A federal Energy Star–qualified unit is rated to use at least half the amount of water as a non-qualified product, and potentially far less. The program calculates and lists each machine’s Water Factor to indicate its efficiency; the lower the number, the more water it saves, and some units are far below the baseline standard.
Problem is, only about a third of new homes include laundry equipment, and occupant behavior—such as running only full loads—is critical to optimizing the machine’s estimated water and energy savings.
Energy Star dishwashers, meanwhile, use about 30% less water than non-qualified counterparts, but their impact on a home’s overall water use ranks low, reducing their investment value in that regard. Still, qualified dishwashers are 80% more water efficient than hand-washing. (See “Awash in Savings,” page 31, for more on washers and dishwashers.)
By far the greatest consumption of household potable water—more than 55% on average, according to the AWWA—occurs outside, primarily for landscape irrigation and more precisely for turf areas. Not only that, but a good measure of outdoor water is wasted from a combination of overwatering, leaks, poor planning, and bad habits.
While significantly reducing that use is certainly possible with proven technologies and tactics, it’s a more complex formula compared to indoor options; not only are relatively few builders required to provide comprehensive landscaping plans and irrigation systems for the homes they build, but regulatory barriers, higher costs, and ongoing maintenance chores may thwart the potential to reduce water consumption.
Still, some builders, especially those committed to sustainable design and construction practices, are extending those efforts outside. “There’s a disconnect between the green goals of the house and what can be achieved in the landscaping,” says Michael Lenahan, president of Aurora Custom Homes in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., who includes a line item in the construction budget for the cost of a landscape designer and a comprehensive plan and irrigation system. “It’s a true systems approach to sustainability.”