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5 Low-Flow Retrofit Tips

Pick the right fixtures for your facility


Pick the right fixtures for your facility.

There’s more to low-flow retrofits than spotting the right gallons per flush or gallons per minute rating. In fact, locating the low-flow version of any model is just the beginning. The best fixtures for your facility must meet a number of requirements, from actual flow rate to verified performance.

Ready to retrofit? Take these five tips into consideration to find the best match.

1) Look beyond the Low-Flow Label
Just deciding to purchase a low-flow fixture isn’t enough – the definition can vary widely. Federal standards mandate a maximum gallons per flush (gpf) rate of 1.6 for toilets and 1.0 for urinals, but the terms “low-flow” or “low-flush” could mean anything less than that, notes Bob Carter, product manager for flush valves, vitreous, and Zurn One systems at manufacturer Zurn Industries. Faucet labeling can be similarly vague.

“There’s a strong trend toward reducing water use. Faucets, for example, can go down to 0.35 gallons per minute,” notes Carter. “Urinal trends are going toward WaterSense-listed products, which would include units that use 0.5 gpf or less – last year, WaterSense models surpassed non-WaterSense ones. Water closets have gone from 3.5 gpf to 1.6, 1.28, and even 1.1 gpf.”

Prospective customers frequently ask about the effectiveness of low-flow fixtures, particularly where toilets are concerned, Carter adds. In most cases, there are no problems with clogs or drain issues, but a handful of buildings may require a different solution.

“Clogs are a legitimate concern, but a properly pitched pipe will carry the drain water and waste out,” says Carter. “Not every building is ideal – for example, piping may have to be rerouted – but the best response is not to avoid low-flow, but to try it.”

2) Investigate Inner Workings
Can’t afford to replace entire fixtures? New cartridges and diaphragms for toilet flush valves can lengthen the fixture’s life. If you already have high-efficiency toilets and are receiving clogging complaints, consider a small tweak that will preserve most of your low-flow savings, Carter recommends.

“If an issue does arise, you can add a valve at the end of the line that acts as a line purge or line wash similar to the standard flow,” he adds. “That way you’re still saving water in two of your three closets and the other one gives you the wash if you’re experiencing clogging. That’s very rare, however.”

3) Ensure Strength and Safety
Many manufacturers now include thicker backplates on new toilets to maintain the safety of users, as the average weight of U.S. adults continues to rise. Retrofit kits let users extend this feature to existing bowls, and some are labor-decreasing models that don’t require you to go behind the unit to make adjustments, Carter says.

Also look at mounting types when planning a retrofit. Floor-mounted bowls with back outlets are gaining popularity because they reduce the risk of damage from heavy loads while still keeping the drain in the wall to save space, Carter explains. These models combine the space-saving drainage system of a wall-mounted model with the extra sturdiness of a floor-mounted one.

4) Examine Extras
If you’re replacing entire fixtures, it may be worth your while to include new toilet seats to freshen the look of the entire restroom, Carter says. Another popular add-on is antimicrobial glazing, an additive that helps prohibit the growth of bacteria, viruses, and mold. The glazing is available on anything from restroom fixtures to drinking fountains and handrails and is especially popular in healthcare environments.

“Any application with high volume, such as airports or even schools, could benefit from antimicrobial coatings,” says Carter. “It’s an inexpensive add and it gives you a little extra protection.”

5) Take a Test Drive
Don’t be afraid to ask manufacturers for a demo model, Carter recommends. Prices for low-flow products are comparable among many vendors, so you have little to lose by experimenting to see what’s right for your building.

“Make sure you analyze performance,” Carter says. “For instance, with toilets, don’t just look at the flushing consistency, but the removal consistency from flush to flush. Do a comparison of manufacturers A, B, and C, and see if there’s any difference.”

Janelle Penny is senior editor of BUILDINGS.