-flow kitchen faucet aerators allow a flow of 2.2 gpm or less, with the same amount of pressure. Again, electricity or gas is saved with the lower amount of hot water you use.

Although replacing aerators alone can save you water, how about replacing your showerheadtoo? It's not quite as easy as replacing an aerator, but with the right tools, which most people have, an adult can do it easily.

A low-flow kitchen faucet aerator has a useful flip switch. You can turn the water on and off with a flick of your wrist.
A low-flow kitchen faucet aerator has a useful flip switch. You can turn the water on and off with a flick of your wrist. | Source

Replace Your Showerhead

Low-flow shower heads are available as replacements for both wall-mounted and hand-held ones. Whereas standard shower heads use 2.0 gpm or more, the newer low-flow ones use 1.5 gpm, again with better pressure. Wall-mounted shower heads are available for purchase at most hardware and plumbing stores for $25-30 and have a life span of 10 years or more. You can replace them yourself.

There are also showerhead adapters you can purchase that turn the water to a trickle as soon as it's hot enough to shower. The water going off provides a clear signal that it's time to start your shower and stops you from wasting water in the meantime.

An additional way to save water in the shower is to shower less often. It is entirely possible, and healthier for your skin, to take sponge baths instead of showers every other day. It might feel odd at first to shower less, but you quickly get used to it. Showering every day can then seem like an extravagant waste of water, which in truth it is . . . unless you have a job that gets you really dirty.

Even detachable showerheads can be water efficient.
Even detachable showerheads can be water efficient. | Source

Legal Restrictions On Water Flow from Showerheads

Changing out your showerhead for a low-flow one is meant to reduce the amount of water you use. Getting around that by installing several jet showerheads in one shower stall defeats the purpose, although many installers have done just that. In 2010 the U.S. Department of Energy cracked down on this overuse of water, stating that the entire shower complex had to use less than 2.5 gpm.

Due to ongoing problems with drought, in 2010 the state of California restricted sales of any shower heads that use more than 2.0 gpm by 2029. Stores like Home Depot have until then to get rid of all their old inventory (though actually they're changing out now). Meanwhile, the City of Los Angeles restricted use in 2009 and New York followed the next year.

Some water suppliers offer free water audits to help you reduce water use in and outside your entire house, along with handing out free fixtures. If yours offers one, take advantage of it! Their water specialist will check to see how you currently use water and will show you more ways to save water and money, after you've replaced the simpler fixtures.

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New Designs of Water-Saving Showerheads

Design engineers are creating interesting new types of water–saving showers and faucets that look highly promising. One is based on the way car washes recycle their wash water. This shower system is called the OrbSys shower, and it works by capturing and cleaning hot water as it washes off your body. It works quickly, so no heat is lost. The water is run through a wastewater purifier as soon as it hits the drain and is quickly recycled back up to the shower head. Altogether this system can save up to 90% of water and 80% of heating energy used.

Costs for the new shower heads run from $8 for your basic low-flow to $35 for massage shower heads with adjustable flows––the kind used at low-end resorts. The more expensive ones have rubber nozzles that resist hard mineral buildup, so they don't block the flow. They also have a greater number of jets, so the pressure is distributed more evenly, rather than shooting out like needles.

The way fixtures are made these days, there should be no reason not to conserve water with good quality shower heads and faucet aerators. Using low flow toilets and reprogramming your irrigation system, washing dishes and clothes with full loads, are other ways you can save water in the home. It may not seem like much, but with every person in every big city conserving water this way, there should end up being plenty enough water to go around, even in drought prone regions like the Southwestern United States.

Go Green: Water Waste Prevention

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