Listen up, water wasters: With a few twists of the wrist, you can save 25 percent to 60 percent of the water it takes and 50 percent of the energy necessary to shower and shampoo you and your family.
How so? Install a low-flow shower head, which restricts the water output to no more than 2.5 gallons per minute — the federally mandated limit for new fixtures. The shower heads generally run $10 to $20 a pop — some utility companies give them away — and screw into existing fittings.
You'll squeeze the most out of the low-flow strategy if you live in a home built before 1994 and if you haven't renovated your bathroom: Older shower heads send as many as 5.5 gallons per minute down the drain. New fixtures that go as low as 1.5 gpm save 7,300 gallons and $30 to $100 a year over even their 2.5-gpm counterparts.
Unlike older versions, which put you under a sprinkler, one new low-flow maintains decent pressure by forcing air into the mix, and another channels water into massage-like streams. A third type, the H2Okinetic Technology shower head, by Delta, shoots bigger droplets at a higher speed than the other two, approaching the feel of an old-fashioned soaker at a parsimonious 1.6 gpm. The fixture runs about $55 at retail stores.
• Retrofit your faucets. As you browse the plumbing aisles, check out faucet aerators — doohickeys that screw into your faucet threading and cut the water flow from 3 to 4 gallons per minute (the rate on older fixtures) to as little as a half-gallon.
Aerators blend water and air, reducing the flow without sacrificing pressure. At 50 cents to $3 apiece, the devices are some of the cheapest green gadgets available. Your utility company may even offer you a rebate or hand them out free.
Aerators come in a range of flow rates, up to 2.2 gpm. A faucet that flows at 1 gpm gets your toothbrush and washcloth plenty wet. But unless you want to grow old waiting for your pasta pot to fill, you'll need to give your kitchen faucet a bit more oomph. Use an aerator with a flow rate of at least 2 gpm.
• Have a little WaterSense. Soon, you won't have to worry about bringing home products that promise a deluge and deliver a dribble or that don't live up to their water-saving claims. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently launched a certification program that vets devices for water efficiency and performance, and awards the WaterSense label to those that do the job right. You can already find the label on high-efficiency toilets; bathroom faucets and aerators are next in line.
Jane Bennett Clark is an associate editor at Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.