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Tapmaster Model 1751 includes both a kick-plate and button activated by the cabinet door to turn the tap on and off. Photo: Tapmaster. Click on image to enlarge.

For the past eight years we've been able to turn our kitchen faucet on and off using a knee- and foot-control valve from the Canadian company Tapmaster. This may seem like a convenience-only product designed for lazy people. I can't argue with all of that--and admit that I probably wouldn't have installed one if I hadn't received it for testing from the manufacturer after we had reviewed a competing product in Environmental Building News. But I gotta say, I love it, and I'm convinced that it does result in significant water and energy savings.

Foot and knee controls for faucets have been used for decades in hospitals, where doctors and nurses don't want to risk re-contaminating their hands by touching the faucet handle after washing. Now these controls are making their way into high-end homes as a convenience feature (as are sensor-activated controls), and our company has recommended this type of product since our first review of a foot-control faucet in 1999 (log-in required to read full article). With foot- and knee-controls for faucets, you set the desired temperature and flow rate using the standard hot and cold levers. Then you turn the tap on and off by pushing an under-sink cabinet door with your knee, by stepping on a foot valve, or by depressing a "kick-plate" beneath the cabinet. Our particular model allows us to use either a knee against the cabinet door or the tip of a foot pushing against a kick-plate. To adjust the rate of flow or the temperature, one simply adjusts the levers like normal--but you turn the flow off by releasing pressure on the cabinet door or foot pad.

We usually have only the cold water lever turned on (to quickly fill a water glass or rinse a spoon off during the day). When we're going to wash dishes, we simply turn off the cold lever and turn on the hot (because we keep our water heater set to about 120°F, we usually don't have to mix cold with hot for washing dishes).

Shown here is a Tapmaster kick-plate for Model 1750 or 1751; Kick-plates are available in black, white, and stainless steel. Photo: Tapmaster. Click on image to enlarge.

It's certainly a convenience to turn the water on and off without using your hands. But it also saves water. This morning, when I was filling the water bowl for our golden retriever, for example, I was able to hold the bowl with both hands and not waste water by turning on the faucet and then lifting the bowl under the tap. When washing pots and pans, with the hot-water tap turned on, I control the flow very simply using my knee, while many people leave the water running.

While you save water whether it's hot or cold water that's being controlled, there's a whole lot more money to be saved by reducing use of hot water, because it's water that doesn't have to be heated.

The biggest problem we have is when guests are over and can't figure out how to turn on the water. For this reason, we often lock the control in the "on" position (a simple process using the kick-plate) so that the flow is controlled with the faucet levers--like normal. Our younger daughter used to enjoy tricking her friends, though, by snapping her fingers as she surreptitiously pushed in the cabinet door or foot pad. Her friends would try to turn on the tap by snapping their fingers....

Tapmaster's foot- and knee-control systems start at about $300 (not including installation), with some systems costing over $500. Would I recommend this as starting-point investment in water and energy savings? Certainly not. But, I have to say that after using one of these for eight years (with absolutely no problem), if I were building a new house today I would figure out a way to work this feature into the budget.


In addition to this Energy Solutions blog, Alex contributes to the weekly blog BuildingGreen's Product of the Week, which profiles an interesting new green building product each week. You can sign up to receive notices of these blogs by e-mail--enter your e-mail address in the upper right corner of any blog page.

Alex is founder of BuildingGreen, Inc. and executive editor of Environmental Building News. To keep up with his latest articles and musings, you can sign up for his Twitter feed.

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Comments

1 Thanks for this great info! posted by Rob on 04/07/2011 at 08:25 am

Thanks for this great info! I'm looking to install something in my kitchen to make my faucet hands free I've been researching and I have found tapmaster, pedal valves and IZIFLOW. The IZIFLOW product is also non electric which is great and retails for half the price of the tapmaster system. Why is tapmaster so much more expensive?

2 I didn't think what we could posted by Steven on 01/20/2011 at 11:55 am

I didn't think what we could have a water faucet which can be controlled by foot. Its really helpful 'cos sometimes our hands are too busy to even twist the faucet. I actually believe it saves a lot of time in some places where people have to queue for washing hands. However, it costs much, I care more about the hygiene of the tab water. It would be nice with a good faucet water purier to purify the tab water.

3 The faucet control you're thi posted by Alex Wilson on 12/07/2010 at 04:55 pm

The faucet control you're thinking of may be the "Kitchen Sink Swivel Aerator with Pause Lever" from Niagara Conservation (Item #N3115V-FC that you can download information about at www.niagaraconservation.com - www.niagaraconservation.com/PDF/Sale...AERATOR.../3115V.pdf). There are several products like this on the market, retailing for about $10 on Amazon.

As for our water heater, I keep it set at about 120 degrees F. It takes some experimentation to find the right temperature. I have a Buderus boiler and used to have a sophisticated "EcoMatic" control on it that let me know precisely how hot I kept the hot water in the indirect hot water tank, and I kept it at 122°F. Some people don't like to go below 130° because of concern about Legionella bacteria, and that may be a reasonable concern.

If your water is heated with a "tankless coil" in your boiler, it may be variable in output; I'm really not sure. If that's the case, you might want to talk with your heating contractor about installing a separate, indirect tank that's heated using a separate zone off your boiler.

Good luck, -Alex

4 Thanks for your good work, Al posted by Celia Bohannon on 12/07/2010 at 02:42 pm

Thanks for your good work, Alex. I always read your column in the Brattleboro Reformer.

I was intrigued by your foot-control faucet, but it's not in my budget for this old house. However, when I visited my brother for Thanksgiving a few years ago, I saw a scaled-down option that has much the same effect and is especially useful for those of us who have separate hot-and-cold volume controls for the kitchen sink. It's a device that screws into the faucet spout and has a little flip-switch to (mostly) stop the flow of water once the user has adjusted it to just the right temperature. Very easy to use with one hand while working with the other.

The device costs less than $20, I think, and is easy to install but hard to find. (We had visitors last month who looked for it at all the hardware stores in the Bellows Falls area, to no avail.) If I knew where I could find it online, I'd make it a standard on my gift-giving list.

Also, I'm interested to know what temperature you set your water heater at to save mixing heated water with cold. Our (steam-heat) boiler also heats our water, so sometimes it seems very hot, but there's no need to store it at higher than ~ um, what?

Cordially, Celia


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