Episode 140: Water Conservation Strategies for Green Homes with Kohler

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Host Sean Daily talks water conservation strategies and industry water efficiency standards with Rob Zimmerman of Kohler.

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Sean Daily: Hey everybody this is Sean Daily, host of green talk radio. If you haven't already, I want to encourage you to subscribe to greenlivingideas.com its green ideas monthly newsletter. Every issue of the newsletter is packed full of tips and information to help you live a greener, more sustainable life. Including topics like renewable energy, alternative fuel vehicles and transportation, simple living, national foods and health, eco fashion and seasonal and holiday tips. Signing up for a newsletter is quick and easy, and it only takes a few seconds. Just visit greenlivingideas.com/newsletter.

Sean Daily: Hi and welcome to green talk, a podcast series from greenlivingideas.com, green talk helps listeners in their efforts to live more eco-friendly lifestyles through interviews with top vendors, authors and experts from around the world. We discussed the critical issues facing the global environment today as well as the technologies, products and practices that you can employ to greener in every area of your life.

Sean Daily: Hey everybody this is Sean Daily with green talk radio and greenlivingideas.com, welcome to another episode. We certainly appreciate you tuning in today as always, and we also wanted to mention today, if you get a chance please check us out on the podcast awards, were up for several different categories, we've been nominated so if you get a chance to listen in, and vote for us we'd certainly appreciate it at podcastawards.com. My guest today is Rob Zimmerman from Kohler Company. Rob serves as a senior staff engineer for water conservation at Kohler. I was a company that was founded in 1873, and is a global leader in the manufacturing of kitchen and bath products. In his position at Kohler, Robs involved in all aspects of water conservation. Some of his responsibilities include working with government regulators and water utilities on water conservation program development, helping professionals in the green building industry understand how to design water efficient buildings, and supporting a growing Kohler's own line of water efficient plumbing products. So Rob welcome back to the program

Rob: Thanks a lot Sean, its a privilege to be back on the program, and to be able to talk to your listeners about the latest and greatest developments in water conservation.

Sean Daily: Yeah, and its been awhile since we've talked, at least in podcast years. I think we talked to you on episode number 4, and certainly for anybody listening in we encourage you to go back and listen to what was going on then. Were up to somewhere around episode about 140 or so. We certainly want to hear the update of whats been going on in your world, I know your heavily involved with all aspects of water conservation, you know both relate to the products as well as outside. So why don't we start with a more basic question that's sort of moving forward from our last conversation. In your opinion, what constitutes a green home cause that's really the audience here, people looking to build or remodel a green. What constitutes a green home to you, and what is presently driving the green home building industry?

Rob: Well a green home really is a home that is a healthy environment for the people who live in it. That means that it has high quality air, its a comfortable place to live, its accessible for a lot of people with a lot of different mobility capabilities, buts its also a sensitive to the environment. Its a home that uses energy efficiently, it uses water efficiently and its build with long lasting sustainably harvested and manufactured materials. So its a home that strives to be a great place for the occupants to live in as well as having a small but environmental footprint as possible.

Sean Daily: Right, now how involved do you get with that in terms of the work you do with green builders these days, is that sort of the submission of it or are you involved with more aspects than that?

Rob: Well certainly from the plumbing side where are primary focus is on helping homes and commercial buildings be as water efficient and use water as wisely as possible, but beyond that theirs also focus on using a renewable material, and certainly some of our products, including our cast iron bath tubs and lavatories will fall into that category.

Sean Daily: Alright, and now certainly I want to focus in on as well as the water conservation topic. Its a dedicated topic on the greenlivingideas.com site, and certainly on a lot of people's minds and you know I think people are discovering that water is not the infinite resource we once considered it to be, and so we need to be thinking about this. So from your view of the world why is water conservation important and where can home owners start in the process of conserving water?

