First things first, what is a water flow rate? Your faucet’s flow rate can have compelling impacts on your home, so it’s good to understand what it is. Water bills sending you through the roof? Selling your home? Evaluating your home’s efficiency? Installing a new water heater? Unsatisfied with your water pressure? All of these can link back to understanding your water flow rate.
Flow rate is exactly what it sounds like: the speed (rate) at which water is dispensed (flow) – but it also means so much more. The process begins with your water treatment systems, like a water heater and/or softener, which need time to let chemical reactions take place in order for them to work efficiently. A heater needs time to deliver the warm water and a softener and its filter to remove contaminants. Think about the available space needed for your water treatment systems – if the systems are too small, you won’t have enough water capacity. By not understanding your flow rate or not by not maintaining it to its proper functionality, you can run out of hot or clean water rather quickly.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that showers consume about 1.2 trillion gallons of water very year in the United States – kitchen and bathroom faucets account for 19% of the average home’s water usage. To keep you bills low and your home environmentally friendly, take a closer look at your faucets’ and shower heads’ flow rates to learn how you can conserve and save.
Water flow rate is often overlooked or misunderstood by average water consumers. If the water is flowing at more than a trickle and less than explosive, it would appear to be in fine working order – but this isn’t always the case. If you begin to run out of hot water at a faster rate than average, this can alert you that your water flow may be at an inappropriate gauge. If you are using a water softener at the incorrect flow rate, you may be running out of clean water before you realize that you have. If you have a water well, flow rate is vital to the functionality of the home.
The average flow rate for faucets is between 1.0 gpm and 2.2 gpm. In the US, the maximum flow rate for kitchen and bathroom faucets is 2.2 gpm at 60 psi. In more environmentally regulated areas, the maximum flow rates are further restricted. For example, Georgia is down to 2.0 gpm and California is at 1.8 gpm.
Many bathroom faucets have a much lower water flow rate than kitchen faucets. Bathroom faucets can run at 0.8 gpm – 1.5 gpm without a noticeable reduction in what most of us refer to as “water pressure”.
If you suspect that your water pressure if either too high or too low, there’s a simple way for you test it. The most accurate method is to buy a pressure gauge from your local hardware store and hook up to a hose faucet. Check the measurement on the pressure gauge when all other faucets and water-using fixtures are turned off to get a baseline reading. In general, you want he household plumbing to provide between 30 - 80 psi.
If you’d rather not spend additional expenses on a pressure gauge, there’s a much simpler way to check for low water pressure. For example, let’s say you’re considering purchasing a home and want to measure the water pressure but you didn’t bring a pressure gauge along for the tour. Try this instead: turn on the shower and sink faucets in a bathroom, flush the toilet, and observe the water flow in the shower. If it appears to drop significantly when the toilet is flushing, you should investigate further before signing off on the home.
To measure the flow rate of your faucet, you’ll need a container large enough to hold a gallon of water, a measuring cup, and a stopwatch or timer or some kind:
A faucet’s water flow rate can be affected by a variety of factors. Since the EPA limits water flow at 2.2 gpm, most modern faucets now come with a pre-installed aerator that limits the flow to 2.2 gpm while also infusing the water stream with air to reduce splashing.
The diameter of your pipes can also play a large role in regulating your water flow – wider pipes allow more water to pass, resulting in a higher flow rate.
One reason water flow may be reduced is it you have a build-up of mineral deposits inside your faucet. It’s very common for aerators to become partially blocked depending on the length of time it’s been in use, which can limit the amount of water that can pass through.
Other factors may include where you live – for several reasons, some areas simply have lower water pressure, which will reduce the water flow rate.
Water pressure can also vary according to demand. It’s very common for flow rate to be weaker in the morning when all your neighbors are taking their showers before heading off to school or work.
Most faucets have a small, round device screwed to the tip of the spout. This is the aerator. It’s the aerators job to create a mixture of water and air, which helps to make the water stream smoother in addition to limiting the water flow to an acceptable level.
If your water flow is too high and you want to reduce it to help save some money, you can install a new aerator that further restricts the water flow.
In general, it’s a good idea to replace the aerator if you measure your water flow and find that it’s too high, especially if you’re trying to reduce costs and don’t need a lot of water when you use your faucet.
In most cases, the easiest way to increase a faucet’s flow rate is by replacing the aerator. Try looking for a higher gpm model to allow for more gallons per minute. If you live in a low water pressure area, an aerator designed to restrict water flow might be reducing the flow too much.
However, before you rush out to buy a new aerator, you should also check to see if the old one is blocked. If you remove it from the faucet and look inside, you may see that it’s filled with mineral deposits. Areas with hard water see this type of blockage pretty frequently.
To clean it, you can try boiling it in vinegar for about 30 minutes – this will help dissolve and dislodge the minerals from the aerator screen.
Alternatively, you can try a more tedious method to clear out the blockage. Use a small pin to push through each individual hole in the aerator – this will allow the water to pass through freely.
If cleaning the aerator doesn’t help, you should also check for leaks in your plumbing. If you’re losing water in this way, it will reduce the water flow in your faucet, as well.
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