Available Products Can Yield Big Reductions in Home Water Use
Just by using a handful of readily available water-conservation features, new home builders can reduce water consumption by 20%-30%, Peter Yost, a principal in the consulting firm of 3-D Building Solutions, told the NAHB Green Building Conference in Atlanta earlier this month.
With water and sewer rates moving up rapidly in many parts of the country, Yost said that efforts to conserve water are well worthwhile. “In one municipality in Northern Nevada this past year, water hook-up fees went from $600 per lot in July, to $2,000 in October, to $3,000 in December,” he said. And $5,000 hook-up fees can be found in California and Colorado.
The average new home uses about 50 gallons of water per person per day (gpcd), Yost said. That level of consumption can be reduced to about 35-40 gpcd by using high-performance toilets; top-of-the-line horizontal-access clothes washers; Energy Star-rated dishwashers; fluidics showerheads; on-demand hot water distribution systems; and smart outdoor irrigation controllers.
Yost based his conclusions on initial findings from the Environments for Living program of Masco Contractor Services, which has been expanded to include residential water efficiency. Water usage was monitored at four test homes — by DR Horton in Sacramento, Calif.; Ryland in Houston; McStain in Longmont, Colo.; and Anderson-Sargent in Dallas — that were outfitted with complete water efficiency packages of indoor and outdoor features. Among the results:
- Findings showed that high-performance toilets can actually work at 1.6 gallons per flush, or less, when they are well designed. Studies in the late 1990s by the American Water Works Association Research Foundation (AWWARF) found that toilets were responsible for almost one-third of the average amount of water used inside the home every day. AWWARF found that toilets were responsible for consuming about 20 average gallons per capita per day, and new technologies have cut that amount roughly in half.
While high-efficiency clothes washers can cost $500-$600 extra, they also can use up to 18 gallons less water per load and cut energy costs by 50%. Most use a horizontal-axis design that loads clothes from the front rather than into a vertical drum, so that the load tumbles through a much smaller amount of water.
- Energy Star-rated dishwashers can cost a premium of $25-$100, but they can save consumers more than $25 a year in energy costs. However, Yost noted that settings on both clothes and dishwashers can make a difference. Energy Star recommends using only a dishwasher’s air-dry option and avoiding using heat-dry, rinse-hold and pre-rinse features.
- Low-flow showerheads did more bad than good, Yost said, but they have been replaced by those that use fluidics to provide satisfactory showers with less water by using back-and-forth oscillation.
- Electronic demand hot water systems circulate the water in the hot water pipes back to the water heater, only wasting water in the branch, but not the trunk, of the plumbing system. Hot water travels to the fixtures four or five times faster on average. Yost said that the data received in the tests did not show the efficiency of the system. “We know that it works,” he said, “but we don’t understand why we’re not getting results.”
- Smart irrigation controllers automatically calculate a scientifically-based irrigation schedule as the weather changes, and data on changing weather conditions is sent to the home. Each controller breaks the lot down into nine zones for differing amounts of irrigation, with a huge potential for savings that makes the system’s initial $500-$600 cost look modest.
In assessing the effectiveness of these features, Yost advised builders that, “your mileage may vary,” based on settings, systems installation and the habits of the home owners.
“Hot tubs and Jacuzzis can make a big difference,” he said. “You can blow 50% of your savings just by taking a big bath a couple of times a week.”
For more information on green building, e-mail Marie Yarroll at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.
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