In 1992, the federal government changed the maximum showerhead water flow from 5.5 gallons per minute (gpm) to 2.5 gpm, thereby cutting showering water use to less than half. In 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency created a voluntary labeling program to conserve water called WaterSense. It is similar to the Energy Star program, which promotes energy savings in home appliances and equipment. Both programs use independent, third-party labs for testing.
For a showerhead to qualify for a WaterSense label, it must use no more than 2 gpm, plus meet strict user-satisfaction standards; specifically, that means a spray pattern that ensures complete, even coverage and an intensity or pressure delivery for effective rinsing of soap or shampoo. Fortunately, recent technologies have introduced air induction and vacuum booster components into showerhead designs so as to avoid the “low flow” feel. In fact, low gpm showerheads that used to be called “low flow” are now referred to as “high efficiency.”
Showers account for 17 percent of residential indoor water use, or about 40 gallons per family per day on average. Based on average usage and the federal standard 2.5 gpm showerhead, shortening your daily shower by one minute will save 550 gallons per year. Switching your showerhead to a WaterSense label (2 gpm), however, cuts water consumption by 20 percent, or 2,900 gallons per year. Even better are the numerous models rated at 1.5 gpm and 1.25 gpm (some carry the WaterSense certificate) with respective water savings of 40 percent and 50 percent.
Although the price tag can run as high as $80 for these water misers, the majority are less than $30 and some much less. A popular WaterSense 1.5 gpm model by Niagara has received stellar customer reviews and costs only $8, yielding a payback of less than a year from savings on water bills. These calculations do not even factor in the energy savings from not having to run the water heater as much.
The County of Santa Barbara and most municipalities here have a free showerhead-exchange program — bring in an old showerhead, and you will receive a new 1.5 gpm gratis. If you haven’t already installed a 1.5 gpm WaterSense showerhead, the time is right: Save money, water, and energy, help the environment, and enjoy your showers more than ever. As we move ever deeper into drought cycles in California, imagine what the 7,300 gallons of shower water saved per family could mean for the water supply in our community as well as other communities throughout the state.