California is Setting the Standards: A Continuing Series on the California Energy Commission Process

Efficiency Standards for Toilets and Faucets Will Save Money & Power

When you leave the faucet running while you brush your teeth, you probably realize you’re wasting water, but did you know you’re also wasting energy?

That’s because it takes a tremendous amount of electricity to deliver clean water to the faucets and toilets in your home. It must be pumped from the ground or surface water body, conveyed (sometimes hundreds of miles), and treated before it flows so effortlessly from your bathroom faucet. Electricity is involved at every stage.

In fact, it’s estimated that almost one-fifth of all of California’s electricity use can be attributed to supplying water to our homes, offices, schools, etc. But if our toilets and faucets use less water, the state could also save quite a bit of energy. 

Consider that:

  • Flushing toilets represent the largest single use of residential indoor water use and are estimated to account for 28 to 40 percent of ALL indoor water use in California, and
  • Faucets represent the third-largest indoor residential use – accounting for about 20 percent of the total. 

Unfortunately, there currently are no energy efficiency standards to make sure we’re not letting extra energy and water go down the drain. However, the California Energy Commission (CEC) is considering whether to establish them for “appliances” like toilets, urinals, faucets and faucet accessories, water meters, and 12 other products that fall under the categories of electronics, lighting, and “miscellaneous” items such as hot-tubs and swimming pool pumps.

Why standards matter

If the commission ultimately decides to set standards for all 15 as recommended by NRDC, it could save Californians $1.2 BILLION in utility bills, 50 BILLION gallons of water, enough electricity to avoid three power plants, and also eliminate the need for the natural gas needed to heat 130,000 homes annually. That doesn’t even count the health benefits from reduced pollution.

The CEC has the authority to set efficiency standards for appliances under Title 20 of the California Code of Regulations, which means manufacturers must certify efficiency data to the CEC in order to legally sell those appliances in California. The commission knows energy efficiency works – and in fact, according to its website, its energy efficiency standards have saved Californians more than $74 billion in reduced electricity bills since 1975. 

Given that California is home to one in eight U.S. consumers, what we do here also can affect the national market for a product because manufacturers don’t want to make different versions for different states. Also, California’s standards are often subsequently adopted by other states and/or may form the basis for federal standards.

Why standards for water products?

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When it comes to water use, California consumes about 2.9 TRILLION gallons of water per year for urban uses and it requires about 26.4 terawatt hours of electricity for all the steps needed to get it to your home: supply, conveyance, potable water treatment and distribution, and wastewater collection and treatment. This is called the “embedded energy” in water and it involves enough electricity to power a whopping 2.34 million households for a year.

Last week, NRDC joined with the California investor-owned utilities (PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric) to propose  appliance efficiency standards for toilets and urinals, faucets and faucet accessories, and water meters to save energy, water, and money.

Generally, we’re recommending reductions in the maximum water flow rates for toilets and faucets. Without getting into too many details about how toilets and urinals function, let’s just say that new designs allow the same flush performance with significantly less water, so it’s unlikely anyone would notice the difference with a more efficient toilet – except for a lower water bill. When it comes to faucets, several studies have shown significant user satisfaction with higher-efficiency versions. Regarding residential water meters, we’re proposing standards for their accuracy at extended low flows (for more information on this, click here.)

Potential Water, Energy, Dollar Savings

While energy savings from toilets and urinals comes simply from embedded energy, efficient faucets save additional energy by reducing hot water use (less hot water used means less energy needed to heat it).

Under our proposed standards for toilets, urinals, and faucets, within 15 years California could be saving over 48 BILLION gallons of water annually and nearly 800,000 metric tons of carbon pollution – equivalent to taking more than 150,000 cars off the road.  Best of all, these water and energy savings would save Californians approximately $55 million a year on utility bills by 2026.

Now that’s something to think about while you’re letting the water run as you brush your teeth.