Water-Efficient Plumbing Fixtures


shower headReducing indoor water use in residences and businesses can be accomplished through water-efficiency standards for plumbing fixtures. Generally, the standards impose a maximum on the amount of water used per flush by toilets and urinals and per minute by faucets and showerheads. In the United States, these amounts or flow rates are described as gallon per flush (gpf) or gallon per minute (gpm).

Efficiency standards also typically leave it to fixture manufacturers to meet these goals without compromising performance. The standards can also apply to the sale and installation of plumbing fixtures in addition to their manufacture. Today, nine states have their own mandatory standards for plumbing fixtures while others are using financial incentives, community planning efforts, and water conservation requirements for public buildings to promote the adoption of efficient fixtures.

Background on Standards

Connecticut enacted the first state water efficiency standards in 1989. This legislation set maximum flow rates for fixtures manufactured, sold, and installed in the state after 1990. A handful of other states followed suit, and the federal government enacted national standards in the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPAct 1992). This comprehensive legislation set minimum efficiency standards for all toilets, showers, urinals and faucets manufactured in the United States after 1994. For example, a low-volume toilet flushes at 1.6 gpf as compared to 3.5 gpf that was common for residential toilets prior to EPAct 1992.

In 2006, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the WaterSense Program. This voluntary national program certifies products that use 20 percent less water than the federal minimum without sacrificing performance. WaterSense certified fixtures include dual-flush toilets and 1.28 gpf toilets, which are lower than the federal maximum flow rate of 1.6 gpf. Since then, California, Georgia, Texas, and most recently Colorado have matched the EPA WaterSense flow rate criteria in creating their state efficiency standards. 

2015 Update

Massachusetts and Rhode Island considered bills in 2015 requiring plumbing fixtures sold to meet water efficiency standards, and New Jersey is still considering a bill that would require replacement of traditional fixtures with low-flow ones. Colorado considered repealing parts of Colo. Rev. Stat. § 6-7.5-102 which it had passed the previous year. Also during the 2015 session, six states – California, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia – considered legislation that would create financial incentives for the installation of water efficient fixtures.

2014 Update

Colorado enacted legislation in 2014 (SB 103; Colo. Rev. Stat. § 6-7.5-102 ) requiring plumbing fixtures sold in the state to have the WaterSense label. Three additional states – Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Washington - considered similar legislation during the 2014 session. Also during the 2014 session, New Jersey considered mandating the replacement of traditional toilets with low-volume ones.

The map below displays states with enacted or proposed water efficiency standards for plumbing standards as compared to the federal standards.

California Takes the Lead on Water Efficiency Standards (as of October 2015)

California faces the most severe drought in the state’s history. From low snowpack levels in the Sierra Nevada mountains to dry fields, the worsening conditions have led to the state’s first mandatory water restrictions in order to reduce usage by 25 percent.  

On April 1, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown released Executive Order B-29-15 mandating emergency regulations that would improve the efficiency of water appliances—including toilets and faucets in new and existing buildings. 

The executive order enabled the California Energy Commission, the agency responsible for adopting new efficiency standards, to speed approval on water appliance standards and to implement a temporary statewide rebate program for these appliances. The Commission approved the new efficiency standards on April 8, 2015. These newly adopted standards changed the required maximum flow rates for the following water appliances:

  • Urinals from 0.5 gpf to 0.125 gpf.
  • Residential faucets from 2.2 gpm to 1.2 gpm.
  • Kitchen faucets from 2.2 gpm to 1.8 gpm with possible capability to increase to 2.2 gpm. Public lavatory faucets shall not exceed a flow rate of 0.5 gpm.

California now leads the nation with standards that are more stringent than the EPA’s WaterSense Program. The new water efficiency standards could save over 10 billion gallons of water in the first year and eventually over 100 billion gallons of water per year according to the California Energy Commission.  

