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When it comes to conserving water, don't get soaked

Published March 12, 2007

Front-loading washing machines use far less water than traditional top-loaders and are easier on clothes.

If you're a Hernando County Utilities customer, then in the course of each day, you're probably using 30 gallons of water more than you should, according to the Southwest Florida Water Management District. By investing in more efficient toilets, washing machines and water softeners, homeowners can conserve cash as well as water.

Since 1994, new homes have been required to have low-flow toilets that use a 1.6-gallon flush, compared with older models that used 3.5 gallons to 5 gallons. However, many homeowners complained about the performance of the first low-flow models, said local plumber Doug Beyer, owner of Plumbing Unlimited. The complaints led to new low-flow models on the market.

Water saver: Beyer recommended the new Kohler Cimarron, retailing for $214 at Home Depot, or the American Standard Champion, which sells for $309. Jim Taylor of Home Depot also recommended the Kohler Wellworth at $146 and the Highline at $176.

Compare with: Older toilets use two to three times as much water per flush. Also, some of the first low-flow models didn't flush efficiently, while newer models improved performance.

Deal or no deal? Adding the cost of a plumber to install it, replacing a toilet can be costly. However, if you're renovating the bathroom or replacing the toilet, consider upgrading to a newer low-flow models even at the higher cost, Beyer said. The difference in price might top $100, but will be well worth it.

Many Florida homeowners use water softeners to remove calcium from the water, which protects pipes, water heaters and other appliances. Water softeners "flush" the calcium, Taylor explained.

Water saver: The WaterBoss 37,000-grain city or well water softener uses 10-15 gallons to flush, and costs $449 at Home Depot.

Compare with: GE 40,000-grain water softener for $549 at Home Depot, which uses 30-35 gallons to flush.

Deal or no deal? The cheaper model is also the water saver.

Fancy front-loading washing machines don't just look nice in design catalogs. They also save water. Lots of it. Home Depot sales associate Walt Williams (who plans to buy a top-loader for his own house) detailed the benefits. The typical top-loading washing machine uses 40 gallons for an average load. A front-loader uses 14 gallons. A top-loader fills to the pre-set level no matter how much laundry is inside. A front-loader detects the amount of water needed and fills accordingly. Front-loaders spin faster, reducing dryer time. Many also use less power than their top-loading cousins. Front loaders are easier on clothes, and may include nifty features like steam-cleaning. Some front-loaders can also handle more laundry. They also cost more. In some cases, a lot more.

Compare with: The "no frills" front-loader by GE costs $599, uses half as much power as its "no frills" top-loader, but costs twice as much. Home Depot's top-of-the-line front loader - the LG Tromm - costs $1,500 in white, and its matching dryer costs $1,049; total cost of the set equals $2,549. The Tromm is also one of the more energy-efficient washing machines.

Compare with: A "no frills" top-loading washing machine by GE with standard settings costs $299 at Home Depot. The "Cadillac" of top-loaders, the GE Harmony, costs $999 in white at Home Depot, and the matching dryer costs $850; total cost equals $1,849.

Deal or no deal? Williams said the average life of a washer and dryer is five to seven years. Consider how often your family uses it, the performance benefits of shorter drying time and special features, and the savings you will see from both your water and power bills if you go with the front-loaders. The front-loaders are said to pay for themselves in the course of their lifespan. Still, with a price difference of $300 to $550, it's a luxury many families can afford.

[Last modified March 11, 2007, 21:20:28]

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