Rob: Well, Sean I think you said very well. Its certainly not an infinite resource, and I think theirs a lot people today, particularly in the south east, who are much more aware about their water use than they were 2 or 3 years ago. Theirs nothing like a drought to focus people's attention on water

Sean Daily: Thats right

Rob: In fact a study the EPA did a couple years ago, said that by 2015 all the parts of 30 states will have some sort of water supply issue, in other words where water supplies may not be adequate to meet the expected demand. So this is not just a south west California, ah the desert areas, its not an issue just for those parts of the country anymore, its an issue for many of us, and its an issue that homeowners, particularly people who are doing, building a new home or remodeling need to keep in the back of their mind because when you do a remodeling project, you don't want to have to do it again in 5 years.You want to be doing this project thinking 10,15, 20 years out and think about putting the best, most water efficient products in today, will help that home continue to function properly even if water becomes more scarce or if water rates continue to rise.

Sean Daily: Right and certainly this is a good idea, you know, you said it very well which is a, certainly draws people's attention to something when theirs a lack of it, whether its money, water, food or whatever it might be, but you know I think that this is something thats important to do, regardless of whether your area is really affected or not, its something that everyone should really be considering. So Rob I wanted to ask about some of the latest advancements that had happened in water saving plumbing products and in other products as well, kitchen and bath, can you tell us the latest and greatest there?

Rob: Sure, fortunately for home owners, a lot of the things that are coming out today in terms of water efficient plumbing products are, they look very familiar. They don't have to have a different design element involved with them. So homeowners and re modelers can do the kind of projects that they want to do and still choose water efficient products. Its an important thing to keep in mind. The second thing is many of these products are, basically on a par from the cost stand point, with their older water wasting cousins. So you can have water efficiency and still have great design and not whole lot of price premium. So theirs a lot of choices and certainly when we look at water efficiency in homes, the way we start is by looking at how people use water, and the biggest user of water in most homes is the toilet. So theirs been alto of advancements in toilet technology here in the past several years towards whats called a high efficiency toilet or an HET and what an HET is, its a regular toilet buts its a toilet that uses 20% less water per flush than a standard toilet, and to put some numbers to that a regular toilet uses 1.6 gallons per flush and a high efficiency toilet then would use 1.28 gallons per flush or less. Switching from a regular toilet to an HET would save an average home owner or for an average family of 4 somewhere between 3 and 4,000 gallons a year.

Sean Daily: Wow

Rob: If you switch out an older toilet, say a toilet that was made before 1992, that savings would jump up to, in the range of 20,000 gallons per year. So its a very significant cost in water savings for home owners to go to, to high efficiency toilets.

Sean Daily: Now I was curious, if you don't mind me jumping in, I have a question there, you know for someone who was going in and not thinking about this and buying a sort of default toilet from wherever it might be, you know, like home depot or some other place and not really taking the time to evaluate whats out there. What would they be possibly using in terms of gallons per flush on a default toilet?

Rob: Well a standard toilet is 1.6 gallons per flush. So thats going to be the toilet that your going to be able to buy at a retail outlet like home depot.

Sean Daily: So that is the average then?

Rob:  Yeah thats the average, thats been the rule in the United States since 1994, so any toilet purchase after 1994 had to use 1.6 gallons per flush, but the difference is and many people will remember this that those first low flow toilets that came out, didn't perform very well, and there was a lot of backlash in consumers and they equated low flow with low performance. The biggest change thats happened beyond just saving 20% with the high efficiency toilets is that the performance of these products is outstanding. Kohler has worked very very hard on, from an engineering stand point to make sure that toilets that flush with a 1.28 gallons flush as well as the new 1.6s or better. What that means is that consumers can have the choices that they want in terms of style, it can save water and the performance, the flushing performance is even better. So thats the big story.

Sean Daily: Right, and thats really, I mean that, and I you guys say it in your advertisements and it makes a lot of sense as what good is your water conservation from your toilet product if your flushing more than once, it just sort of kills any value there right off the bat.

