Who uses water-saving fixtures in the home?

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William David Gibbons, Income Statistics Division

Canadians use a large amount of water during their day to day activities. Environment Canada estimates that in 2004, the average individual consumed 329 litres of water per day.1 Toilets (31%) and showers (19%) account for approximately half of the total indoor water consumed.2 Retrofitting or replacing these fixtures with water-saving models can provide a starting point for households looking to cut back on water use.

Households may conserve water for a number of reasons. Residents might be motivated by the financial savings from reduced water usage. In the case of shower heads, energy costs can be lowered since less natural gas, electricity or other fuel is used to heat the water. Retrofitting programs and rebates may also play a role.3 Other households look to reduce their impact on the natural environment. Finally, the use of water-saving fixtures may not even be voluntary, as some regions require their use—as mandated in a Building Code, for example.

An increasing number of Canadian households are using reduced volume toilets and low-flow shower heads at home. Certain factors were found to be associated with increased use of water-saving fixtures including higher household income, ownership status and living in a single-detached home.

Nationally, there was a substantial increase in the use of water-saving fixtures between 1994 and 2006. The percentage of households with a low-flow shower head rose from 44% to 57%. The use of reduced volume toilets increased substantially as well, more than doubling from 15% in 1994 to 37% in 2006.

Water and energy prices rose quicker than average between 1994 and 2006.4 Increasing relative costs may have provided a financial signal for households to retrofit to water-saving fixtures.

What you should know about this study

This article uses data from the 1994 and 2006 Households and the Environment Surveys (HES). The HES contains information on a wide range of environmental behaviours, including the use of water-saving shower heads and toilets. A variety of demographic and socio-economic variables have been linked to the use of these fixtures to examine a number of different relationships, including geographic location, income and dwelling type.

Both versions of the HES were supplemental to the Labour Force Survey (LFS) and followed the LFS methodologies during the years administered.


A low-flow shower head is any shower head that reduces the water flow and therefore reduces water and water heating costs.

A reduced volume toilet is a water-saving, low volume toilet or modified toilet tank including toilets specifically designed to use less water per flush as well as toilets that have been modified by, for example, adding a brick or weighted plastic bottle in the toilet tank to reduce the volume of water in the tank.

Data for the survey was self–reported and water-use standards for low-flow showers and reduced volume toilets were not specified. A new toilet sold commercially in 2006 was considered a 'water-saving' model if it used less than 6 litres per flush, whereas in 1994, a conservation model used less than 13 litres per flush. In addition, households may also have self-modified their fixtures in a number of ways.

Any differences between the results published in this study and those in other Statistics Canada products are due to the exclusion here of respondents who provided no answers to the survey questions on the presence of low-flow shower heads and water-saving toilets in the calculation of use rates for these fixtures.

Water availability and use
Ontario leads the way
Pay per use
Income, home ownership and fixture use
Households in single-detached dwellings use water-saving fixtures more often

Water availability and use

Canada is fortunate to have an abundance of freshwater. Canadians have the largest per capita supply of freshwater amongst industrialized nations. With less than 0.5% of the total world population, Canada possesses 7% of the total renewable water flow and 25% of wetlands.5

Despite the vast amount of water in Canada, some areas still struggle with water availability. Over 85% of the population lives within 300 km of the US border, whereas 60% of the water flows towards the sparsely-populated north.6

This uneven distribution places many competing demands on local sources, which can result in both seasonal and chronic shortages. For example, over one-quarter of Canadian municipalities reported water shortages in the five years preceding 1999, a problem that has likely been exacerbated further by additional socio-demographic pressures in recent years.7

Providing clean water is a costly undertaking. In 2006, local governments spent over $4.5 billion to purify and supply water.8

Canadians are also large water consumers from an international perspective. In 2001, Canada ranked 28th out of 29 industrialized countries in per capita water consumption, only ahead of the United States.9

Ontario leads the way

In 2006, Ontario had the highest proportion of households using water-saving fixtures. Use of low-flow showers rose from 46% in 1994 to 61% in 2006, while use of reduced volume toilets more than doubled from 19% to 44% (Charts 1 and 2).

Chart 1 Households in Eastern provinces more likely to use low-flow shower heads, 1994 and 2006. Opens a new browser window.

