Greg Foutz used to waste a lot of time—and water—in the morning. “The best-quality thought time you have is when you're taking a shower,” he says. Trouble is, his showers were so lengthy that he was frequently late for work making pizzas at a local parlor in Stockton, Calif. One day a brainstorm hit: with his wife and a friend, Foutz, 45, designed a waterproof clock to fit inside a showerhead. The clock also functions as a timer and conscience, alerting users at regular intervals to how much time they've spent washing up. The idea for his “Timepiece Shower Head” earned the group a patent this past July.

Showering is one of the largest contributors to a household's overall water use, accounting for up to 25 percent of energy costs. Worse than that, prolonged bathing means “someone in the family ends up with a cold shower and gets mad,” Foutz says. His goal is to manufacture the device cheaply enough so that water municipalities could distribute it free of charge, just as they do now with low-flow showerheads.