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Replace existing plumbing with water-conserving fixtures

Written By:
R. Dodge Woodson

What is involved with replacing existing plumbing fixtures with water-conserving fixtures? Is it worth the cost of water-conserving fixtures? I’ve heard low-flush toilets don’t work well, is that true? How much work can I do myself? These questions often come up when homeowners consider installing water-conserving fixtures. Short answers are simple, but there is more to these questions than meets the eye.

The manual labor required to switch over to water-conserving fixtures is not extensive. Nearly anyone with basic mechanical skills, a few tools, and a spare afternoon on their hands can do the job.

Here are a few examples of water-conserving fixtures and the time it will take:

A shower head can be replaced in less than 30 minutes by most amateurs. Faucet replacement could take about an hour for a homeowner to accomplish. Replacing a toilet can be done by many homeowners in less than an hour. None of the jobs are lengthy or complicated.

What is the value of water-conserving fixtures?

If you pay for your water through a municipal system there is a clear financial gain to be achieved when you use less water. If you get your water from a well with an electric water pump you will save money on electricity and wear and tear on your pump when you use less water. There is also the reduction of wastewater that has to be treated to take into consideration. Let’s look at a simple example of what you might gain in financial savings over the coming years when switching to a water-conserving fixture. Old toilets often consume 5 gallons of water each time they’re flushed; modern toilets use 3 gallons of water. Most residential low-flush toilets use 1.6 gallons of water. Now think of how many times a day your toilet is flushed. Multiply that number by 365 to get your yearly use and compare the number of gallons of water that can be saved. If you’re paying for your water by the gallon, it adds up. The same is true for shower heads that use 5 gallons per minute, 3 gallons a minute, or less. How long do you spend running the water in the shower? Do the math.

But water-conserving fixtures, like low-flush toilets, don’t work well? This is a tricky question. In a new installation, on a modern plumbing system that is installed in compliance with code requirements, the low-flush toilets work fine. Problems occur with low-flush toilets when they’re used to replace toilets in homes that contain old, cast-iron piping. This piping is rough on the inside and rusts; many times the piping is not installed with the pitch/slope/grade that current codes require. The pipe works fine when 5 gallons of water floods and flushes it. This same pipe trying to do the same job with 1.6 gallons of water can falter.

All in all, most homeowners can benefit, as can the environment, from the installation of water-conserving fixtures. And most water-conserving fixtures are easy for the homeowner to install. A clear win-win.

R. Dodge Woodson is a master plumber of over 30 years. He has written over 90 books dealing with many subjects, including plumbing.