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July 11, 2017 > How low can you go? Save water with low flow appliances

How low can you go? Save water with low flow appliances

By David R. Newman

In April, Governor Jerry Brown officially declared the long California drought over. But he also urged citizens to remain vigilant. ÒThis drought emergency is over, but the next drought could be around the corner. Conservation must remain a way of life.Ó With summertime now upon us, this may be the perfect time to assess your current water usage, and to teach our children about sustainability.

Thanks to the Energy Policy Act of 1992, and similar legislation enacted in recent years, incentives for homeowners to upgrade their old appliances have been plentiful. Federal, state, and local rebate programs have motivated citizens to alter their indoor water usage habits, and manufacturers have followed suite by producing more efficient toilets and showerheads.

Unfortunately, funding for these federal and state rebate programs has now dried up, but local rebate programs still exist, including those provided by the Alameda County Water District (ACWD), which serves the Tri-City area. Customers may qualify for a rebate up to $125. Says Stephanie Nevins, Water Conservation Supervisor at ACWD, ÒThere are still quite a few of the 3.5 gallons per flush (GPF) toilets out there in older homes. This program is to help incentivize getting them replaced with high-efficiency toilets (HET).Ó

HETÕs are defined as those modern toilets that use 1.28 GPF or less, which is now the standard for all toilets sold in California as of January 2016. The Federal standard is 1.6 GPF, which was the California standard beginning in 1992. Says Nevins, ÒWe ask customers when their home was built when they apply for the program, because we donÕt want to replace those 1.6 GPF toilets.Ó If youÕre not sure what type of toilet you have, you can look in the tank for a make and model number and look it up online or call the manufacturer.

Also available at most stores are dual-flush toilets, which allow users to choose between a low-flush option for liquids (1.1 GPF) and a high-flush option for solids (1.6 GPF). Look for the WaterSense label when you purchase to find which items meet the EPA water savings criteria. The average price for a new toilet runs about $100 Ð $300.

Showers can also use up a lot of water, up to 20 percent of a homeÕs total indoor use. Installing a low-flow showerhead is easy to do and can save significantly on both water and energy use. In 2016, the California State Energy Commission set maximum flow rates for showerheads at 2.0 gallons per minute (GPM). The current Federal standard is 2.5 GPM.

Stores like Home Depot offer a wide variety of showerhead styles priced between $10 Ð $100. As with toilets, look for the WaterSense label. Most showerheads come with several settings to adjust the flow of water. Also, a showerhead with a smaller face can help concentrate the spray. To measure your homeÕs water pressure, use a water gauge. This can help you decide on the best showerhead that combines comfort with water savings.

The current state standard for bathroom faucets is 1.2 GPM, down from 2.2 GPM. You can save even more water by installing or replacing your faucet aerator. A faucet aerator is a small, round device that attaches to the tip of a faucet and helps reduce the flow of water. ItÕs a good idea to replace these every once in awhile. Just bring your old aerator in to any hardware store and they can help you choose the right size and flow rate.

If your house was built before 1994, you may be in need of water efficient fixtures. ACWD offers free Water Conservation Kits that contain a low-flow showerhead, faucet aerators, toilet leak detection tablets, and a toilet flapper valve. Also, the City of Fremont works with the California Youth Energy Services Program every summer to offer free Green House Calls to residents, which include the installation of basic water and energy saving devices.

Fremont has also developed a website called the Fremont Green Challenge to help residents find information and resources to help them reduce their carbon footprint. Says Rachel DiFranco, Sustainability Manager for the City of Fremont, ÒItÕs the landing place where residents can focus on actions that make sense to them. They can find things that they can do that are low to no cost. And for renters, who only have a certain amount of control over the home that they live in, there are definitely things that they can do. They can install a low-flow showerhead or an aerator, which will help reduce water usage. You donÕt really need to get your landlord involved with something like that.Ó

For more information, contact the Alameda County Water District at (510) 668-4207 or visit online at, and the City of Fremont at (510) 494-4451. Learn more about the Fremont Green Challenge at, and about Green House Calls at

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