Pros and Cons of GREEN Plumbing

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The average household uses about 250 gallons of water per day. With some "green" plumbing initiatives, families have the potential to save gallons of water a day, but are these "green" plumbing methods always what they seem? We sat down with Mr. John Nelson, Director of F.E. Moran Plumbing for some expert insight into "green" plumbing.

Q: Is a tankless water heater a good choice for my 5,000 square foot home?

A: Tankless water heaters do have many benefits. They are small, only about the size of a computer from 1998, and they only heat water as needed. However, they are better suited for smaller homes or apartments. If a lot of hot water is needed, the temperature may surge from cold to hot. Also, if your home has a whirlpool, two tankless water heaters may need to be installed to keep up with the hot water needs. The initial cost of a tankless water heater is greater than a standard water heater, not including the additional cost of updating the venting, gas pipes, and electricity. If you have a whirlpool, those costs could double.

Q: I am renovating my bathroom and want it as water efficient as possible. What are my options?

A: There are many water efficient options that are easy to install, even if you weren't renovating your bathroom. Since you are, we will start with the low-flow toilet. If your toilet was installed before 1994, it most likely uses 3.5 gallons per flush! Modern toilets use about 1.28 gallons per flush, or you can get a dual flush toilet. Dual flush toilets use .5 gallons for liquids and 1.5 gallons for solids. Another option is the 1.6 gallon flush toilet that uses a pressure tank to help the flush - although, it is louder when flushed than the 1.28 gravity flush.

Another easy fix is changing the shower head. Older shower heads use 3.5-5 gallons of water per minute. If you take a fifteen minute shower, that can add up to 75 gallons of water. New shower heads use about 1.6 gallons per minute, without sacrificing pressure. They use a tight mist that provides pressure without needing a lot of water. That same fifteen minute shower now uses only 22.5 gallons of water.

My last recommendation is using an aerator on the bathroom faucet. Without an aerator, the faucet will use 4-7 gallons of water per minute. When you add an aerator, you are saving 1-1.5 gallons of water per minute. If you are unsure if you need an aerator, place a 1 gallon jug beneath the faucet and let it run. If it fills in less than 20 seconds, you need a new aerator.

Q: What are the costs involved with "green" plumbing?

A: Generally, when people think of upgrading to "green" appliances and fixtures, they think of utility bill savings, and they are correct. Tankless water heaters can save $8.00 - $12.00 per month, low flow toilets can save about $6-$7 a month, and low-flow showerheads can save $20 per month. Estimated savings are based on the average cost of $3.23/1,000 gallon cost of water in the Chicago suburbs and utility savings for the tankless water heater. A home that has upgraded to energy efficient fixtures and a tankless water heater can save $36-$57 a month on utility bills.

However, a tankless water heater is a much larger investment up front than fixture options. They cost $700-$1,000 per water heater and gas lines, electricity, and vents need to be updated to work with the new water heater. It may take 8-9 years to pay itself off in water efficiency.

Choosing to go "green" in home plumbing is something that homeowners will need to weigh the pros and cons for their particular situation. If an expert is needed to weigh in on the conversation, contact F.E. Moran Plumbing for professional advice and any plumbing service, repair, or renovation needs.