Rob: Exactly and we take that same philosophy into our other products including low flow shower heads. If people aren't satisfied with the experience there getting from a low flow shower head, then there just going to put their old one back in and so as we convert products to be more water efficient, we will also want to make sure that the experience is at least as good if not better with the lower flow products.

Sean Daily: Ok great were going to take a quick break here, Rob and we'll be back just after this message and I am talking with Rob Zimmerman and he is a senior staff engineer for water conservation at Kohler company and we'll be right back on Green Talk Radio, thanks everyone.

Sean Daily: Hey everybody welcome back to Green Talk Radio, this is Sean Daily talking on water conservation today, and my guest is Rob Zimmerman. Hes the senior staff engineer for water conservation initiatives at Kohler Company, and he works with the company on water conservation related issues. So Rob with you know with industries like energy usage, we've got things like the energy star program. Now I understand theirs a water related program called water sense that affects this industry your in. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Rob: Water sense is a program from EPA, and the idea of water sense is that if consumers are looking for a product that saves water, it will look for the water sense label, just like today they look for the energy star label for energy efficient appliances. Water sense is a voluntary labeling program, and products have to meet certain, water use criteria as well as performance criteria in order to be eligible to carry the label. What that means for consumer is that when their looking for, lets say a new toilet,and they want to buy the most water efficient toilet but they also don't want to sacrifice flushing performance, look for a toilet that carries the water sense label, and these products are available at a variety of different outlets across the country. Were very excited at Kohler about water sense because again, it helps tell that story about saving water without sacrificing performance. So Kohler is a partner in the water sense program. We have as of today, 16 models of toilets that carry the water sense label, but more to come and were just very excited about it. Its not just toilets, its lavatory faucets. We'll be introducing a new program for shower heads, at some point in 2009, and more products after that. So were very excited about it.

Sean Daily: So its voluntary in the sense that companies aren't being held any federal mandate to meet this particular standard, but that the company can opt in and then elect to have certain products labeled in this program if they meet the criteria?

Rob: Thats correct and certainly Kohler we see this as a great program for consumers because they don't know what their looking for in terms of water efficient products, they want a product that works, and the water sense label gives them an insurance that they can have their water savings, and still have a product that works great.

Sean Daily: Are the water sense branded products from various manufacturers and I understand I'm not going to ask you to comment on anybody else but are they generally in the same price range as other products or is there a significant premium? Whats the deal there?

Rob:If you just compare a, lets say a gravity flush toilet thats a standard toilet to a gravity flush toilet thats a water sense toilet. Theirs very little price difference. What you do get is a variety of technologies that Kohler and other manufacturers have out out there, so theirs a wide range of prices from toilet to toilet but if you compare apples to apples. the water efficiency does not have that much cost for people.

Sean Daily: So it really sounds like this is something thats really important for green home owners to be doing.

Rob: I definitely think this is something we should be doing. I know when I go shopping and looking for a new dishwasher or new refrigerator, I always look to buy an energy star labeled product, and what we want is for consumers who are going out to shop for plumbing products to make sure their looking for water sense labeled products as well.

Sean Daily: Yeah well thats great because I think a lot of people are aware of energy star. Its gotten really good marketing and press and brand awareness or you know name awareness, its still a brand I guess even though its a government based thing, but I don't think many people are familiar with water sense, so I appreciate the information. So Rob I also wanted to ask if you wanted to provide any tips on water conservation, water savings around the home for our audience listening in today?

