DOE Solicits Comments on Proposed Changes for Showerheads

Sustainability and Green Building

This post has been updated.

The Department of Energy (DOE) published a notice in the Federal Register on Aug. 13 announcing a proposed rulemaking to change the definition of showerheads and the test procedure for multi-nozzle fixtures. These changes could result in increased water usage across the country. Builders in regions such as the Southwest may already be experiencing restrictions because of water scarcity, and these proposed changes may negatively impact their ability to do business.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that showers currently account for nearly 1.2 trillion gallons of water use each year. That's 17% of all indoor water use in the United States and about 40 gallons per day per family.

Before 1994, showerheads typically had a flow rate of 5.5 gallons per minute (gpm). Since then, DOE has limited showerheads to 2.5 gpm to conserve not only water, but fuel for the water heater. Models that display a WaterSense label use no more than 2 gpm (a 20% savings) and must also perform as well as or better than standard models. In DOE's current database of 12,499 showerheads, 74% use ≤ 2.0 gpm.

A 2016 test of showerheads by Consumer Reports found that those with the best ratings provided satisfactory water flow and met federal standards. It is important to understand that low water pressure in a home has the potential to impact the stream from any type of showerhead. A plumber can advise whether adjusting or replacing the pressure regulator would boost the flow.

Fixtures with multiple nozzles must currently meet the 2.5 gpm requirement in total (if there are three nozzles, the sum of the flows must be ≤ 2.5 gpm). In the proposed rule, each nozzle of the fixture would be allowed to spray up to 2.5 gpm, and only one of the heads in the fixture would require testing. DOE estimates this will impact about 3% of models currently on the market.

DOE is also proposing to change its interpretation of the term "showerhead."

DOE defined showerhead in 2013 as "a component or set of components distributed in commerce for attachment to a single supply fitting, for spraying water onto a bather, typically from an overhead position, excluding safety shower showerheads."

DOE now proposes to define showerhead as: "Showerhead means any showerhead (including a handheld showerhead) other than a safety shower showerhead." This aligns with the definition in ASME A112.18.1–2018. DOE additionally proposes to include its interpretation of the term "showerhead" to mean "an accessory to a supply fitting for spraying water onto a bather, typically from an overhead position." This change facilitates the interpretation for multi-nozzle showerheads to be treated as multiple independent showerheads located within one housing, each required to meet the 2.5 gpm federal standard.

Public comments are now allowed until Oct. 14, 2020.

For more information about NAHB's sustainable and green building programs, contact Program Manager Anna Stern. And to stay current on the high-performance residential building sector, follow NAHB’s Sustainability and Green Building team on Twitter.

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