In early June, the U.S. Department of Energy, without advance notice to stakeholders, proposed to re-define showerheads as shower valves, which would allow only a single showerhead using no more than 2.5 gallons of water per minute per showering compartment.
“All components that are supplied standard together and function from one inlet (i.e., after the mixing valve) form a single showerhead for purposes of the maximum water-use standards,” is how DOE’s new interpretation of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act’s maximum water-use standard reads.
Thus, if a showerhead’s standard components, operating in their maximum design flow configuration, taken together use in excess of 2.5 gpm when flowing at 80 psi - even if each component individually does not exceed 2.5 gpm - it would be ruled noncompliant based on the DOE’s new interpretation of EPCA.
DOE spokeswoman Jen Stutsman said the new interpretation came about after several complaints were received alleging certain showerhead products were exceeding the federal water-conservation standard.
“In the course of investigating these complaints, (we) discovered some confusion as to how the department’s definition of ‘showerhead’ for water-conservation purposes applied to new showerhead designs being marketed under names such as waterfalls, shower towers, rainheads and shower systems,” Stutsman told pme.
Shortly after the initial furor arose, Plumbing Manufacturers Institute Executive Director Barbara Higgens met with DOE officials. She said she came back only slightly encouraged by the fact that DOE’s initial directive contained clumsy language.
The new definition does not impose an outright ban on multiple showerheads, as originally feared. However, the ruling would require manufacturers to restrict water flow to one outlet at a time and add more valves for multiple outlet operation. “These restrictions are still quite onerous,” Higgens said.
The final day of DOE’s comment period was June 18. In the days leading up to June 18, Higgens was busy issuing “action alerts” to PMI members to urge them to speak out against the new interpretation
“We have received a number of comments providing feedback on the draft interpretative rule from the industry and the public,” Stutsman said.
While manufacturers acknowledged they will be affected in varying degrees from a compliance, financial and production standpoint if the new definition becomes law, they expressed much greater concern about another segment of the equation - the consumer.
The proposal also would affect the commercial sector (hotels, nursing homes, schools and health clubs where systems such as gang showers and multifunction showerheads are prevalent). It could have an especially negative consequence for the aging-in-place population and persons with disabilities who may rely on using a hand shower on a multihead system while sitting on a shower stool.
But Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors-National Association Government Relations Director Kevin Schwalb cautioned water savings may not be ultimately realized under the proposed new definition.
“In order to maintain compliance with unique codes and regulations dealing with commercial buildings such as hospitals, retirement homes, school and special-needs locations, this definition will require installation of additional mixing valves, which defeats the DOE’s intended purpose for this interpretation,” Schwalb noted. “This would not result in the intended water savings this rule is trying to accomplish.”
Stutsman said after the comments are reviewed, DOE intends to issue a final interpretative rule to clarify the showerhead definition as used in DOE rules.
“As we proceed, we will be mindful of manufacturers’ production decisions that may have been based on a misunderstanding of the definition of the term showerhead and how it related to the department’s conservation standards,” Stutsman said.
Stutsman noted if the draft interpretation is implemented, it would not outright ban fixtures such as hand nozzles and fixed nozzles.
“It makes clear that the full range of available showerhead products, including products with a hand nozzle and fixed nozzle, must meet the federal water-conservation standard on the books since 1998 - 2.5 gallons per minute at 80 pounds per square inch,” she explained.
While manufacturers and organizations such as PMI and PHCC have submitted comments, there are those who wonder why the two sides can’t simply sit down and craft a workable solution that benefits all parties involved.
“We need to get together and look at this and determine what is in the best interests of everybody,” said Moen Group Product Manager Mike Reffner, who is in favor of uniform flow rates being established throughout the country. “You have manufacturers willing to collaborate with agencies. The precedent is there.”
-pme Consulting Editor Jim Olsztynski contributed to this report.