Water efficient products will help you save water and – when you're using hot water – energy, which means monetary savings too. But unless there's an easy way to compare products, there's no way of knowing which washing machine, shower head, or toilet offer the best savings.
That's where the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme comes in. WELS was introduced in 2005 to give Australians an easy way to compare products at a glance. A range of water-using products are rated and labelled according to a national water efficiency standard.
Comparing at a glance
The WELS water efficiency label shows a star rating out of six – the more stars the better. It also shows a water consumption or water flow figure which is based on laboratory tests.
Models with a three-star rating (currently the highest for showerheads) range from 6L to 9L of water per minute.
Since July 2006 it's been compulsory for all new domestic washing machines, dishwashers, showers, toilets, urinals and most taps to display the label. Second-hand products and products imported into Australia for personal use aren't required to have a WELS label.
Will WELS make a difference?
It's estimated that by 2021, Australians will have saved more than a billion dollars in water and energy bills by using more efficient products. For example:
An older-style single-flush toilet can use up to 12 litres of water per flush. A modern dual-flush toilet uses only six litres for a full flush and three litres for a half.
A standard showerhead can use up to 25 litres per minute, while a water efficient one might use as few as seven.
An efficient washing machine may only use a third of the water of an inefficient one, and will save you energy when using a warm or hot wash program (although using a cold wash program will save more).
More than a third of those estimated water savings will come from more efficient showers, about 34% from washing machines and 23% from toilets and urinals.
To learn more about the scheme or search a database of registered products for their water efficiency go to www.waterrating.gov.au.
Accountability for suppliers
Under the WELS scheme, suppliers are required to produce evidence of water efficiency testing when requested by WELS inspectors, and may be forced to stop selling any products found to be non-compliant.
Suppliers are also responsible for ensuring star ratings provided to consumers at the point of sale are accurate and in line with the objectives of the scheme.
To ensure suppliers do act in the best interests of the consumer, and not just their sales figures, they are subject to civil penalties for providing false and misleading information. Sole traders will be fined $6600 and corporations $33,000 for attempting to register or sell products as WELS-compliant when they're not.
Since the introduction of the WELS scheme, CHOICE has seen a decrease in water use in the products we test. Although there are some downsides to the tweaking of programs in some products (such as washing machines and dishwashers), on the whole the scheme has been well thought out and works well.