Do low-flow showerheads and faucets save money?

Photo by EPA

Photo by EPA

The “rule of threes” highlights the basic necessities of life: The typical human can survive 3 minutes with no air, 3 hours in a harsh environment with no shelter, 3 days with no water, and 3 weeks without food.  Not pleasant to think about, but it does make you consider how you fulfill these needs on a daily basis.  And while Alaskans are fortunate to have access to an abundance of water – the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports that Alaska contains more than 40% of the nation’s surface water resources in its thousands of rivers and millions of lakes – getting access to clean water every day can be no small task.  In Fairbanks, many people pay for water delivery, or haul water themselves, no easy chore in below freezing temperatures. Additionally, many people heat water for laundry, showers and dishes, which adds to household energy costs.

In order to save both water and energy, many people turn to low-flow showerheads and faucets in their homes. Low-flow devices reduce the water coming from a faucet but add pressure to the remaining flow, so people don’t notice the overall loss in water volume. These devices save money in two ways.  First, they reduce water usage.  If you pay for city water, water delivery, or for gas to haul your own water, using less water means saving money.  Secondly, the majority of homes have a water heater to provide hot water for showers, dishes, and laundry.  A low-flow device saves you money because you heat less water overall, which translates into lower energy bills.

If you aren’t sure whether you already have a low-flow device, you can always measure the gallons per minute (gpm) that a faucet or showerhead delivers. A lower gpm rating means the faucet uses less water.  The easiest way to do this is with a stopwatch and a gallon-sized jug (for a faucet) or bucket (for a showerhead).  Turn the faucet on all the way, then use the stopwatch to determine how many seconds it takes to fill up the gallon jug or bucket. Then divide 60 seconds by that time to get the gallons per minute the faucet produces. For example, if your showerhead filled up a gallon bucket in 18 seconds then it has a flow rate of 3.33 gpm (60 ÷18 gpm).

What’s the difference between regular and low-flow devices?

With a flow rate of 3.33 gpm, a 10-minute shower will use 33 gallons of water. If you pay 9 cents a gallon for delivered water, the shower cost $2.97. Now let’s say you have a low-flow showerhead, which is 2 gpm or lower. A 10-minute shower would use 20 gallons of water, and cost $1.80. While $1 in savings doesn’t seem like much, if you take 5 showers a week it adds up to $20/month or $240/year. And that’s not counting other occupants in the house.

What qualifies as low-flow?

Bathroom faucets must use a maximum of 1.5 gpm and showerheads 2 gpm to receive EPA’s label for low-flow appliances. The certification program, WaterSense, aims to help people use less water in order to preserve America’s water supply. Products must use at least 20% less water with no drop in performance compared to standard options. Look for products with WaterSense labels in stores.  As many of these products cost less than $100 and don’t take long to install, it can be an easy way to save energy in a single afternoon.