Device Distribution Program Introduction

Device distribution programs are used to provide water conserving devices to customers, where the devices can be easily installed by  the customer themselves using basic tools, typically found in homes or businesses (pliers, adjustable wrench, or screwdriver).  The most common devices distributed are low-flow showerheads, flow restrictors, low-flow aerators for faucets,  toilet leak detection dye tablets, and toilet displacement devices.  (A few water agencies have distributed high-efficiency flush toiletspre-rinse spray valves for commercial kitchens, and other devices.)  The customers are expected to install the devices,  with the assistance of illustrated instructions by the water utility.   This strategy has experienced variable success rates; and is usually most successful where the  customers are highly motivated to take the time and effort to complete the installations.  

The strategy is most often employed in urgent situations, such as severe drought or water supply crisis.   If the customer is not  compelled to install and use the device, the water savings will not be justified for the cost to the water utility.  A sudden and significant rate increase is also known to motivate customers to participate.  Reports of water savings vary greatly from different programs in implemented by different agencies.  The advent of federal and state water fixture standards may also diminish the effectiveness of implementing such a program today.

Though many variations of this strategy have been implemented by water agencies; often, showerheads, faucet aerators, toilet leak detection dye tablets, and toilet tank displacement devices (toilet dams or bags) are packaged in kits (bags or boxes) to more easily facilitate distribution.  Some projects distribute the kits door-to-door, hanging the kits on the doorknobs in hopes the customer will be motivated to install the devices (sometimes called “hang & pray” programs).  Other agencies use the USPS to deliver kits, or have used the meter readers, community groups, or contractors to distribute the devices.  

Nowadays, it is prudent for an agency to target neighborhoods with pre-1995 housing to enhance cost-effectiveness.  These programs were most popular in the western states during times of drought, 1980 through 1995.  In that time period; most showerheads emitted 5 to 7 gallons per minute (gpm) (18.9 Lpm to 26.5 Lpm), toilets flushed 3.5 to 7 gallons per flush (gpf) (13.2 Lpf to 26.5 Lpf), and faucets often flowed at 4 to 6 gpm (15.1 Lpm to 22.7 Lpm).   Significant water could be conserved by reducing: shower flows to 2.5 gpm (9.5 Lpm); and faucet flows to 2.0 gpm (7.6 Lpm).  In addition, toilets flushed an excessive amount of water; thus, reducing the tank capacity by 1 to 3 pints (.47 L to 1.42 L) saved water and did not affect the toilet performance.  The Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPAct-1992) set new water conservation standards for showers (2.5 gpm (9.5 Lpm)), faucets (2.5 gpm (9.5 Lpm)) and toilets (1.6 gpf (6.1 Lpf)).  This has greatly affected the pre-existing conditions of home water appliances, causing diminished water savings from retrofits or replacements.

As water appliances and fixtures fail and are replaced, the new fixtures (manufactured and sold after 1995) use less water.  In 1990, the average flow rate of showerheads in homes was often measured to be approximately 4.5 gpm (17.1 Lpm).   In 2000, the average showerhead flow rate is often measured to be less than 3.5 gpm ( 13.2 Lpm), due to older 5 gpm (18.9 Lpm) fixtures failing and replaced by new 2.5 gpm (9.5 Lpm) showerheads.   The vast majority of homes built after 1995 already had all fixtures meeting the federal standards.   The advent of the 1.6 gpf (6.1 Lpf) toilets affects the applicability of toilet displacement devices.  The older 3.5 gpf to 7.0 gpf (13.2 Lpf to 26.5 Lpf) toilets often used much more water than necessary to flush waste out of the toilet bowl.  A displacement device, reducing tank water would reduce the water use by 1 to 3 pints (.47 L to 1.42 L) without significantly affecting flushing performance.  The new 1.6 gpf (6.1 Lpf) toilets (ULFT) and the newer 1.28 gpf (4.84 Lpf) toilets (HET) will NOT function properly if a toilet displacement device is installed.  Virtually all homes built after 1995 have ULFT or HET toilets.  It is estimated that more than 40% of pre-1995 homes now have at least one 1.6 gpf (6.1 Lpf) toilet, due to remodeling and natural replacement.  In 1990, a water utility could reasonably estimate that more than 90% of their customers would save water by installing new efficient showerheads, aerators, and toilet bags; today, less than 50% of homes would benefit from the devices because water saving fixtures are already in the home.  This is not to imply distribution programs are of no value; it is only to stress that a water utility must carefully evaluate the benefits and cost of a program specific to its own avoidable costs,  customer base, housing and demographics – do not expect the same results as a distribution program implemented more than 5 years ago in a different State.

Innovative water agencies have also used the device distribution method to garner water savings from other water conservation devices and non-residential customer sectors.  For example, some agencies have targeted commercial restaurants and kitchens for distributing low-flow pre-rinse spray nozzles to reduce dishwashing water use.   There are numerous examples of successful toilet distribution programs, usually targeting low-income communities that seldom participate in rebate programs.  Multi-family buildings are an excellent target for toilet distributions, where rebate and voucher programs fail to garner participation.  Distributing weather based controllers is one the newest innovations in the distribution method, though professional installations are proving more effective.   Economic factors sometimes require the participant to make partial payments (referred to as “co-pay”), though the co-pay is often only a fraction of the total cost.

Device distribution is a strategy that can serve the needs of the water utility and the customer, when properly employed.