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A few tips for a greener home

Does your old water heater contribute to air pollution?

Posted: July 5, 2008 12:41 a.m.
Updated: September 5, 2008 5:03 a.m.
Whether you were one of the first to jump on the green-wagon, or were dragged there, kicking and screaming, by government regulations, the simple facts are that conservation of natural resources and reduction of pollution have become homeowner responsibilities. And while we all realize that hosing-off the neighborhood or burning our trash in the back yard are environmental faux pas, we still may be polluting, and wasting resources, in other ways. Surprisingly, it may be happening via our plumbing.

Dale Heys, the supervisor at Heys Plumbing in Valencia, offers some insights.

Water heater
The South Coast Air Quality Management District is the air pollution control agency for all of Orange County and the urban portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. As part of the attempt to limit smog in this area, the AQMD enacted Rule 1121, "Control of Nitrogen Oxides from Residential Type, Natural Gas-Fired Water Heaters." These days, in order to be sold into the AQMD, the nitrogen oxides (NOx) generated by a water heater cannot be greater than 10 nanograms per Joule of heat output.

Put simply, that means your old water heater puts out too much NOx and, when you replace it, you'll have to do so with one of the low-NOx heaters - which will probably cost you an extra $150 over the price of an old-style heater.

"The new water heater standard is a push to reduce smog - 75 percent less NOx emissions," Heys said. "You figure every building has got one (water heater). If they can go to 75 percent, that's huge."

He said a ballpark figure for having a new, low-NOx water heater (such as an Eco-Defender from Branford White) installed is around $900 - $1,200.

Hot water on demand
Though we may all turn a blind eye to it, we waste tremendous amounts of water when we open the hot water tap and run out water until it becomes hot. The farther your tap is from the hot water heater, the longer it takes and the more water wasted.

According to statistics provided by, for a home with ¾ inch copper pipe running for 100 feet, this wasted water adds up to 18,359 gallons per year!

"People don't get how much water is wasted this way. It's absurd," Heys said. You take a family of four and everybody's doing it."

Not only is this wasteful, it costs you money. And if water rates and/or sewer charges (for the amount of water used) increase significantly, people will truly feel the pinch.

"We're fortunate up here in Santa Clarita that we only have a small sewer service charge. Down in L.A. city your water bill could be double because of the sewer charge.

The cure for this wasted-water-while-waiting is a hot water recirculation system. Grundfos makes one that costs about $380 and is simple enough that you can install it yourself. It uses less energy than a 25-watt light bulb. The small device keeps the hot water recirculating in the hot water line. That way, when you open a hot water tap, the hot water is immediately available.

Asked if this water loses significant heat while it recirculates in the line, Heys said no, and explained that these pipes are usually located in well insulated areas.

Heys described how, in homes with large families, the toilets are flushing continually. "Toilets are the biggest user of water in the home," he said. And he added that the low-volume toilet is "a big water saver."

"In 1992, the plumbing code changed," he said. That reduced the allowable gallons per flush from 3.5 to 1.6. "If you replace one 3.5 gallon with at 1.6 gallon, you'll save 38 gallons per day in an average home."

"And now companies have come out with toilets at 1.28 gallons per flush (GPF). "If you go from 1.6 to 1.28 gallons, that's a 20 percent savings in water usage in the home." And there are also rebates for purchasing water saving toilets.

Heys noted that the Aquia II Dual Flush Toilet from Toto can be flushed at either 1.6 GPF or 0.9. What you might call a "tinkle flush," the 0.9 GPF is all that is necessary in many instances.

Faucets and more
Though they don't do so often, Heys said his company sometimes installs motion-activated faucets in homes. These faucets save significantly on water usage because the water is only flowing when you need it, not while you are turning a tap or reaching for a towel. Of course, these faucets don't come cheap.

Similarly, water-free urinals can be installed in the home, but their true benefit comes in commercial applications. "In 2005 we replaced 82 urinals at College of the Canyons," Heys said. At a savings of 40,000 gallons of water per year, per urinal - well, you do the math.

Heys offered other water-saving tips, as well.

n Install low-volume shower heads.
n Make sure your faucets have the little aerators in place and that these include the flow restrictors.
n Check for broken or wasteful sprinkler heads. "Don't let your sprinklers water the sidewalk."
n Adjust the timing of your automatic sprinkler system to the temperature and weather - at least five to six times per year. And if it rains, turn the system off. "If we get a good rain you can turn the sprinklers off for two weeks."
n Landscape with water savings in mind.

For more information you can call Heys Plumbing at (661) 294-9393.


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