Making Sense of WaterSense
This seal indicates the product meets the Environmental Protection Agency’s criteria for water-efficient products.

In June 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officially launched its WaterSense program. Similar to the Energy Star initiative, which deals with energy efficiency, WaterSense exists as a volunteer program encouraging the design, manufacture and implementation of water-efficient products for both commercial and residential settings. Products and systems that earn the WaterSense label are tested for water efficiency and performance.

Labeled Products and Systems
The WaterSense program is primarily focused on water efficiency in residential settings. The program has released official specifications for certain products and services that must be met in order for those products or services to earn the WaterSense label. Those products and services include toilets, bathroom faucets and accessories, and landscape irrigation services. To earn the WaterSense label, products undergo third-party testing as well as performance testing. The program’s web site lists all the current products that have earned the WaterSense label.

The best-known, water-saving fixtures are high-efficiency toilets (or HETs). Where old toilets consumed 3.5 gallons per flush, HETs that have earned the WaterSense label use a scant 1.28 gallons or less per flush. Not only are these an improvement on the 1.6 gallons per flush first-generation low-flush toilets (LFTs), certified HETs also meet strict performance standards—a response to consumer complaints about ineffective flushing operation. "Toilets are tested for the amount of water used in each flush and also the amount of waste that gets evacuated from the bowl," says Lloyd Hathcock, program development director for Niagara Conservation, a manufacturer of water-efficient products, including a number of WaterSense-certified HETs. The WaterSense program has also released their specifications for certified bathroom faucets and accessories. These products meet or exceed the 1.5 gallon per minute standard to earn the WaterSense certification. So far, nearly 50 models of faucets and accessories have been given the WaterSense label. The program suggests that a household can save up to 500 gallons a year by switching to WaterSense faucets or aerators.

Additionally, the WaterSense program educates and certifies landscape irrigation contractors and companies. "In-ground residential irrigation systems are becoming more common as standard features in new homes," says Virginia Lee, team leader for the EPA’s WaterSense program. "We work with the irrigation professionals and help them receive WaterSense certification for their services." Not only does the certification process educate these professionals on water efficiency, it requires that the systems they install employ certain water-saving and water-efficient components, like controllers and moisture sensors. The program’s web site lists WaterSense-certified irrigation professionals country-wide.

Making Sense of WaterSense
A high-efficiency toilet from Niagara Conservation. Photo courtesy of Niagara Conservation.

A home that uses WaterSense products can see a dramatic decrease in water usage and a lower water bill. Homeowners can also enjoy a clearer conscience, knowing they have taken steps to preserve the planet’s most important resource. While there are currently no federal or state incentives to implement WaterSense or water-efficient products in a home, such a step may not be too far in the future. "Tax rebates and incentives are not up to the EPA," says Lee, who noted that developments in the WaterSense program have shown similarities to those of its predecessor, Energy Star, a virtual household name synonymous with energy efficiency.

Although it may be consumer demand for WaterSense products that drives the label toward greater recognition, acknowledgment of the program’s legitimacy must start at the top—and it already has. In January 2007, the President issued an Executive Order pertaining to federal energy, environmental and transportation management. One piece of the order required that federal agencies purchase WaterSense-labeled products and choose WaterSense-certified irrigation contractors, when applicable. Implementation of WaterSense products and services at the federal level will certainly push the program toward greater national recognition.

Only a year-and-a-half old, The WaterSense program is still in its infancy. It has yet to finalize specifications on all water-related products. "We are currently developing specifications for showerheads," says Lee. To develop a final specification, the program issues a draft specification that is evaluated, commented upon and amended. In addition to the forthcoming showerhead specifications for WaterSense certification, the program will look to issue specifications for irrigation control technology (such as local weather forecasts, historic weather data and actual landscape water needs rather than simply operating on a pre-set schedule), drip irrigation systems and commercial products like urinals and steam sterilizers.

The program also plans to establish a set of criteria to certify a WaterSense house. "This will be similar to an Energy Star house," says Lee. An Energy Star home is built to be at least 15 percent more energy-efficient than homes built to the 2004 International Residential Code and takes into account a number of energy-related factors in a new home, including insulation, windows, ducts and efficient heating and cooling systems. In order to implement a WaterSense Home certification, builders, plumbers and the irrigation industry will need greater education on water-efficiency in the home. "We are working to educate these industries," adds Lee. "Creating a national standard for water-efficiency is a big step. It brings consistency across the board."

Credit: Renovate with Tommy Mac