California’s New Plumbing Fixture Law & Water Conservation Rules

It’s no secret that California has been hurting for water in recent years. Several years of drought have impacted all areas of the state — including its laws. On January 1 of 2017, a new state law took effect that requires single family property owners of homes built before 1994 to replace noncompliant fixtures with water-conserving fixtures. This may sound like a far-reaching order that will affect thousands of residents. However, the details of the law — and how it is being enforced — are less threatening than the law seems.

The New Law

State legislation passed in 2009 introduced the requirement for residential homes built before 1994. This year is significant because ultra-low flush toilets have been required in all new construction since 1992. By law, the requirement will also extend to commercial and multifamily buildings by January 1, 2019.

There are a few exemptions: historical sites may be exempt, as well as properties where it isn’t technically feasible to install water-conserving fixtures. In addition, buildings in which the water is permanently disconnected or buildings slated to be demolished do not need to comply.

Homeowners who sell their home are also now required to alert the buyer if their plumbing fixtures don’t comply with this new law. There are no penalties at this point for failing to comply, however.

Why the Change?

In 2015, the Energy Commission reported that California had more than 45 million faucets and 30 million toilets throughout the state, bringing water use with those particular fixtures to a total of 443 billion gallons each year. The new conservation efforts were expected to save 10 billion gallons in the first year, and to eventually save 105 billion gallons every year. The staggering amount of water savings equals three times the amount of water used by the City of San Francisco every year.

It’s Been a Gradual Change

In 2009, standards were set for toilets, urinals, showerheads, and interior faucets, but as the drought continued on, the California Energy Commission toughened the regulations in 2015. These regulations set new limits. The limits on toilets is now 1.28 gallons per flush. Residential lavatory faucets has a 1.2 gallons per minute limit, while kitchen faucets now has a 1.8 gallons per minute limit. Showerheads have a 2 gallons per minute limit that will drop even lower to 1.8 gallons per minute in 2018. Faucets in public restrooms now have a .5 gallons per minute limit.

Since 2009, when standards began to get tougher, manufacturers met the standards by creating new products. Builders and homeowners began to install them, but the old products were still available until retailers sold out.

This new requirement that went into effect January 1 of 2017 is stricter, however. It doesn’t leave room for a gradual change. Technically, homeowners are required to replace their fixtures, whether they’re renovating or selling their homes or not.

What Is Enforceable?

But there is no plumbing inspector traveling from home to home to make sure homeowners are in compliance. So how are the new requirements being enforced? There are a couple ways.

If a single-family home is undergoing renovations, the renovation must include the replacement of old-style fixtures, or the homeowners could be barred from obtaining a certification of final completion or a certificate of occupancy.

When a homeowner sells a home, they must disclose whether they are in compliance or not. However, there are no penalties for not being in compliance. Some speculate that lenders may alter their underwriting decisions to require fixtures that comply with the new requirements. However, none are doing that at this time.

While not much of the new law is enforceable, homeowners who meet the new requirements will help in water conservation throughout the state.

Chuck Winkles is the president of New Life Bath & Kitchen, New Life Painting, and New Life Restoration. Chuck was born in Southern California and currently resides in Santa Maria. He’s been married to his wife Shelley for thirty-one years and has two sons, Nathan and Noah.

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