Mike Brown carries a HydroRight dual-flush toilet at Ace Hardware in Ashland. - Julia Moore


Low-flow water devices for showers, faucets and toilets are now required by state law. Even though you don't have to retrofit your house's plumbing, it's easy to do and can save you hundreds of dollars a year while easing the burden on the planet.

The easiest fix for a water-hungry house is just marching down to your local hardware store and buying a "save aerator" — a tiny rubber device that costs $3.79 and goes inside your kitchen faucet, cutting flow to 2.2 gallons per minute.

Installation is easy. You just unscrew the nozzle and place it in, says Mike Brown of Ashland Ace Hardware. Also available are an array of water-saving faucet heads with various sprinkle options and swivel capabilities.

Water-saving shower heads are the next step up but still affordable — $4.29 to $40 — and also easy to put in. Just unscrew the old one and screw in the new one. The new water-miser heads can't go over 2.5 gallons a minute, in keeping with the Federal Energy Conservation Act. Ultrasave models hold shower flows down to 1.5 gallons a minute, says Cathy Trower, Ashland Hardware manager.

With the more expensive shower heads, you're paying for the extra features that make the spray wide, tight or massage-like.

Toilets are another big offender when it comes to water waste. It's especially hard to watch all 3.5 gallons of water — the old standard — go swirling down the drain when you're flushing only liquids, known in the business as "No. 1."

Now, state laws and building codes limit toilets to a 1.6-gallon flush. California is pioneering an even more stingy, 1.28-gallon flow that, as Brown notes, "is going to make for more plugged-up pipes" and people flushing a second time.

Lifting up the toilet-tank lid is something few homeowners look forward to, but Brown demonstrates in a flash that it's a piece of cake to install the $20, tower-shaped device that replaces your tank flapper and is jammed into the exhaust hole and wired to existing hardware with a plastic strap.

"It's a slick, little system — a work of genius," says Brown, adding that it prevents that feeling "a lot of times when you waste a huge amount of water" by flushing No. 1 with a No. 2-sized amount of water.

To accomplish the two-choice flush, the system has a two-piece button to replace the familiar flush handle. You push the top part, and it does a flush for No. 1 (liquid only). To do a bigger, No. 2-sized flush, punch the lower part of the knob.

Granted, installing it is more complicated than changing a faucet tip, but don't let it scare you.

How much will all this save? It varies, of course, with water use. But the two-part, low-volume flushing device shouts on its package that it will save you "over $100 a year."

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