Builders: Make Every Drop of Water Count

As a recognized pioneer of the green building movement, Allen Construction of Santa Barbara, California, fields a lot of questions about water conservation.

Those questions have only increased as California's drought extends into its fourth year and the governor has issued a continued state of emergency that includes mandatory water restrictions. However, the silver lining to those non-existent rain clouds may be a renewed focus nationally on water efficiency.

"Water conservation in homes is finally getting the attention it deserves," says Karen Feeney, business development manager for Allen Construction. "Builders are paying more attention to reducing water use, and homeowners want to be more water efficient, too."

For many, that focus is long overdue, especially when you consider the average American family of four uses about 400 gallons of water a day, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) WaterSense® Program. Of that, 70 percent is used indoors, with the bathroom toilet alone using 27 percent. Clothes washers rank a close second, using 21 percent of a household's water.

Builders: Make Every Drop of Water Count

Save with a systematic approach

A systematic approach to water savings is part of every residential build/remodel or commercial project Allen Construction undertakes in and around water-conscious Santa Barbara County.

"We start by looking at water conservation measures based on ease of implementation and cost-effectiveness," Feeney says. "Checking and eliminating water leaks in an existing home, and ensuring they don't occur in new construction, is one of the best places to begin."

Indeed, according to the EPA, 5 to 10 percent of American homes have water leaks that waste 90 gallons of water or more per day. Stopping those leaks can save 177 billion gallons of water annually.

systematic approach to water savings

Choose water-efficient products and save

After addressing leaks, installing water-efficient fixtures and appliances can cut consumption by as much as 30 percent, according to the EPA. Since the average household spends about $500 on water and sewer annually, that can translate into savings of $170 a year.

One simple way to ensure water efficiency is to look for WaterSense-labeled faucets, showerheads and aerators for existing faucets. Moen's full line of WaterSense-certified products not only help save water, they can earn points for LEED certification or other green building programs, too.

Among appliances, updating the family clothes washer can have a big impact. "Traditional models use an average of 41 gallons of water per load," Feeney says. "But new high-efficiency models use about 27 gallons."

Choose water-efficient products and save

Enhance outdoor efficiencies

Once water use inside the home has been addressed, the next place to look is outdoors, since landscape irrigation uses more water than showers and clothes washers combined. One of the best ways to conserve? Replace a water-thirsty lawn with drought-tolerant plants, or landscape a new home without a lawn at all. The EPA's What to Plant Page provides a state-by-state breakdown of what works in your area. Also, look for leaks in sprinkler systems - a hole as small as the head of a ball-point pen can waste as much as 6,300 gallons of water per month.

For even more water savings, consider a water-harvesting system that uses gray water, or stores rainwater for later irrigation use. Many systems, such as those connected to the clothes washer, shower and bathroom sink drains, can be set up simply to drain into an underground area in the yard or garden. But check local requirements, as water collection is regulated in some states. Gray water collection systems also usually need a clearly labeled, easy-to-access, three-way valve so they can be redirected into the sewer line if needed.

Enhance outdoor efficiencies

With a systematic approach in your next build or remodel, you can go far to conserve one of our planet's most precious resources, earn green building points, and provide value and savings to your clients.