Chart 1
Households in Eastern provinces more likely to use low-flow shower heads, 1994 and 2006

Chart 2 Households in Ontario and the West lead the way on reduced volume toilets, 1994 and 2006. Opens a new browser window.

Chart 2
Households in Ontario and the West lead the way on reduced volume toilets, 1994 and 2006

Many factors may have contributed to the increase in water-saving fixture use in Ontario. For example, regulatory changes to the Ontario Building Code in 1996 made the use of water-saving fixtures mandatory for all new structures.10

Since this change, Ontario has seen extensive amounts of new residential construction. Almost half a million new residential units were completed from 1997 to 2006.11 This new construction could be behind much of the increase in water-saving fixtures seen in Ontario.

In general, low-flow shower heads were more popular in Eastern Canada than in the west. In 2006, 59% of households in Quebec and 57% in the Atlantic provinces used low-flow showers, compared to 51% of households in the four Western Provinces.

While households in Eastern Canada made greater use of low-flow showers, with the exception of Ontarians, they were less likely than Westerners to use reduced volume toilets. In 2006, 30% of households in Atlantic Canada and 28% of households in Quebec used these fixtures, compared to 37% in the four Western provinces. This difference may be attributable to the lower presence of water meters. The metering rate in the Atlantic region (45%) and Quebec (20%) was significantly lower then in Ontario (86%) and in the west (72%).12

Pay per use

Households that were metered were more likely to use reduced volume toilets, but the same trend was not found for shower heads (Chart 3). In 2006, close to 45% of metered households used reduced volume toilets compared to 38% of unmetered households. In contrast, 62 % of metered households used low-flow showerheads compared to 66% of unmetered households.

Chart 3 Metered households are more likely to use reduced volume toilets, 2006. Opens a new browser window.

Chart 3
Metered households are more likely to use reduced volume toilets, 2006

Many Canadians do not pay directly for water based on the amount they consume. Instead, they pay for water at a flat rate or have it included in their rent, and therefore have no economic incentive to conserve water. According to Environment Canada, in 2004 Canadians paying flat rates used 76% more water than those charged using volume-based rates.13

For those who do pay directly based on water consumption, the cost of retrofitting can be returned over time, in terms of reduced water bills. Low-flow shower heads provide a more immediate payback since they also reduce energy use, which may explain why they are more common than reduced volume toilets.14

Income, home ownership and fixture use

In general, higher income was associated with greater use of water-saving fixtures (Table 1). In 2006, households with annual incomes below $25,000 were less likely to use both low-flow showers (52%) and reduced volume toilets (33%) than those that had annual incomes in excess of $75,000.

Table 1 Income and conservation fixture use, 1994 and 2006. Opens a new browser window.

Table 1
Income and conservation fixture use, 1994 and 2006

Income also influences whether households are able to purchase a dwelling. Households that owned their dwelling had double the median income ($80,000) than those that lived in rental accommodations ($40,000) and were far more likely to use water-saving fixtures (Table 2).

Table 2 Home ownership and conservation fixture use, 1994 and 2006. Opens a new browser window.

Table 2
Home ownership and conservation fixture use, 1994 and 2006

In 2006, 63% of households that owned their dwelling used a low-flow shower head and 43% had a reduced volume toilet. In comparison, 45% of households that rented had a low-flow shower head and 23% a reduced volume toilet. Renters do not always have control over the type of water fixtures used in their dwelling, nor are they usually responsible for water bills, so there is less motivation for these households to spend the money or time to retrofit.

Nevertheless, in 2006, households that rented were also more likely to have reduced volume toilets and low-flow showers than in 1994. Since landlords are frequently responsible for water bills, they have an incentive to install low-flow fixtures.

Households in single-detached dwellings use water-saving fixtures more often

Households living in apartments were least likely to have water-saving fixtures (Chart 4). In 2006, 42% of households in apartments and 58% of households in multi-unit dwellings used low-flow shower heads compared to 63% of households in single-detached dwellings. This was again repeated for reduced volume toilets, with 43% of households in single–detached homes using these fixtures, nearly double the rate of apartment dwellers (23%).

Chart 4 Households in single-detached dwellings more likely to use water-saving fixtures, 2006. Opens a new browser window.

Chart 4
Households in single-detached dwellings more likely to use water-saving fixtures, 2006

These findings are consistent with many of the other results—metering was less common in multi-units and apartments, and the rate of home ownership for single-detached dwellings (92%) was far above that of multi-units (58%) and apartments (20%).


