Water Conservation is the Next Big Challenge for Home Builders

Jan. 30, 2017

As energy efficiency continues to improve, water conservation is becoming the next frontier in residential building.

One of the most common residential plumbing system problems is the wait for hot water. Each year the average home wastes thousand of gallons of water down the drain, waiting for hot water to reach the kitchen or bathroom faucets. Running water also wastes lots of energy used to heat and transport that water. It's a bad deal all around.

Why striving to avoid wasting hot water makes sense: it takes 27 times more electricity to heat water than it does to move water, hot or cold, in the first place.

At the 2016 EEBA Conference and Expo, building science experts discussed growing awareness of the cost of transporting and heating water for home use and some of the techniques and technology that are gaining prominence in the marketplace.

Gary Klein, president of Gary Klein & Associates, an independent consulting firm that focuses on the water energy carbon connection.

Hot water is the most energy-intensive water use in our society. And if you're going to work on a problem, I think you ought to work on a big problem.

For the last 20 to 30 years, high performance homes have focused on the shell, the HVAC equipment ventilation and sometimes lighting. As you improve all of those things we're heading toward this idea of net zero.
As you do that, if you don't address water heating it becomes a bigger and bigger percentage of whatever remains.

For builders, water heating is the next frontier of efficiency. We can make it perform significantly better than the average, we can reduce time to tap to seconds as opposed to minutes, and we can increase the efficiency of the heating of it so the energy consumption drops by half.

We can capture waste heat, which drops energy use again, and we can put better fixtures and appliances in, which drops it again, and by the way we need a smaller water heaters just like in HVAC because we fixed all the other things, and we have happier customers. What's wrong with this picture? Nothing.

And, if you do it right, it costs less to build than what you're doing now. So if we're looking at water, in particular hot water, I think that's the trend for the future.

If we were looking even further, we have to look at how to integrate indoor water use, with capturing waste heat and wastewater and treating the water and reusing it and recycling it on site, and that's down the road but we can do all of that today.

Jonah Schein, technical coordinator for Homes & Buildings, WaterSense Program, U.S. EPA

Water is an issue that I think a lot of people would agree has been growing in importance in the building industry for the past several years, and we've seen that manifest itself in many ways. For one, water rates are continuing to rise and not just water rates but connection fees, so in the building industry we have to be concerned with the fact that infrastructure is costing more and more money.

We see it through increased watering restrictions, the most readily visible place we see this is in outdoor water restrictions here in Texas, which experienced a very bad drought several years ago. This is really hitting the building community because a lot of builders were putting in the landscapes they were used to putting in during the green years, and the homeowners weren't able to water them, so the landscapes died. That creates call backs for builders, which nobody likes.

Builders have to change the way that they do things. And finally we're seeing that in terms of code and legislation and local ordinances, which has been mandated in the past and will continue to put pressure on the building community to become more efficient.

The most extreme example of this is not just in California anymore but also in other parts of the country is the net-zero concept. That is, if you want the entitlement to build a new community you have to show through efficiency measures at that community or efficiency measures you might pay for elsewhere that you have a net-zero impact. That's being codified into a base standard right now.

That's the net blue standard. We're seeing this manifest itself in a lot of ways. The other place that we see legislation, ordinance and codes picking up on this is through the mandatory use of water efficient products. There's six states now that have requirements for plumbing products that are typically at the WaterSense certified level of water efficiency. Builders are going to have to continue to adjust to that as we move forward.

Michael Baechler, National Accounts Partnership (NAP), manager Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

We are starting technical support for the Watersense program, so we'll have technical support for all four Federal labeling programs for high performance homes, a sort of a one-stop shopping center if you need help with a particular measure in order to comply with those programs' check lists.

The WaterSense program might split into two, there's the kind of plumbing that's inside the home and the kinds of fixtures, i.e. faucets, toilets, showers and kitchen sinks that WaterSense certifies, and then they also have the outdoor portion of the program that's more about irrigation and landscaping. We'll also include those in the solutions center, which is kind of a new and exciting thing for us. It's mostly been about the building itself till now. And now we'll be talking about the landscaping around it.

It's all about water savings, and of course we are supported by the DOE so we link that back to energy savings in how we think about it.

Larry Acker, CEO, ACT D'Mand Kontrol Systems

We manufacture energy and water conservation products that distribute hot water in buildings or control the way hot water flows in buildings, for both commercial and residential.

One important part of this conference is about the water-energy issue. Our job is to try to figure out a way to save the water that you run down the drain while waiting for hot water. That represents about 10,000 gallons per year per home, which represents about 3500 kWh per home, which represents a pound and a half of carbon dioxide for every kWh. The interesting thing is, it's not just one thing. It's a combination: energy, water, air quality and sewage processing.

Water is a critical part of our lifestyle. What we don't really understand is the combination of water and energy. For the record, water is the most intensive product to heat out of all products in the world except for one, that's liquid ammonia. And yet, 99% of people use hot water daily.

Why is water important? We need it for washing. We need it for comfort. We need it for drinking. Do we have enough of it? We have plenty of it, but we have to process it and it costs a lot of money to process that and so it's a critical issue of transporting, processing to be able to drink safe, potable water.

There is a definite need for saving water in our country today.

Topics: Building Green, Tankless Water Heaters, Wastewater Treatment, Water Filtration & Water Quality, Water Heaters, Water Saving Devices, WaterSense

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