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Credit: Ray Ng

Priorities come at us fast and hard in this world of green building, driving a steady stream of critical agendas along projected timelines toward their troubling tipping points. Of course energy has topped the list the longest, joined by sustainable materials and indoor air quality, and over the past 15 years or so the focus on these priorities has forged them into staple practices within our industry, from design and construction through product development.

And while water efficiency has more recently become one of the key elements identified in environmental building, it needs to move up the priority list—now. We may still have a long way to go with energy, materials, and IAQ, but we’ve got a pretty good handle on them. But we’re just now getting serious about water, and we need all hands on deck for this one.

That’s why this issue of EcoHome is dedicated entirely to water resources and residential efficiency to help clarify the focus, raise the level of urgency, and illuminate the crucial role our industry will need to play in helping to avert a water crisis in our country.

Make no mistake—this is not just a problem for those in the Western states. As you’ll see in Jerry Yudelson’s article “Resource at Risk” (page 10), over the next 30 to 40 years population growth and climate change will conspire to stress water supplies in at least 36 states. Water authorities across the country, including areas not typically viewed as drought-ridden, are revising their policies and code requirements as they relate to water supplies, infrastructure, and consumption.

It would appear that Georgia’s water crisis in 2007–2008, when the Atlanta area came within 30 days of running dry, is serving as a wake-up call for other cities and states east of the Rocky Mountains.

By now every national or regional green building rating system includes voluntary certification incentives tied to indoor and outdoor water efficiency, most reflecting performance levels required by the EPA’s WaterSense product standards and WaterSense for New Homes certification. But as successful as these programs have been, especially with manufacturers, 82% of green builders and remodelers surveyed by the NAHB Research Center and EcoHome this past March either do not specify WaterSense-certified products or are not familiar with the program at all.

That may not matter much longer because we’re already seeing WaterSense-level criteria moving from voluntary measures into mandatory regulations with water efficiency provisions contained in CalGreen 2010, the nation’s first green building code, and similar requirements outlined in IAPMO’s Green Plumbing and Mechanical Code and ICC’s pending International Green Construction Code.

It’s no surprise that our survey with the NAHB Research Center further reveals that water efficiency awareness and practices are still very regional, and that Western companies are leading the way especially in addressing outdoor water use for irrigation—residential consumption’s biggest target. But regionalism virtually disappears when respondents were asked to look at the future, with 80% across all regions agreeing that water efficiency will become a top priority for our industry in the next 10 years.

We know what to do with energy. Now let’s apply the same focus, urgency, and know-how to water efficiency.