Rob: Well sure I'd love to Sean. From a water savings standpoint there should theirs really two major ways you can save water in your home. The first one is to look at the plumbing fixtures and faucets you have in your home and find out how much water those things actually use. At Kohler we talk about this as being as easy as 1,2,3.
1- Evaluate and change out your toilet.
2- Shower head
3-Lab faucets
      If you do those 3 things the typical home owner can reduce there water bill by 20-30% per year just by changing those things out, but the other big area we look at is behavioral changes, things that family and home owner can do as individuals, to change their behavior to use water more effectively. Simple things like turning the faucet off when your brushing your teeth or shaving, watering your plants only when they need them, checking out your irrigation system to make sure there are no leaks in it. Things like that, that can really help reduce your water bill and make the best use of water thats possible in your home. So between the plumbing changes and the behavioral changes its very possible for homeowners to reduce their water bill to 40-50%.

Sean Daily: Thats great, well thats great information and I appreciate you sharing it. What do you think Rob, as far as the future for water conservation, both in terms of the technology as well you know as just sort of the future for water conservation in general?

Rob: I think theirs a whole lot of opportunities out there to get rid of old technology and bring in the latest greatest technology into people's homes. For instance theirs been studies that show that in the United States theirs still one hundred million, three and half gallon per flush toilets in service. Okay, a hundred million, thats almost half the toilets in the United States, and what that means is that theirs a lot of people out there who have a lot of opportunities to save water in their homes just by putting in a new toilet and so while we can continue to push the envelope on new technologies as long as people start adapting to current technologies, their going to see benefits, and so thats a huge area out there but from a technology standpoint, theirs things about using water more than once. People might be familiar with things like grey water, water thats from the shower or the clothes washer that might have other uses in the home, say for flushing toilets. Theirs lots of ways to capture that water and use it again and we and other manufacturers continue to look for ways to make that convenient for people to do that.

Sean Daily: Yeah thats great and you know this is just yet, another area where it just shows that, that which is good for the planet is also good for people's wallets that you know this kind of conservation has an economic benefit, direct economic benefit to people who implement it as well as feeling good about you know seeing it in this case, saving water.

Rob: Absolutely. Theirs all sorts of these kind of opportunities around water efficiency and energy efficiency, and unfortunately its taking, you know high energy costs to get people really focused on some of these energy efficiency projects in there homes. Water efficiency can be 5 or 10 behind but its coming. We know that water rate increases of 10,15, 20% are fairly common across the country and so while water still tends to be very inexpensive today for alot of people its not going to be that way forever, and people are going to have to start adapting to these technologies, and if your going to have to adapt to them eventually, why not do it today and start saving money today.

Sean Daily: Thats right and the water crisis were seeing across the globe we are not insulated from and we do need to you know, and if we take these steps now we can advert a crisis later so there, at many different levels this is certainly important, and I just want to say we certainly appreciate everything that Kohler is doing and your doing with Kohler. I know your heavily involved with this area and you know we at full disclosure, that Kohler is a sponsor on the greenlivingideas.com site but thats no accident we picked you guys because your a great fit for what were looking for, for somebody in this area. We don't work with green washing companies and others and we really appreciate everything you guys have done and that your the real deal here so we appreciate you coming on today and providing an update about whats going on with water conservation and Kohler.

Rob: Well Sean we appreciate the opportunity and we appreciate you taking the effort on putting together this program to help get the word out about what homeowners could do to save water and energy in their homes.

Sean Daily: My guest today has been Rob Zimmerman hes the senior staff engineer for water conservation initiatives at Kohler Company. If your interested in the topic of this episode we encourage you to please check out other articles and podcasts at the greenlivingideas.com website. Under both the water conservation topic as well as the plumbing topic. Both can be found under the topics menu. Also if your interested in more information on the water sense program we discussed please check out EPA.gov/watersense and the Kohler.com site at Kohler.com/savewater for more information on Kohler's take on water conservation. Thanks everybody and we'll see you next time on Green Talk Radio.

Thanks as always to everyone listening in today. Remember for more free on demand podcast articles, videos and other information related to living a greener lifestyle visit our website at www.greenlivingideas.com. We'd also love to hear your comments, feedback and questions. Send us an email at editors, at www.greenlivingideas.com.