The term low-flow refers to fixtures that use a lesser amount of water to accomplish everyday activities such as showering, washing your hands, or flushing the toilet.

Conserving water becomes more important every year. To bring the issue into clearer focus, note that seventy-one percent (71%) of the Earth is covered in water, but only three percent (3%) is fresh (not salt water), and only half a percent (0.5%) is suitable to drink. In some cases, low-flow fixtures can reduce water usage by as much as sixty percent (60%) over standard fixtures.

Standards are Rigorous. The EPA sets high standards for what qualifies as a low-flow fixture or faucet. Only if the product meets strict water reduction standards during testing can it earn the EPA’s Water Sense label. To qualify, individual models must meet the following criteria:

  • A low-flow showerhead must not exceed a maximum of 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) water flow.
  • A low-flow sink faucet must not exceed 1.5 gpm.
  • A low-flow toilet must use no more than 1.5 gallons per flush (gpf).

Less Water Doesn’t Always Mean Less Pressure. Most concerns about water pressure center around low-flow showerheads. You might be surprised to learn that many low-flow showerheads can produce a blast of water that is quite invigorating. There are two main types of showerheads, aerating and laminar, that produce satisfying showers in different ways.

An aerating showerhead works by forcing water through small holes in a screen, which adds air to the water to produce a fine, but vigorous spray. This reduces the overall amount of water the showerhead emits while increasing the pressure of the individual streams. Some describe this as feeling like “needles” of water.

Laminar technology doesn’t mix air into the water stream, so you won’t get the sharp “needles” feeling. It is described as constant streams of non-turbulent water. These showerheads distribute the water into larger streams and often come with a feature that allows you to select a gentle spray or a robust massaging action. Laminar technology is also used in overhead “rain” type showerheads for a gentle soaking that many people find soothing.

Low-flow Toilets Are Big Water Savers. A standard toilet is often the biggest water waster in the house. According to the EPA, older toilets can use up to 6 gallons per flush (gpf), while low-flow toilets use less than 1.5 gpf. A design problem with early models of low-flush toilets often failed to produce enough water pressure to flush the contents of the bowl, and clogs were a common occurrence. Today there are two low-flow types available that have alleviated most of these problems.

Standard Gravity Flow toilets work by introducing a large volume of water into the bowl until the pressure is sufficient to push the contents downward through a curved trap beneath the bowl. This works well, but requires a lot of water. Newer Gravity Flow toilets feature a modified trap design which doesn’t require as much water pressure before the contents of the bowl will drain. This new design creates a siphoning effect, meaning that once the water starts draining through the trap it will continue without needing additional water.

Pressure Assist toilets are the ones you are likely to see in public restrooms. When the handle is activated, water rushes into the bowl and the contents flush away quickly. The force of the water is created by a pressurized toilet tank. This type of toilet is often marketed as a “jet-flush” toilet. They are now available for home installation.

According to an EPA report, switching to low-flow fixtures could save you $170 per year, depending on your water usage and the size of your family. Not only will these fixtures will pay for themselves, they will also save a significant amount of water. For instance, you could reasonably conserve as much as four gallons of water per shower. That’s a savings of about 1460 gallons per year, per family member. You’ll save about 700 gallons per year with low-flow faucets, and up to 13,000 gallons per year by replacing a standard toilet with a low-flow model.