Municipalities and citizens alike are participating in water conservation efforts. An increasing number of Canadians are using more efficient fixtures in their homes. Water-saving toilets and shower heads became more prevalent between 1994 and 2006.

Households' motivation for using water-efficient fixtures may be based on cost savings, environmental concerns, legal requirement or a combination of such factors.

From a geographic perspective, Ontario led the way in the use of both fixtures. The Atlantic provinces and Quebec were more likely to use low-flow shower heads whereas the Western provinces were more likely to use reduced volume toilets.

A number of other factors were also found to be associated with the use of water-saving fixtures, including higher household income, ownership status and dwelling type.


  1. Environment Canada, 2007, Municipal Water Use Report: 2004 Municipal Water Use Statistics, www.ec.gc.ca/WATER/en/info/pubs/sss/e_mun2004.pdf  (accessed July 22, 2008).
  2. Peter W. Mayer and William B. DeOreo, 1999, Residential End Uses of Water, American Water Works Association Research Foundation, Denver.
  3. For example, Natural Resource Canada, 2008, Retrofit Your Home and Qualify for a Grant!, www.oee.nrcan.gc.ca/residential/personal/retrofit-homes/retrofit-qualify-grant.cfm (accessed July 25, 2008).
  4. The prices of water (+55%), natural gas (+97%), electricity (+30%) and heating oil (+126%) all increased between 1994 and 2006. The economy-wide inflationary rate between these periods was 27%. Statistics Canada, Table 326-0021- Consumer price index, 2005 basket, (2002=100), CANSIM (database), http://cansim2.statcan.gc.ca/cgi-win/cnsmcgi.exe?Lang=E&CANSIMFile=CII\CII_1_E.htm&RootDir=CII/ (accessed November 29, 2007).
  5. Statistics Canada, 2003, "Water in Canada," Human Activity and the Environment, Catalogue no. 16-201-X, Ottawa.
  6. Environment Canada, 2006, Quickfacts, www.ec.gc.ca/water/en/e_quickfacts.htm (accessed July 21, 2008).
  7. Environment Canada, 2001, Urban Water Indicators: Municipal Water Use and Wastewater Treatment, http://dsp-psd.communication.gc.ca/Collection/En1-19-2001-1E.pdf (accessed July 22, 2008)
  8. Statistics Canada, Table 385-0003 - Local government revenue and expenditures, CANSIM (database), http://cansim2.statcan.gc.ca/cgi-win/cnsmcgi.exe?Lang=E&CANSIMFile=CII\CII_1_E.htm&RootDir=CII/ (accessed August 18, 2008).
  9. David Boyd, 2001, Canada vs. the OECD: An Environmental Comparison, University of Victoria, www.environmentalindicators.com/htdocs/indicators/6wate.htm (accessed July 23, 2008).
  10. City of Toronto, 2002, Toronto's Water Efficiency Plan, Works and Emergency Services, Veritec Consulting Limited, www.toronto.ca/watereff/plan.htm (accessed July 24, 2008).
  11. Statistics Canada, Table 027-0017 - Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, mortgage loan approvals, new residential construction and existing residential properties, monthly, CANSIM (database), http://cansim2.statcan.gc.ca/cgi-win/cnsmcgi.exe?Lang=E&CANSIMFile=CII\CII_1_E.htm&RootDir=CII/ (accessed Nov 28, 2007).
  12. Based on households that did not live in an apartment and whose main source of water was supplied by their city, town or municipality.
  13. Environment Canada, 2008, "How do we use it?," Did you know? Freshwater Facts for Canada and the World, www.ec.gc.ca/water/en/info/facts/e_domestic.htm (accessed July 24, 2008).
  14. A low-flow shower head typically costs from $15 to $50 and requires little time to install. The annual household water and energy savings from this switch can result in $150+ dollars of utility savings in the first year. See: BC Hydro, 2004, Low Flow Shower Heads, www.bchydro.com/powersmart/elibrary/elibrary699.html  (accessed July 28, 2008).
    Replacing a toilet can cost anywhere from $100 to $1000 or more. The low price of water in many areas usually results in toilet replacement projects taking 5 to 10 years or more to repay the initial investment. See: Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 2002, Dual Flush Toilet Testing, www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/publications/en/rh-pr/tech/02-124-e.html (accessed July 28, 2008).
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