Bathroom renovations have surpassed kitchen makeovers as the most popular home-remodeling project, according to a 2010 poll of contractors that was conducted by National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). Unfortunately, if you’re renovating a bathroom to increase the resale value of your home, you’ll get less bang for your buck than you would have 3 years ago.
According to Remodeling magazine, the average 2010 price for a midrange bathroom remodeling project nationwide increased by about 3.9 percent to $16,634. But the return on that investment—the resale value—slipped to $10,668. That’s a drop of about 6 percent since 2008. Ouch.
Fortunately, thanks to a proliferation of toilets, showerheads and faucets that meet stricter water-conservation standards, you can save a few dollars on your monthly water bill. You’ll also find that manufacturers have borrowed a page from the kitchen to add features that make sense in the bathroom as well.
MAKES WATERSENSE. Today, more faucets, toilets and showerheads than ever before carry the WaterSense label, which signifies that these fixtures meet the standards of Environmental Protection Agency’s program to promote water efficiency. The maximum flow rate to qualify for WaterSense certification is 2 gallons per minute (gpm) for showerheads and 1.5 gpm for bathroom faucets—20 percent lower than the federal maximum is for each product. For a toilet to qualify, it must max out at 1.28 gallons per flush (gpf), which would beat the government’s ceiling of 1.6 gpf by 20 percent.
There now are nearly twice as many WaterSense-rated products—about 2,000 toilets, showerheads and faucets—as there were in 2008. What’s better, there is no price premium for products that meet WaterSense standards compared with others that are of the same construction, design and materials. And you can find them at all price levels.
EPA estimates that in 2009 alone, Americans saved more than 36 billion gallons of water by using WaterSense-certified items. That “saved billions” claim might sound familiar: The government’s Energy Star program claims that it saves billions of dollars in energy costs. WaterSense has been called the plumbing version of Energy Star, but there’s a big difference between the two programs.
By requiring third-party testing by independent organizations that are registered with EPA, WaterSense avoids the kind of controversy that has dogged Energy Star, which has manufacturers test their own products and report the findings. In 2008, Energy Star took a credibility hit when manufacturers were exposed for conducting improper tests or even no tests at all.
But showerhead manufacturers are balking at further restrictions on their products. Department of Energy has proposed that each shower outlet that delivers water to the bather—individual body jets, hand showers and showerheads—counts toward the maximum total flow of 2.5 gpm that’s allowable under federal law. Manufacturers argue that the 2.5-gpm rate should apply to each water source. A ruling was expected last December but had not been issued as of press time.
THRONE ROOM. Toilets remain by far the main source of water use in the home. EPA says toilets account for nearly 30 percent of residential indoor-water consumption. Even though water rates vary from region to region, if your toilet uses less water, you’ll save on your water bill. Prices now start at about $200 for a toilet that meets the WaterSense standard. Three years ago, you would have had to pay $300 for such a model.
Manufacturers aren’t focused on just the amount of water that their toilets flush down the drain but also how they flush it—and how well that they clean the bowl. Two different types of toilets that meet WaterSense standards and appear to clean the bowl better than other models do have become more common: dual-flush and pressure-assist toilets.