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Showerhead Retrofit: A Small Change for Big Savings

Did you know that every day in the St. Louis metropolitan area, a volume of water equivalent to 212 Olympic swimming pools is used for domestic purposes? Did you also know that a large percent of this water could easily be saved by preventing leaks and transitioning to high efficiency plumbing fixtures?

That is what’s currently happening at WashU, with the completion of a showerhead retrofit project throughout all of the South 40 residential areas. Between 8.8 and 13.6 million gallons of water per year, the equivalent of 25 Olympic swimming pools, will be saved by installing a total of 1,273 low-flow showerheads.

Despite the low cost of water in the St. Louis region, water conservation projects that reduce hot water usage actually deliver triple financial savings: water costs, sewer costs (which scale with water usage for large customers like WashU), and energy costs from reductions in natural gas or electric usage for water heating. As a result, the showerhead retrofits will pay for themselves in well under a year and yield between 164 and 255 metric tons of carbon reduction.

Initiated by the Office of Sustainability, the idea was embraced by Residential Life which manages WashU’s residential areas. Realizing the opportunity to save water and energy while simultaneously reducing operational and maintenance costs, Scott Wagganer, Manager of Housing Facilities & Services, immediately began tackling the project. The team selected a low-flow showerhead that has been in use for years in the LEED Platinum Lofts and the new Rubelmann building. Scott explains that this idea has been around for years, but the conditions to implement this change have only recently become optimal:

 “The low water pressure in our residential buildings often stopped us from implementing such a change. Thanks to more modern utilities, we are able to reduce the water flow in our fixtures without impacting the user experience. In addition, technologies have evolved and water/energy performance fixtures are more readily available.”

Thanks to a successful partnership between Residential Life and the department of Facilities, including Alan Wieter and many maintenance team members, the showerhead retrofit project is a great example of how a small transformation can lead to significant environmental, economic, and comfort benefits. Starting on June 1st, the maintenance crew upgraded every residential room and off-campus Residential Life apartment by replacing showerheads, adding only 5 minutes to the usual apartment summer upkeep.

Completed this July, this achievement is another step that advances two of WashU’s strategic goals: 15% reduction in potable water use and reducing carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

The estimated water, energy and cost savings generated by the project appear below: