How do I pick the best water-saving shower head & toilet for my home?

Installing water-saving toilets and shower heads is always a good idea. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, flushing the toilet accounts for approximately 30 percent of the average home’s water usage, and nearly 20 percent comes from showering. Water-saving toilets and shower heads result in reduced water consumption (about a 40 percent drop for the average family), and that means lower utility bills. What’s more, decreased water usage is good for the environment; using less water helps to preserve a safe water supply and decreases water delivery and treatment costs.

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Before the passage of a mid-1990s federal law that mandated that all new toilets use 1.6 gallons of water or less per flush, many models used up to six gallons with each use. But with advances in technology, spurred largely by the recent introduction of the EPA’s WaterSense program, many modern toilets use less than 1.28 gallons per flush—a 20 percent reduction from the old standard. Unlike many of the low-flow models introduced in the 1990s, that improved efficiency doesn’t come with reduced power; all toilets that earn the WaterSense label are independently tested to ensure performance.

The federal law that required the manufacture of low-flow toilets did the same for shower heads, dictating that new models use no more than 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm), a significant improvement over the prior level of up to 5.5 gpm. Modern WaterSense labeled shower heads, though, use just 2.0 gpm or less and must maintain the same level of performance as less efficient models. These shower heads are independently certified to meet certain measures of flow rate, spray force and spray coverage.

How much water am I saving?

The EPA estimates that WaterSense toilets can save the average household approximately 13,000 gallons of water each year, and that could amount to over $100 in annual water bill savings. Those savings quickly cover the cost of a new toilet, which can range from $100 to $1,000. Homeowners who opt for WaterSense shower heads reap similar benefits: according to the EPA, families can reduce water usage by almost 3,000 gallons each year by making the switch. Add that to the lower energy bills resulting from decreased water heater usage, and a new, more efficient shower head can pay for itself in less than two years.

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The cost of water-saving toilets and shower heads does not necessarily correlate with their performance, but usually instead with their features and style. Your family’s lifestyle and preferences will dictate which options are most important. Consult the EPA’s list of approved WaterSense models and use online reviews to learn more about features and performance to narrow down your search. Then check with your local utility companies; many offer rebates for upgrading to more efficient toilets and shower heads.