When Houston builder Michael Strong sends his custom-home clients out to shop for plumbing fixtures, he hands them a list titled, “WaterSense plumbing fixtures selection.” For about a year, Strong has pushed buyers toward toilets that use 20% less water than the 1.6 gpf allowed by federal regulations and are certified by the EPA’s two-year-old WaterSense program.

“I talk big picture with them,” says Strong of his buyers. “I tell them … if everybody cut their water bill by 20%, the city would have more resources available to it.”

He’s not the only builder steering home buyers toward 1.28-gpf high-efficiency toilets (HETs). “[Our buyers] have a growing awareness of the need for conservation,” says Stephanie Ware, director of marketing for Anderson Homes and Vanguard Homes in Cary, N.C., the latter of which built the first home to qualify for the EPA’s new WaterSense label. “A lot of them are surprised to learn how much water they use. But they want performance too,” she says, referring to the bad reputation early low-flow toilets earned because of operating problems.

Improved Performance
High-profile water shortages in California, Florida, and Georgia, among other states, have fueled a growing desire among consumers to conserve water, increasing the potential market for new plumbing products. In fact, 22 toilet manufacturers produce more than 200 models that require no more than 1.28 gallons of water per use—the maximum level allowed to qualify for the WaterSense label.

Unlike the 1992 law that limited new toilets to 1.6 gpf, the voluntary WaterSense program requires toilets to pass a performance test as well as a water-use test. Qualified toilets must be able to dispose of 350 grams of solid waste in a single flush—and manufacturers must prove that the toilets can by submitting to third-party verification. The testers, such as Underwriters Laboratories and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials, conduct MaP (Maximum Performance) testing, so the toilets are tested to the point of failure.