Last week the Wall Street Journal ran an article about a new Department of Energy (DOE) interpretation of a 1992 law limiting showerhead flow rates to 2.5 gpm at 80 psi. There’s a twist - under the old interpretation, as long as an individual nozzle on a showerhead delivered 2.5 gpm, it was good. Under the new interpretation, a showerhead is defined as the whole unit and if there are multiple nozzles, they all count as one.
The new interpretation has caused some controversy. Luxury bathroom construction often includes multi-head shower faucets and manufacturers and installers say that the interpretation will cost them business and money.
The Plumbing Manufacturer’s Institute (PMI) has opposed the new interpretation because they're concerned with the implications for the industry. They asked for a reclassification of the rule that would allow an extended public comment period. The PMI supports water efficiency and conservation but also supports consumer choice in how water savings are achieved.
The article quoted Scott Blake Harris from the DOE, who says Congress intentionally limited consumer choice with the law. It might seem odd that the DOE is regulating a plumbing fixture but in addition to reducing water waste, the law will help conserve energy.
Each multi-head shower fixture uses an extra 40 to 80 thermal units of energy per year, equivalent to 50 gallons of gasoline, or one barrel of oil, and, as Harris notes, "When you waste water, you waste energy."
When I read this I felt like a jerk. I recently purchased an Aquadyne Shower Faucet that has a stationary nozzle and a handheld nozzle (pictured above). Each nozzle is rated at 2.5 gpm and can be used separately or together. In my defense, I only use one nozzle at a time. My roommate on the other hand uses them both. In his defense he takes pretty short showers so we're probably using about the same amount of water in the end.
Handheld showers are pretty convenient for disabled and elderly people, but I've seen some ridiculous multi-head shower fixtures that have 6 or 8 nozzles, which is just wasteful. If each of those nozzles sprays at 2.5 gallons per minute, with an 8-nozzle fixture you're spraying 20 gpm, which, if you recall, is what the sprinkler caps on fire hydrants reduce the spray to. If you take even a 10-minute shower you're using 200 gallons of water. Multiply that by the number of people using the shower and the gallons add up quickly.
Look, those of us at EcoCentric can’t tell you what to buy. All we really can do is educate you about your choices and hope that you'll keep some of this in mind when you make your purchases. To be honest, I can’t imagine needing, let alone wanting that much water hitting me in the shower, but I guess one person’s waterboarding is another person’s therapeutic use of water.