Hotel Water Management: Guest Satisfaction through Balanced Flows

The best way for hotels to save money and improve guest satisfaction is to control flow rates in showers and sinks to a target rate of flow that is within regulations in every room on every floor. Most hotels purchase and install showerheads and aerators that are rated at a legal flow rate with the intention and belief that they are operating within the regulations and have the most efficient flows possible, thereby, conserving water, controlling costs and keeping their guests satisfied. The reality is that in most properties, it is not possible to achieve the specified flow rate from the devices they purchase.

The concept of Balanced Flows in showers and sinks is focused on the volume of water, measured in gallons per minute (gpm) in the United States or liters per minute (lpm) in Europe and many other countries. Balanced Flow refers to the actual flow rate that is delivered by the shower or sink that the user or guest experiences. The actual flow rate is most often different than the manufacture’s specified flow rate of showerheads and aerators.

Are You Really Doing All You Can?

Most hotel owners, managers and engineers have tried to conserve and control water use efficiency in showers and sinks by purchasing low flow devices. Manufacturers of these devices have responded to the increase in regulations by designing showerheads and aerators for faucets that are rated to flow at a specific rate of flow. Most have a variety of flow rates. Showerhead flow rates typically range from 1.5 gpm to 2.5 gpm, while aerators typically range from .5 gpm to 2.0 gpm.

The regulations driving the development of these lower flows began in 1994, under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) of 1975. This regulation set the maximum flow rate of showerheads manufactured in the US to no more than 2.5 gpm at 80 psi (pounds per square inch of water pressure). Since then, some states and cities have enacted lower flow standards. In July of 2012, the city of New York established a maximum flow rate in showers of 2.0 gpm at 80 psi and in California, Title 20 set the maximum flow rate in showers at 1.8 gpm. These regulations are directed at the maximum flow rates that can be manufactured and sold and most are set at a water pressure of 80 psi.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Source: City of San Francisco


Manufacturers engineer showerhead flow rates, in most cases, using plastic devices commonly referred to as restrictors. As regulated, these restrictors are designed to limit the flow to a specified flow at 80 psi. Most of the showerheads and aerators on the market today do not flow at their specified flow rate. There are several reasons for this, including variations in water pressure, source flow and variations in the plastic restrictors in showerheads and aerators.

3 Reasons Why Showerheads & Aerators Can’t Deliver Consistent Flows

1 – Water pressure varies throughout a property. The water provider delivers water to the property’s water meter, usually between 30 to 100 psi. After that point, it is the property owner’s responsibility to regulate water pressure throughout the property. Water pressure that is too high can damage fixtures and water pressures too low can lead to low flows and guest complaints. There are ways to increase and decrease water pressure throughout a property, using booster pumps and pressure regulating valves, however, the reality is that almost no properties have exactly 80 psi in every room on every floor. 

2 – Source flows also vary throughout a property. Source flows are the volume of water measured in gpm that feed the showerhead or aerator. These source flows combined with water pressure are two of the three main drivers of the actual flow rate. They can range from below 2.0 gpm to 8.0 gpm.

3 – Plastic restrictors vary in size from fixture to fixture. So, as an example, in the same model of showerhead or aerator, the actual sizes of the holes in each internal plastic restrictor can have significant variations. There are several reasons for this. In the manufacturing process, plastic is heated to a liquid and then injected into a mold. During the cooling process as the plastic hardens, the actual hole sizes are not exactly the same. As these restrictors are used, hot water deforms them and over time they flow at usually increasing rates.

When you take into consideration these three variations, you can better understand why it is not possible, in most cases, to obtain an actual flow rate that is the same as the manufacture’s specified flow rate.

What Are Unbalanced Flows?