In the 2015 session, California lawmakers continued to look at ways to conserve water, considering at least eight bills directed towards water efficiency or conservation. These bills included programs that fund water conservation and efficiency projects, create tax breaks and financial incentives to promote the use of water efficient fixtures and regulate water efficiency standards on state owned property.

MAP: States with water-efficient plumbing standards as compared to federal standards

water efficient fixture state map















The following table provides summaries of state statutes and legislation for maximum allowed flow rates for plumbing fixtures. A slash is used to indicate the phasing in of different requirements.


TABLE: maximum allowed flow rates for states with efficiency standards
State Citation Summary Effective Date Toilet  (gpf) Urinal (gpf) Lavatory faucet (gpm) Kitchen Faucet (gpm) Shower (gpm)
Cal. Health & Safety Code § 17921.3; Cal. Civ. Code § 1101.3   
Sets maximum flow rates for fixtures installed or sold.  Also mandates replacing fixtures in single family homes by  Jan. 1, 2017 and in multifamily and commercial buildings by Jan. 1, 2019. Jan. 1, 2014 1.28 0.5 2.2 2.2 2.5
Colorado Colo. Rev. Stat. § 6-7.5-102 Bans the selling of new plumbing fixtures that have not been certified by the EPA's WaterSense Program or successor program. Sept. 1, 2016 1.28 0.5 1.5 NA 2
Connecticut Conn. Gen. Stat.  § 21a-86a Sets maximum flow rates for fixtures manufactured or sold on or after the effective date. Oct. 1, 1990                      /Jan. 1, 1992 NA /1.6 1 0.5 2.5 2.5
Iowa Iowa Code Ann. § 104B.1 (West) Applies to all newly constructed places of assembly for public use such as theatres and restaurants.  Jan. 1, 1991 3 NA NA NA NA
Georgia Ga. Code § 8-2-3 Changes the building code to require the installation of high-efficiency plumbing fixtures in all new construction or renovation.  July 1, 2012 1.28 0.5 1.5 2 2.5
Nevada Nev. Rev. Stat. § 278.582 Sets maximum flow rates for fixtures in newly constructed or renovated residential, commercial, or industrial structures after the effective date. Mar. 1, 1993 1.6 1 2.5 2.5 2.5
New York N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 15-0314 Sets maximum flow rates of fixtures for distribution sale, import, and installation by any private or public individual or entity. July 23, 2002 1.6 1 2.5 2.5 2.5
Texas Tex. Health & Safety Code § 372.002 Sets maximum flow rates for fixtures sold, offered for sale, distributed, or imported into Texas. Jan. 1, 2014 1.28 0.5 2.2 2.2 2.5
Washington Wash. Rev. Code § 19.27.170 Sets maximum flow rates for fixtures  distributed sold, or installed after the effective date.  July 1, 1993 1.6 1 2.5 2.5 2.5
Proposed Legislation (2015 Sessions)
Massachusetts H 755 (Pending) Prohibits the sale of plumbing fixtures not meeting prescribed performance standards. Jan.1, 2016 1.3 0.5/0.125 NA NA NA
New Jersey S 68 (Pending) Would require low-flow fixtures in rental properties of three or more units. 12 months after enactment 1.6 NA NA NA 2.5
Rhode Island H 5670 (Failed – Adjourned) Establishes minimum efficiency standards for fixtures sold and installed. Jan. 1, 2016 1.3 0.125 1.5 NA NA




Beyond Plumbing Fixture Standards

Financial Incentive Programs

Rather than passing specific requirements, recently states have looked to tax credits and rebates, as well as other financial incentive programs, to encourage the installation and use of high efficiency and low volume plumbing fixtures.

The following table provides summaries of state statutes and legislation for financial incentive programs.






Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 460.935

Creates the Property Assessed Clean Energy Program, which provides financing for conservation projects, including water use reductions and efficiency improvements.

New Mexico

N.M. Stat. Ann. § 72-4A-5

As part of the Water Project Finance Act, the Water Trust Board administers grants and loans to water conservation or recycling projects.


Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 82, § 1088.13

Creates the Water Conservation Grant Program, which provides financial support to community water conservation pilot programs. Eligible programs include retrofit projects and water use accounting programs.


Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 9-12-1201

Creates the Wyoming Energy Performance Program, which provides financing for energy or water efficiency audits and improvements at public facilities.

Proposed Legislation (2015 Session)


A 2537 (Pending)

Would provide a tax credit for replacing non-compliant plumbing fixtures with water-conserving ones.


A 92 (Enacted)

Creates a fund for water conservation and efficiency projects and programs to achieve urban water use targets.


A 88 (Vetoed)

Exempts from the sales and use tax laws the sale of, and the storage, use, or other consumption of, a water efficient home appliance purchased by a public utility that is provided at no cost to a low-income participant.


A 954 (Pending)

Creates the Water and Wastewater Loan and Grant Program to establish a pilot program to provide low interest loans.

New Jersey

H 1584 (Pending)

Creates the Green Building and Infrastructure Tax Credit Act to achieve green building standards, including water efficiency standards.

New Mexico

S 279 (Enacted)

Creates a new sustainable building tax credit with water conservation requirements.


H 64 (Failed – Adjourned)

Establishes the home energy and water efficiency income tax credit.


H 1602 (Pending)

Excludes from the sales tax the retail sale of WaterSense or Energy Star products.


S 1356 (Enacted)

Exempts sales tax from certain water efficient products for a limited period.


S 1319 (Enacted)

Creates temporary exemption periods from retail sales and use taxes for products designated as Energy Star or WaterSense.


Other State Stautes Examples

Below are some examples of state statutes and legislation, meant to improve the adoption of water-efficient plumbing fixtures.


  • Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 45-342
  • Contains statewide requirements for community water system planning. Plans must include a continuing conservation education program encouraging residents to adopt water efficiency technologies for indoor use.


  • Ark. Code Ann. § 22-3-2003 (West)
  • Mandates that all new public buildings and major renovations be constructed such that indoor uses use 20 percent less potable water.


  • 2015 A 606 (Enacted)
  • Provides that when a state agency builds upon state-owned real property, purchases real property, or replaces landscaping or irrigation, the agency would be required to increase water efficiencies for that property. 
  • 2015 A 585 (Pending)
  • Allows for a tax credit for qualifying individuals for outdoor water-efficiency improvements.


  • 2015 CO S 8 (Enacted)
  • Promotes water conservation in the land use planning process. Requires development of free training programs relating to best management and efficiency practices.


  • Del. Code Ann. tit. 26, § 1404(West)
  • Requires utilities in drought sensitive areas to make consumers aware of efficient fixtures.


  • Haw. Rev. Stat. § 342D-54 (West)
  • Requires water pollution grant recipients to install low flow bathroom fixtures.


  • Ind. Code Ann. § 14-25-15-5 (West)
  • Reserves the power to enact mandatory water efficiency programs for the Indiana General Assembly.


  • 2015 LA HCR 213 (Adopted)
  • Requests the division of administration to institute a method of tracking energy and water usage at state universities, state offices, and state buildings.


  • Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 7C, § 29 (West)
  • For new public buildings, this law requires the minimization of life cycle costs with the purchase and installation of the most efficient and financially feasible components.


North Carolina

  • N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 143-135.37 (West)
  • Creates the Sustainable Energy-Efficient Buildings Program for major public facilities, requiring a 20 percent reduction of indoor potable water use in new construction and renovation projects.


  • Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3345.62 (West)
  • Allows state universities to hire consultants to help improve energy and water efficiency.



  • Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 184.423 (West)
  • Lists state sustainability goals, including that state purchases and operations shall seek to significantly increase the efficient use of water.



  • Utah Code Ann. § 73-10-32 (West)
  • Requires the state's water conservancy districts and retail water providers to write a water conservation plan which includes information and incentives regarding the installation and use of efficient bathroom fixtures.


Additional Resources