An interview with
Senior Staff Engineer – Water Conservation Initiatives
Q: What is Kohler’s approach to saving water?
Zimmerman: When it comes to water conservation, the main focus at Kohler is to make sure our customers’ experience with our products is not compromised. Thanks to a deep reservoir of engineering and design talent and to the investment in advanced software and other technology about 15 years ago, Kohler has always met — and usually exceeded — all water conservation regulations imposed on the industry over the last 12 years. In fact, products developed at Kohler continually push the performance envelope while transparently saving water. At Kohler, we call this “conservation without compromise.”
Q: What are the trends in water conservation?
Zimmerman: The trends are pretty easy to identify: on the one hand, we’re anticipating more regulation of water consumption in more areas of the U.S. and of the world; and on the other,there is a continued emphasis on technology-based solutions, where Kohler remains well ahead of the industry curve. Water shortages tend to be regional, sometimes with acute local or municipal shortfalls. The fastest growing regions are affected first. In the U.S., that’s the West and the Sunbelt, especially California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and Florida— plus New England and New York City primarily because of aging infrastructure. Globally, the countries with the greatest issues are Australia, because they’ve been in an extended drought, and China, because of their tremendous economic growth.
Q: What consumes the most water in the home?
Zimmerman: In most homes, toilets consume the most water — usually between 25 percent and 33 percent. That’s the reason toilets were mandated to go from 3.0 or more gallons per flush to 1.6 gallons per flush in the Energy Policy Act of 1992. As I’ve said, the research and development investments that Kohler made to optimize flushing technology have impacted the design of all contemporary Kohler toilets. Reducing water consumption by 20 percent reduces the potential flushing and cleaning energy by 20 percent. Each time you reduce water consumption of a toilet, you have to reengineer how the product works to maintain performance. Our ability to use very sophisticated computational fluid dynamics software modeling to study flow, rethink tolerances, and redesign trapways gives Kohler engineers and designers an advantage as new regulations further reduce allowable water consumption.
Q: Are more water use regulations for toilets on the horizon?
Zimmerman: More stringent water consumption regulations are on the horizon, but in the U.S.they’re likely a few years off at least. There’s a bill pending in California, for example, to phasein a 1.3 gallon per flush — gpf, for short — standard for toilets starting in 2009. And the Environmental Protection Agency has announced a program called WaterSense that will helpconsumers identify high-performance, water-efficient toilets that use 1.3 gpf or less. These toilets are referred to as high-efficiency toilets — HET s, for short. That said, Kohler is ready for both California and WaterSense with a number of 1.28 gpf models already on the market. In fact, when it comes to HET s, Kohler is the leader, and nobody in the industry really comes close.
Q: Other than toilets, where is most water used?
Zimmerman: Residential toilets account for between 25 percent and 33 percent of indoor water use — we’ve covered that. People also shower regularly — showers account for about20 percent of water use in the home. So here’s another big opportunity to reduce water use.The same federal law that mandated 1.6 gallons per flush for toilets also required all showerheads to use no more than 2.5 gallons per minute — gpm, for short. It’s not hard to reduce the flow on a showerhead, but most low-flow showerheads significantly degrade performance. Plus, a shower is more than a showerhead; there’s a thermostatic- or a pressure-balancing valve behind the wall to maintain a consistent water temperature. If you replace a 2.5 gpm showerhead with, say, an ultra low-flow 1.0 gpm showerhead, you may compromise the functionality of the valve. The result can be temperature shifts that can be startling enough to cause the user to instinctively jump out of the stream and possibly slip and fall. It’s both a comfort and a safety issue. But the new 2.0 gpm KOHLER MasterShower Eco showerheads and handshowers — coupled with a precision-engineered KOHLER Rite-Temp valve — reduce water consumption by 20 percent without sacrificing the quality of water coverage or temperature control.
Q: And where is the rest of the water used in the house?
Zimmerman: Faucets are another 10 to 15 percent of indoor water use, with most of the remainder used in clothes washers — dishwashers use relatively little water. A standard faucet will use 2.2 gallons per minute, but aerators that add air to the stream for a softer feel and reduced splashing can bring that down to 1.5 gpm. Some aerators reduce water flow to as little as 0.5 gpm, Aerators are great for bathroom faucets, but not as practical in the kitchen where faucets are used for filling pots and other containers.
Q: What about commercial faucets?
Zimmerman: In commercial settings, the trend is to go with more hands-free faucets and low-flow aerators to save water and improve hygiene. The infrared technology used in firstgeneration hands-free faucets was easily confused by variations in background lighting, reflections from surfaces, even clothing colors. Sometimes the sensor tripped too easily; sometimes it was it difficult to trip at all. But new Tripoint technology employed in KOHLER Touchless electronic faucets uses technology very similar to that of an autofocus digital camera to measure distance rather than reflectance to provide highly accurate, dependable performance with very few unintended activations. When your hands “ask” for water, it’s delivered. When you don’t ask, it isn’t. As Tripoint technology penetrates the marketplace, we’ll see more and more use of KOHLER Touchless faucets in modern commercial applications, including upscale public restrooms and medical facilities. While hands-free technology is generally used commercially, the reliability of the new Tripoint technology is behind an emerging trend in the use of touchless faucets at food prep or clean-up sinks in the residential kitchen for both water saving benefits and sanitary advantages. All the KOHLER technologies and products I’ve mentioned are part of the Kohler Co. commitment to Gracious Living which includes the creation of products that help conserve water without sacrificing performance or design.