| High Efficiency Toilet Program Saves Low Income Families and Small Businesses Water and Money
By Kerry Fleisher, Neighborhood Newswire Feb 26, 2009
With California in the middle of a drought, and water prices on the rise, property owners are turning to water saving toilets and other devices to reduce residential and commercial water use. Nonprofit San Francisco Community Power (SF Power), with funding from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), recently launched a program to install 2,000 high efficiency toilets for free to qualifying homes and small businesses in San Francisco.
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Under SF Power’s High Efficiency Toilet (HET) Program pre-1992 toilets, which typically use more than 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf), can be replaced with top-of-line 1.28 gpf models. The new high efficiency toilets use at least 20 percent less water than the ones they’re replacing. The savings are created through the use of a vessel in the tank that mixes pressurized air with water, a state-of-the-art alternative to older toilets that rely on gravity to flush and remove waste. The high efficiency toilets have been rigorously tested for performance, and are certified by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials.
The high efficiency toilets will be installed at apartments, homes, small businesses, and nonprofits. For multi-tenant apartments to qualify for the program at least one renter must meet low-income guidelines, which are comparable to the eligibility requirements for Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) California Alternative Rates for Energy (CARE) program. If there are more than three occupants in a qualifying household, more than one toilet per unit may be eligible for replacement.
Potential program participants will be provided with a complimentary water audit to determine whether their current toilet is eligible to be replaced, and to identify other ways the home or business can reduce its water use. During this evaluation additional free water-saving devices are distributed, such as faucet aerators and low-flow showerheads, as well as information about other PG&E, SF Power, and SFPUC energy and water rebate programs.
Toilets manufactured before 1980 are one of the biggest water wasting appliances in the City. These fixtures typically use between five to seven gpf. Between 1980 and 1992, toilets were upgraded to 3.5 gpf low-flush toilets. In 1992, the federal government mandated that toilet manufacturers produce toilets that used no more than 1.6 gpf, known as ultra low flush toilets. The most modern water-wise toilets, referred to as high efficiency toilets, use as little as 1.28 gpf.
High efficiency toilets produce money and water savings; 1.28 gpf toilets can save a family of four up to $250 a year. Older toilets are also more susceptible to leaks, which often account for 14 percent of a household’s water bill. Leaky toilets can waste more than 200 gallons a day. If a family of four with a leaky toilet switches to a 1.28 gpf model, the new high efficiency toilet would save up to 22,000 gallons a year.
The best way to determine if there’s a leak in one’s home is to look at the water bill, and pay attention to any irregularities in water use. Water use is measured in units on the SFPUC water bill, with one unit equal to 748 gallons. Water dials located in the meter box near the front of a building or home track water use using the 748 gallon/unit measurements; smaller dials that are in constant motion indicate a leak.
In addition to toilets, replacing other inefficient appliances, such as old clothes and dishwashers, can save a household another up to $1,200 a year on reduced water and wastewater bills, in addition to lower electric utility bills. For example, upgrading to a new high efficiency front-loader clothes washer can save upwards of 7,000 gallons a year. SFPUC offers a number of rebates to customers who want to replace their water-using appliances, including a $300 rebate for high efficiency urinals; $200 rebate for efficient clothes washers; and $50 rebate for pressurized water brooms. Faucet upgrades can also result in significant water savings. Low-flow showerheads – which are provided free under the program – have the potential to conserve 8,000 gallons a year.
Toilets produced in the United States after 1992 – which are ineligible for the program – will have a 1.6 gpf stamp readily visible on them; toilets that qualify for the HET program won’t have the stamp. Instead, a date stamp located inside the tank or inside the tank lid can verify whether the toilet was produced prior to 1992. SF Community Power auditors can also determine whether a toilet that contains neither a gpf or date stamp qualifies for the program.
Toilets with unusual site conditions or maintenance issues, such as a buckled floor around the toilet base, as well as flushometer and industrial-type toilets, don’t qualify for the program. Qualifying toilets are typically 12 to 14 inches from the floor bolt to the wall. Round front toilets, elongated toilets, and American Disability Act models are all eligible for replacement under the program.
SF Community Power, a nonprofit with almost a decade of experience helping San Franciscans better manage their energy and water use, has hired a team of auditors that speak English, Spanish, and Chinese languages. The auditors have been trained to inspect homes for leaks, and can offer advice on how to resolve water problems. During a home or business evaluation, auditors will record showerhead, kitchen sink, and bathroom sink gallons per minute (gpm) readings, and provide complimentary substitute devices to reduce water use.
The HET program will serve to conserve one of San Francisco’s most precious natural resources: water from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir. SF Community Power and SFPUC are committed to other environmentally-sustainable practices. After the replaced toilets are disassembled, the metal and plastic parts will be recycled and the porcelain crushed for road base.
SF Community Power was founded in 2001 with a $1.5 million dollar grant from the San Francisco Department of the Environment. Previous SF Power programs, such as Efficiency on Wheels and Church Light Initiative, resulted in the distribution of energy saving devices to more than 20,000 San Francisco homes, businesses, and churches, saving upwards of 10 megawatts of electricity, with concomitant reductions in utility bills.
Along with other community groups, the nonprofit successfully advocated for the closure of the Hunters Point Power Plant, and currently manages a successful Demand Response (DR) program for small- and medium-sized businesses. The DR program, which is funded through PG&E by order of the California Public Utility Commission, is active during summer months, and pays property owners and managers to reduce their electricity use when demand on the grid is especially high. DR participants are paid $40 for each kilowatt they’re willing to reduce when called upon on Energy Alert days.
Reducing electricity use during peak demand periods helps California keep the lights on and reduces dependence on especially polluting and economically inefficient power plants.
In collaboration with Environmental Defense Fund, SF Community Power is also piloting the Climate for Community program, which seeks to provide more than 300 low income families and small businesses with low- or no- cost ways to reduce their polluting and greenhouse gas emissions while lowering their energy, transportation, and water bills.
SFPUC is available to conduct water evaluations for San Franciscans who don’t qualify for the HET program. Residential customers are eligible to receive up to $125 in rebates for toilets; with $200 rebates for commercial establishments. Eligible toilets, which are listed on SFPUC’s website, range from single-flush to dual-flush models, some of which use as little as .8 gpf. Old toilets can be recycled at San Francisco Recycling and Disposal on Tunnel Avenue.
Details on SF Power’s and SFPUC’s programs can be found at www.sfpower.org and www.sfwater.org.
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