Flow Control: New toilets help you avoid flushing money down the drain.

We're going to get potty-mouthed here, but it's for a good cause.

The typical man goes to the bathroom at his workplace three times a day–twice to the urinal and once to the toilet. The average woman also visits the bathroom at work thrice daily.

Let's assume you have 35 men and 15 women working at your lumberyard, and your bathrooms are equipped with 15-year-old toilets that use three gallons of water per flush, and urinals that require one gallon per flush. Over the course of the work day, let's assume that among your customers, 20 more men will use the urinal and 10 men or women will go to the toilet.

Finally, we'll be generous and assume you're closed on weekends and major holidays, which means those bathrooms are used 250 days a year.

The result? A total of 78,750 gallons of water flushed down your pipes each year. With combined water and sewer rates averaging $5.72 per 1,000 gallons nationwide, that means you're spending $450.45 per year on that part of your restroom.

Now, imagine installing in your men's and ladies' rooms a pair of high-efficiency toilets that require just 1.28 gallons per flush (gpf) as well as a urinal that requires 0.8 gpf. You'd use 40% less water, and your annual water and sewage bill would drop to $267.20. Assuming those three fixtures cost $150 each, you'd recoup your investment in two and a half years.

Better yet, buy a pair of dual-flow toilets. These porcelain thrones have two flush buttons: one delivering 1.28 gallons to flush out solid waste, and one that sends 0.8 gallon into the bowl to remove urine. These cost more–about $250 each–but require 9% less water than even the high-efficiency toilets. Compared with the old 3 gpf units, you'll save $206.78 on water and sewage bills, and since you won't need to buy a new urinal, you'll still pay off your expenditure in two and a half years. There's even a dual-flush toilet out that works automatically, deciding which volume of water to use based on whether you take less or more than a minute to do your business.

It's already federal law that new toilets use only 1.6 gpf and urinals 1 gpf, but California is going further by mandating that suppliers switch to 1.28 gpf toilets and 0.8 gpf urinals. And given this past year's drought in the Southeast and perpetually dry conditions in the West, those standards are likely to spread.

As for the bathroom sink, faucets that work only when you move your hands in front of a sensor have been around several years now, But don't count on them to save water, warns Rob Zimmerman, senior staff engineer for water conversation initiatives at Kohler Co. "The fact that people don't leave the water on is offset by the fact that a higher percentage of people wash their hands. At Kohler, we don't talk about sensors being a water-saving strategy. We talk about them being a health benefit."

Away from the bathroom, your best chance of saving water will depend on whether you have any shrubbery. Connect water barrels to your drain pipes to capture rainwater for use in your landscaped areas. Replace sprinklers with drip irrigation systems that use far less water, and then consider going a step further by adding sensors that stop your regular watering when it's raining.

Particularly parched areas such as Australia and the American Southwest are exploring the use of "gray water"–water reclaimed from the drains of showers, bathroom sinks, and clothes washers (but not from toilets, dishwashers, or kitchen sinks; those sources can contain human pathogens). Usually this requires installing a separate system depending on the type of effluent.

Gray water can be reused for some limited purposes, such as landscape irrigation, vehicle washing, and dust control. But regulations on gray water vary directly by jurisdiction. Check with your state government's water regulator for details on what's allowed where you live.

–Craig Webb

For more information, visit:

Waterwiser drip calculator: http://www.awwa.org/awwa/waterwiser/dripcalc.cfm

  • A typical adult bladder holds 10-15 ounces of fluid.
  • The average cost for water in the United States is $2.65 per 1,000 gallons.
  • Combined water and sewage costs in the United States average $5.72 per 1,000 gallons.
  • About 408 billion gallons of water are used in the United States every day. Half of that goes to cool power plants.
  • The American public used 43.3 billion gallons of water per day as of 2000. That's 11% of daily water use of all types.
  • Only 57% of people in Maine draw their water from a public supply. That's the lowest rate in the country. The average nationwide is 85%.
  • The LEED for Homes certification system gives one point each if the home has lavatory and faucets and shower heads that use no more than 2 gallons per minute, and toilets that require up to 1.3 gallons per flush.