There are three categories of unbalanced flows. The most common is a property that has a combination of flows that are higher than a target and flows that are lower. For example, if a Hotel’s target, ideal flow rate is 2.0 gpm, this category will have flows higher than 2.0 gpm and flows lower than 2.0 gpm. The second category is a property where all flows are below the ideal target. The third category has all flows above the target. The most common are properties that have flows both above and below the target. By balancing flows, increase those below the target and decrease those above the target, the property obtains balanced flows – the same flow rate in every room on every floor. This is the most efficient, economical and conservative use of water

Indoor Water Conservation is a firm that performs water audits in hundreds of hotels throughout the United States, measuring variations in water pressure, source flows and actual flow rates in showers and sinks in various locations throughout the property. In more than 90% of these properties, the actual flow rates have such a varied degree of flows that they are unbalanced throughout the property. The majority of these unbalanced actual flows, on average result in actual flow rates that are higher than the Government’s regulated flow rates and those specified by the manufacturer.

How Do You Know How Much Water Is Being Used?

Water providers, like Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Portland Water Bureau and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California recognize that most hotels have opportunities to reduce water consumption and have incentive programs in place that will help pay for technology that is proven to reduce water usage. In order to understand the effectiveness of a water conservation implementation, they focus on actual flow rates. For many of these incentive programs, they measure the actual flows before and after the implementation of the technology throughout a property using a random sampling method to verify that the actual flow rates have been reduced. In order to estimate how much water is used in showers and sinks, they apply agreed upon usage variables. These include the hotel’s occupancy for the estimation period, average number of guests/users, per room and usage time per fixture. This methodology provides the agencies with enough accuracy of water savings to give them the level of confidence needed to approve financial incentives to hotels to undertake water conservation projects.

By using this methodology, a hotel can determine with a high degree of accuracy the volume of water used in showers and sinks, thereby giving management and owners information that they can use to make decisions regarding if there is opportunity to reduce water consumption and to measure the impact. With this information, they can calculate, using water, sewer and energy rates, the volume of savings to determine if the cost of implementation of water saving technology is worth the cost saving. Hotel owners and managers typically apply an ROI (return of investment) analysis to make the decision regarding a water and cost saving project. The project is a one-time cost, however, the cost savings, as long as the project’s impact is sustainable, continues year after year. The actual financial impact of a cost saving project with a good ROI continues to improve every year that the cost of water, sewer and energy increase.

Dramatically Rising Costs

It is a well-known fact that water, sewer and energy costs are rising at a fast pace across the United States. In San Francisco, for example, (see graph above) the total cost of water and sewer is scheduled to increase from $14.08 per HCF (hundred cubic feet) to $29.175 per HCF. That is 107% from 2015 to 2022. 

Water, sewer and energy rates are increasing every year in almost every major city in the United States. One of the biggest drivers of water and sewer increases is the failing infrastructure. Water and sewer delivery systems designed to last 50 years, are still being used many years beyond. These systems need to be repaired and replaced and the cost is generally paid for through rate increases. Energy costs also continue to increase.  

What Can You Do About Unbalanced Flows And Rising Costs?

Recognizing that these costs are likely to continue to increase year after year, the best strategy for hotel owners and managers is to find the best actual flow rates for their property and implement technology to obtain them on a sustainable basis. This will result in the most economical, efficient and conservative use of water in showers and sinks. In addition, by finding the best actual flow rates, owners and management know that they are not only providing guest satisfaction while maximizing utilization of water, earth’s most precious resource, while minimizing their property’s carbon footprint and saving costs of water, sewer and energy.

Mr. SkinkerRick Skinker has a Master’s degree in Finance from the University of Southern California and has obtained several certifications related to corporate restructuring. During a successful career as a turnaround consultant, he travelled continuously on a weekly basis for more than 25 years, staying in hotels throughout the US, Mexico and Canada. Using showers and sinks in different properties in different cities for that amount of time gave him an appreciation for good flows and bad flows in all categories of hotels. In 2013, he had the opportunity to become an equity partner in a firm that had a patent on a device that controlled the flow of water in showers and sinks. He dove into understanding the market for these products and began to further develop the methodology used at the time to fit these devices in different applications. In 2015, together with Ken Leddon, they started Indoor Water Conservation. Mr. Skinker can be contacted at 619-392-8961 or Please visit for more information.