Are we really serious about going green in our showers? -Bob Miodonski, publisher

If consumers are as serious about going green as the plumbing industry thinks they are, then they may one daychooseto live with one showerhead in each of their showers. It’s unlikely that most are ready to do so now.

The U.S. Department of Energy last month proposed to restrict the amount of water per showering compartment to 2.5 gallons per minute. Since 1998, the plumbing industry largely has interpreted the 2.5 gpm limit to mean per showerhead, resulting in a variety of multi-head shower systems being specified, sold and installed.

DOE’s latest proposal surprised plumbing manufacturers and others, perhaps more by how the agency announced it rather than by its intent. Instead of contacting stakeholders and seeking their input, DOE quietly slipped the announcement into theFederal Register.

Eco-Performance Shower System

That DOE was the source of the showerhead restriction and not, say, the EPA surprised some people too. A DOE spokeswoman cites her department’s conservation standards as one reason it got involved. She adds the ruling also seeks to clarify the agency’s definition of a showerhead in light of the various showering products on the market today. The tremendous amount of energy that’s required to transport, treat and heat water could be another reason for DOE to act.

That a government agency would try to restrict the number of showerheads in an effort to conserve water probably did not come as a big surprise to many. The single vs. multiple showerhead debate has been going on for a long time.

At its fall meeting two years ago, the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute announced it was developing a white paper to state its position in support of water conservation and multiple showerheads. “We believe strongly that consumers should have a choice for the products they want to buy, including multiple showerheads,” PMI Executive DirectorBarbara Higgenssaid at the time.

Higgens met with DOE officials after the announcement of its latest proposed restrictions, which she called “onerous.” She encouraged PMI members to contact DOE and tell the agency about the negative impact its proposal would have on them from a compliance, financial and production standpoint.

Others feeling a negative impact would be plumbing engineers who specify multi-function shower systems in hotels, schools, nursing homes and health clubs as well as plumbing contractors who install them. Much of the attention, however, has been focused on the ability of consumers and building owners to choose their own shower systems.

In certain health-care and managed-care applications, multiple shower functions are less a luxury than a necessity. DOE’s ruling should take these uses into account.

In choosing most other shower systems, consumers and building owners have to weigh a number of considerations: the performance of the system to clean a user’s body and hair; the aesthetics of the showering experience; and the need to conserve water.

In the short term, we urge DOE to consider the impact its ruling would have on the plumbing industry and consumers. Further, DOE should work with members of the plumbing industry to develop a long-term solution to the shower debate.

In the long run, this solution will require engineering answers that address performance, aesthetics and conservation. When they shower, people will want to save water and enjoy the experience as they come clean.