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3 Water System Considerations When Tackling a Home Remodel

A home remodel — whether you simply want to change the look of your home or increase its value through a major renovation — can be a big undertaking. Before you dive in, it’s important to consider how water will be used in your newly remodeled home.

For example, what features should a water-efficient bathroom, kitchen or laundry room include? How far is the new shower from the water heater? Is the supply line adequate? Is my current hot water tank big enough? Will the new upgrades overload existing supply lines or drainage?

As you’re getting started and preparing a budget, take these three water system considerations into account to help improve water efficiency and conserve water. The earlier in the process you plan, the more water you’ll save to help realize the benefits of your newly remodeled project.

1. What’s my project?

With drought-related water restrictions in the news, water efficiency is on many people’s minds. Fortunately, simple changes in the home can often result in significant water savings. If you are planning a home remodel or renovation project, there are several steps you can take, even before beginning the project or hiring a contractor.

First, it’s a good idea to know the extent of your renovation, because different types of renovations have different water system requirements. For example, if you are planning a whole house remodel versus a small bathroom upgrade, you’ll have many more questions or potential issues to consider when it comes to water-saving choices.

Before you even put home improvement design plans on paper, it’s important to understand your local requirements. During the early stages of planning, contact the San Jose Water Services Administration Department. They can help explain procedures, costs, and timelines at no cost.

They can also help you:

  • Identify which forms or agreements for service requests you may be required to fill out and submit to get started
  • Check if you need to resize your service line, which is determined by the number and types of water fixtures in your home (water flow requirements)
  • Determine if there are any additional installation costs, as well as a potential time frame for average projects
  • Answer any questions you may have about new service, water flow design or general engineering information

2. How do I make my new bathroom water-efficient?

One of the most common home remodeling projects is a bathroom upgrade or renovation. A remodeled bathroom can provide years of use and comfort, and there are several simple ways to update your bathroom while making it more water efficient to save on water costs.

If you’re not renovating your bathroom completely, consider replacing your old, existing fixtures with new, water-efficient toilets, showerheads and faucets.

  • Toilets are one of the top water consumers in a home. In fact, older toilets can use 3 to 7 gallons per flush, which adds up year after year. Instead, consider installing a high-efficiency toilet. Today’s high-efficiency toilets (HETs) are both stylish and highly effective. Most only use 1.28 to 1.6 gallons of water (per flush) and can help you save nearly 13,000 gallons of water each year.
  • The benefits of new technology extend to showerheads, too. It’s possible for water-saving shower fixtures to look great, have strong pressure and save water. Today’s more efficient showerheads use less than 2.0 gallons per minute, compared to standard showerheads, which use 2.5 gallons per minute. Although it doesn’t sound like much, the average family could save up to 2,900 gallons of water per year. When shopping for a new fixture, look for showerheads that earn the WaterSense® label (designated by the EPA). These fixtures typically have water coverage and spray intensity that is equal to or better than conventional showerheads, but are 20% more efficient.
  • If a remodel isn’t in the budget, even a simple and inexpensive change, like a new sink faucet, not only saves water but can easily change the look of your whole bathroom. Again, when shopping, check for a WaterSense®-labeled faucet, which uses just 1.5 gallons of water per minute, down from the standard flow of 2.2 gallons of water per minute.
  • Even if you’re not changing out the toilet, showerhead or faucet, it’s a good idea to check for and fix leaks. A leaking toilet, where water is perpetually running from the tank down the drain,  is easy to ignore. But those drips add up. In a leaky faucet or showerhead, for example, one gallon equals 15,140 drips! Consider trying the food color test for checking a leak. Place a few drops of food coloring in your toilet tank and wait 30 minutes. If the food coloring appears in the bowl, you have a leak. A quick trip to the hardware store for replacement parts can easily take care of this problem.

What about the kitchen and laundry room?

For most families, much of our time at home is spent in the kitchen, where daily cooking and cleaning drives up water use. Finding ways to save water in the kitchen can play a big part in reducing your overall home water consumption.

As you plan your remodel or renovation, consider using water-conserving kitchen products and technologies that help reduce water waste. Think about these important tips as you begin your redesign:

  • One of the easiest (and most inexpensive) ways to save water in the kitchen is to install low-flow faucet aerators. Aerators save water by adding air to the water flow, reducing the amount of water going through the faucet. You can find aerators at any big-box retailer, plumbing supply store or online. San Jose Water (SJW) even offers free faucet aerators for its customers.
  • If you’re replacing appliances, be sure to look for ENERGY-STAR®-rated products. An ENERGY-STAR® label means that a product or fixture has earned a certification from the EPA to help consumers save money by reducing energy use without sacrificing performance.
  • Do you wash your dishes by hand or use a dishwasher? Many people mistakenly think they’re saving water by washing dishes by hand when it could be more wasteful. It’s possible to use up to 27 gallons of water per load (of dishes) by hand versus as little as 3 gallons with an ENERGY-STAR®-rated dishwasher.
  • Take a closer look at your washing machine. It can be a real water hog as the second-highest indoor water user. Consider replacing your old washer with a new, high-efficiency washer that may reduce water and energy use by up to 40%. And if you’re buying new, don’t forget to look for rebates to help you save even more money.
  • Even with new, high-efficiency appliances, you can be even more water savvy by waiting until you have a full load of laundry or dishes.

3. Don’t forget the outdoors!

If your interior home remodel is extensive enough, you may need to redo some or all outdoor landscaping. Since outdoor water consumption typically accounts for at least 50% of home water use, it’s a good idea to think about how to include new, water-efficient landscaping.

  • If you have a large lawn, you may want to replace a portion of the lawn with California native or water-wise plants that are ideal for the local climate and have extensive root systems that gather water more effectively. If you don’t know where to start, the SJW Waterwise Gardening website includes information on plant choices.
  • Even if you’re not replacing your lawn or garden, it’s a good idea to choose alternative sources of water, such as rainwater, stormwater or even leftover drinking or shower water (greywater), to water plants.
  • When you’re cleaning up, be sure to sweep sidewalks and driveways instead of hosing down the pavement. It could save you hundreds of gallons of water.
  • Lastly, upgrade or add irrigation hardware by replacing high-flow sprinklers with a drip irrigation system. Drip systems use less water and direct water where it is used by the plant. And remember to adjust your watering schedule based on season, climate, soil and plant type.

A home remodel or renovation can be both exciting and a smart choice when it comes to water efficiency. Remember, keep these four water system considerations in mind as you start to tackle that big project. It all adds up to significant water efficiency and savings!

  • What’s my project? Plan ahead and work with your local Water Services Administration department to understand requirements, procedures, costs and timelines.
  • Include water-efficient bathroom features. Replace your old existing fixtures with new, water-efficient toilets, showerheads and faucets.
  • Plan for water conservation in the kitchen/laundry room. Take a closer look at your highest water-using habits and products for quick fixes that not only help save water but energy, too.
  • Remember the importance of outdoor conservation. If you’re remodeling indoors, you may be missing some opportunities to save water outside as well.