The Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPAct '92), signed by President George H.W. Bush, was supposed to dramatically reduce the amount of water consumed in the United States each year by putting new use limits on showers, faucets, and toilets. While the EPAct ‘92 has had a very positive effect in new construction, and most older showers and faucets have been renovated to meet the code requirements, there's still a great deal of excess water running through older toilets.
The problem with fixing this has been cost. A showerhead and a faucet moderator are both inexpensive, easily installed components that begin to save water immediately. Because their costs are minimal and their water savings are substantial, the return on investment (ROI) is exceptional (in many cases, 100 percent or higher).
On the other hand, replacing a commercial flushometer toilet or urinal with a 1.6 gallon-per-flush (gpf), low-flow fixture can be a much more expensive proposition. Costs can range from $350 up to $550, depending on how extensive the remodeling requirements might be. When these flushometer fixtures were developed back in the 1930s, water was cheap and plentiful. Because there were no constraints on the amount of water a fixture could use, a tremendous amount of excess was built into the flush cycle.
In addition to the cost hurdles, there are some other obstacles that need to be addressed before changing out flushometer fixtures. Many older buildings and campuses with partially corroded and clogged pipe systems require more water just to function on a gravity basis. There are all kinds of scary examples of what happens when you take two-thirds of the fluid makeup out of older sewer systems: The historic city halls of Miami Beach, FL, and Albuquerque, NM, had to jackhammer their floors and redo the piping to make 1.6-gpf, low-flow fixtures work in their buildings.
Because many of these flushometer repair kits are interchangeable (the 1.6-gpf, 3.5-gpf, and 4.5-gpf kits can all fit in the same fixture), there has been some confusion on the part of both plumbers and building management. This has led to the installation of 1.6-gpf, low-flow kits in old fixtures (which won't work because of the china design), and the installation of 3.5-gpf and 4.5-gpf kits in new, low-flow fixtures. It's common today to find an entire system of 1.6-gpf, low-flow fixtures using 4 to 5 gallons of water per flush. Don't let that be your building.
Frank Fix is director, research & development, at Winter Haven, FL-based United Energy LLC.