When you got ready for work this morning, you probably turned on the shower and then turned away to let the water heat up, busying yourself in the meantime while gallons of clean, cold water (and perhaps some hot) went down the drain.
But so what? Water’s cheap and easy, right? You lift a lid or a lever, push a button or pull a knob, and it’s there, every time. And when you get your water bill at the end of the month the number is far from frightening. Pay it and forget it.
For now, maybe. Declining freshwater sources, nationally mandated water utility upgrades, and higher energy costs have already boosted rates 10% nationwide since 2009. “If anyone thinks that their water rates or residential tap fees are going to get cheaper in the future, they’re out to lunch,” says Drew Beckwith, water policy manager with Western Resource Advocates in Boulder, Colo. “Water is only going to get more scarce, more contentious, and more expensive.”
So at some point sooner rather than later, homeowners will see their water and sewer bills go up and use of city-supplied potable water restricted—actions that may spur them to care enough to ask for and pay for water-efficient homes. “We’re at the tip of the iceberg of consumer demand,” says Pete DeMarco, director of special programs for the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO), which writes the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) and the Green Plumbing and Mechanical Code, and certifies the efficiency of water-using products. “Most people are unaware of the provisions and potential out there.”
An increasing number of your green-minded peers, big and small, are already incorporating water-saving systems, products, and practices into their new homes and their sales efforts.
“We’re always researching new technologies and ways to put money in our buyer’s pockets,” says Chris Apostolopoulos, president of the Northern California division of KB Home, the first builder in the country to build to the EPA’s WaterSense for New Homes standards. “It’s a competitive advantage.”
WHERE TO START
Though the most potential for household water savings is outdoors, the easiest way to reduce consumption and maintain lower use is inside.
In addition to water savings, you can reassure buyers that gaining those efficiencies requires little (if any) change in lifestyle habits and also will have a positive impact on the home’s energy use. Simply, most of the savings are embedded in the various and available plumbing fixtures, appliances, and systems, and the technology has advanced to make a near-seamless transition to a water-wise home.
Attack the Baths. Bathrooms are your first and best opportunities to save water inside the house. Conventional toilets, showers, and faucets combine to consume an average of 41 gallons per person per day, or about 60% of a home’s daily indoor drain (and 12% of total daily consumption), according to the American Water Works Association (AWWA).
Installing low-flow alternatives, namely the 1.28-gpf toilets now required by the International Green Construction Code, and more water-efficient showerheads and faucets, drops daily consumption by 36% or about 15 gallons per capita—a potential savings of 12,500 gallons of water a year per household.
Before your buyers start whining that such products cause users to flush twice or suffer a weak shower spray, rest assured that performance issues are a thing of the past. “Standards testing has become smart and savvy concerning a product’s service requirements as much as its water savings,” says Beckwith. “People get just as clean with a low-flow showerhead.”