If you’re looking for a way to reduce your utility bills and do something good for the environment at the same time, it’s worth taking a good look at your home’s plumbing fixtures. Older fixtures can waste a lot more water than you may realize, and a few simple changes can often make a significant difference.

TOILETS

The toilet can be one of the largest water users in your home. While toilets manufactured after 1994 are mandated by law to use 1.6 gallons of water per flush, most toilets manufactured between about 1980 and 1993 use 3.5 gallons, and pre-1980 models can use as much as 7 gallons of water every time you press that handle down.

One of the most obvious ways to save on water usage is to replace your older toilets with a new one. After some initial problems with the low-flow toilets of the mid-90s, when the reduced-water flush got a bad rap from not handling its waste disposal chores very well, manufacturers made significant design changes that greatly improved the operation of most toilets sold today.

In Europe, most new toilets feature a dual-flush technology that is really quite efficient. The toilet has two flushing buttons on the top of the tank: one button activates a 0.8-gallon flush for the removal of liquid waste, and the other activates a 1.6 gallon flush for solid waste. At least one manufacturer, Caroma USA (www.caromausa.com), offers these well-designed toilets for sale in the United States.

If you have an older toilet that’s in good working order but is wasting water with every flush, consider retrofitting it to use less water. One way to do that is with the Controllable Flush (www.controllableflush.com), which fits most toilet tanks and mimics the action of the dual-flushing European toilet. The no-tool installation is quite simple, and involves the removal of the old flush handle and lever arm and replacing it with the new components contained in the Controllable Flush kit. Pressing down on the handle and holding it for a few seconds allows a reduced flush of about 1.5 gallons, suitable for the disposal of liquid waste, while pressing the handle up raises the flapper valve up in the conventional manner, allowing for a full flush.

Toilet dams, available from many plumbing supply retailers, reduce the interior dimensions of the toilet tank so it holds — and therefore uses — less water with each flush. The typical toilet dam can save a gallon or more of water with each flush. The low-tech method of inserting a brick in the toilet tank, which causes the tank to displace less water, is not recommended — the brick can deteriorate and damage both the toilet and the plumbing lines.

You also want to be sure and check your toilet for leaks. If you hear your toilet running when not in use, you can check for leaks by simply putting a few drops of food coloring in the tank. Check it after about 10 minutes, without flushing, and if any of the food coloring has appeared in the bowl, you have a leak that should be fixed as soon as possible.

FAUCETS AND SHOWERS

Retrofitting your kitchen and bathroom faucets with an aerator is a great way to save water. Aerators introduce air into the water stream, which allows for good pressure with reduced water usage. Aerators are available for just about any type of faucet with internal or external threads, and simply requires screwing the aerator in place.

Aerators are marked with their water flow in gallons per minute (GPM). An aerator with a flow rating of 2.75 GPM or lower is typically considered low-flow, which will save both water and the energy required to heat it. It is estimated that a low-flow kitchen faucet aerator can save about 3 gallons of water per day in the average household, and a bathroom faucet aerator can save 2 gallons or more.

Replacing your old showerhead can be a real water saver as well. Here again, low-flow showerheads utilize air mixed with the water to improve pressure while reducing water usage, and still results in a shower spray that is invigoratingly strong. Look for a showerhead that uses 2.5 GPM or less, which are available in a wide variety of styles, including ones with pulsating massage action.

And finally, fix that that drip! In addition to being noisy and incredibly annoying, a small faucet drip that totals only two tablespoons a minute wastes about 15 gallons of water a day.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paul2887@hughes.net.

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