Low Flow Aerators All Around

Today, another small step on the Poole Ancestral Homestead’s journey to precise energy retrofit nirvana was taken, and it consisted of installing a low flow aerator on each of our faucets. You might recall in a previous post how I installed a 1.5 gallon per minute (gpm) shower head in the main bathroom. For all the sinks around the house, I’ve now installed water saving, ultra low flow aerators.

We started with the famous, vintage stainless steel, double bowled kitchen sink, with modern pull-down spray faucet, that is so passionately adored by Madame Sunday. The spray head contained a standard 2.2 gpm aerator. So, of course, I wanted to replace it.

First, I detached the spray head from the pull-down hose, and unscrewed the plastic spray cover that holds the aerator in place:

Then, I popped the aerator and washer out of the cover. As you can see, the old aerator had trapped quite a bit of debris:

The spray head itself was over-due for a cleaning, so I disassembled it and let the parts soak a while in a solution of hot water and vinegar. I cleaned the grime away with a soft toothbrush, rinsed all the parts with fresh water, and let them dry a bit:

Next, I snapped a new 1.0 gpm aerator into the spray cover, inserted a new washer, reassembled the spray head, and reattached the pull-down hose. When I turned the water on in stream (or aerated) mode, there was indeed a perceptible reduction in flow. But the aerated stream still seemed more than sufficient for general use, even though it’s been reduced now by about 55%:

On the other hand, since the spray flow isn’t controlled by the aerator, it hasn’t changed, and presumably runs either at, or less than, the 2.2 gpm maximum rating of the spray head:

Next on the agenda was the first floor, half-bath sink. This sink is used by guests, and regularly by a family member who suffers from severe arthritis and has difficulty reaching over the sink. Not only did I want to reduce the water flow here, but also redirect the stream a little closer to the outer edge of the bowl.

Two candidate solutions were kitchen swivel sprays by Neoperl. Neoperl makes some great flow control products. In fact, all of the replacement aerators and aerator wrench mentioned in this article are by Neoperl, and I’m proud to say that their headquarters and manufacturing plant are located in nearby Waterbury, Connecticut.

I tried both their chrome finished swivel spray (disassembled in the photo below) and soft grip, rubberized swivel spray:

Both are rated at 1.5 gpm, but unfortunately, the chrome spray is fitted with a smaller diameter aerator than the replacement 1.0 gpm aerators I’m using. The soft grip spray, on the other hand, just can’t be opened up enough to get to its aerator. Otherwise, I would’ve loved to have tweaked either one down to 1.0 gpm. :)

We tried both. The chrome swivel spray matched the existing decor a little better. But the soft grip swivel spray directed the stream farther out, and could actually be adjusted by the family member who was going to be using it. So the 1.5 gpm soft grip won out:

Finally, I replaced the very ancient aerator in the sink of the second floor main bath. The rubber washer was extremely hard, and I needed to use my knife to extract it before I could get the aerator out of the housing:

I inserted a new 1.0 gpm aerator in the housing, followed by new rubber seals (you can see how battle worn the older pieces are):

Here, I’m using (or attempting to use) Neoperl’s aerator wrench to re-install the housing. The wrench features a nylon bushing that grips the housing just enough to get it snug, but doesn’t allow you to over tighten it. What I found is that, if the housing’s seat is too deeply recessed in the body of the faucet, the wrench’s bushing fails to get enough of a grip on the housing to tighten it. In this case, I finally had to tighten the housing with my fingers:

Summary

These small flow control devices are essential to water conservation, and are extremely effective for their relatively small cost. If you have an older home, you should especially consider replacing your older aerators with newer 2.2 gpm/2.5 gpm, or 1.5 gpm rated ones. Keep in mind, however, that the lower the flow, the less its ability to completely remove waste water from your drain pipes. In my own case, I went down as low as 1.0 gpm on several of my faucets. I won’t go any lower than that (e.g., 0.5 gpm) because I am not totally confident my drain pipes will work effectively at such reduced levels of water flow. When I eventually modernize (and optimize) my DWV system, I might consider switching to 0.5 gpm aerators.

If you don’t need (or don’t want) to replace any of your existing aerators, you should still remove them periodically and clean any trapped debris, especially if you have older plumbing. Also any worn, brittle, or deteriorating rubber washers or O-ring seals should be replaced, as well.

When an aerator housing is too tight to open, you can use adjustable pliers (on the left, in the photo below), but if you intend to re-use the housing, make sure to wrap it with cloth or rubber so as not to damage the finish. There are also so-called “soft-jawed” plumbers pliers that have rubber covers on their jaws for just this purpose. I personally prefer a small strap wrench (center of photo) to loosen finished parts, albeit it’s a bit tricky to use.

And when replacing housings, just hand tighten them. If you have difficulty getting a grip on the housing, make sure it’s dry and use some cloth or soft rubber to get a better grip. The Neoperl aerator wrench (on the right in the photo) might be helpful in some cases, but as stated earlier, doesn’t work well on some faucets.

About John Poole

My interests include historic homes, architectural preservation and restoration, improving the energy performance of old houses, and traditional timber frames.
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3 Responses to Low Flow Aerators All Around

  1. Who left you alone with a sharp knife, is what I want to know?!

  2. Pingback: the *Home* &, well, the *Improvement* in Home Improvement || DIY & Pro :: Building Moxie » Earth Day 2012: Mobilizing for Water Conservation with @BirminghamPoint