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Water efficiency to play bigger role in residential projects

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Water efficiency to play bigger role in residential projects

Taken from a White Paper based on exclusive research on water management by Building Design+Construction, Professional Builder and Professional Remodeler.

By By David Barista and Robert Cassidy, Contributing Editors December 31, 2009
This article first appeared in the PR January 2010 issue of Pro Remodeler.


Principle findings of the survey

Even with the sluggish housing market and a more budget-conscious consumer base, residential construction professionals expect to see increased investment in water conservation measures in remodeling and home building projects through 2011, according to an exclusive survey of contractors, developers and residential architects by Reed Construction Media.

More than half (53 percent) of respondents to the September 2009 survey said they expect the majority of their firms' projects to employ water-saving technologies, products and systems in the next two years. In comparison, just 38 percent of respondents said their firm used water-efficient features on the majority of projects in the last 18 to 24 months (Table 1).

What's driving the increased demand for water conservation in projects? The desire to reduce water and energy costs, including sewer and wastewater charges, is the biggest factor cited by survey respondents. Two-thirds mentioned water and energy cost reductions as reasons for employing water-saving measures, while 54 percent said environmental stewardship was a key driver. Other reasons cited by respondents include: code restrictions and requirements (38 percent); avoiding current/future water shortages (34 percent); green home certification (33 percent); and government regulations and standards (30 percent).

"Green home building is here to stay," said one survey respondent. "High-performance houses help the environment as well as the end user of the home."

The sustainability effort

Other respondents said the demand for water-efficiency measures is being driven primarily by compliance requirements. Naturally, the added cost for implementing water conservation measures is a major concern among respondents. As one put it, "We are conscious of environmental factors when we develop, but we also must balance the costs of the projects with the costs of the green features we want to use. It ain't easy."

"People aren't very interested in anything that costs them more initially," said the president of a building company in Wyoming. "Almost all efforts at conservation or efficiency take a sales effort," said the CEO of a Missouri company. "Rarely have we found that people are motivated to 'do the right thing' unless it affects their pocketbook."

Another respondent said eventually builders (and buyers) won't have a choice of whether or not to go green. "While green building sounds great, ultimately local municipalities will remove the incentives and make the guidelines mandatory, thereby increasing the cost to developers and builders and ultimately the homeowners," he said. "Ironically, they will be the same people who cry about the lack of affordable housing stock."

Hopping on the technology bandwagon

The majority of survey respondents said their firms are already implementing a broad array of water-efficiency measures on their projects to achieve water reduction goals — on average, between 10 and 11 water-efficiency strategies. Moreover, they expect their firms to employ a greater number of measures in the next two years (between 14 and 15 strategies, on average).


The majority of respondents said they believe the total cost of water for their firms’ projects will “increase somewhat,” with more than one-fifth (22 percent) predicting it would “increase significantly.”

Low-flow showerheads, high-efficiency dishwashers and tankless water heaters are among the most commonly specified "interior" water-efficient technologies, followed by high-efficiency clothes washers, low-flow faucets and high-efficiency single-flush gravity toilets. Dual-flush toilets and water metering devices are among the interior technologies that are gaining popularity (Table 2).

Despite the widespread adoption of water-saving technologies and strategies, both builders and buyers are drowning in greenwash, according to several respondents, making it difficult to choose products that are both cost-effective and functional. "Due to our current economy, selling a home that costs 20 percent [more] due to the implementation of so-called 'green' products is a difficult sale," said one respondent. "I strongly believe that some organization needs to honestly evaluate and certify all of these 'green' products."

  Used in last 18–24 months Expect to use in next 18–24 months
None 17% 9%
Less than 10% of projects 17% 11%
10% to 25% of projects 10% 7%
26% to 50% of projects 14% 12%
51% to 75% of projects 5% 15%
More than 75% of projects 30% 38%
Don't know/can't estimate 8% 8%
BASE: 161



  Used in last 18–24 months Expect to use in next 18–24 months
High-efficiency showerheads (2.0 gal/min or less) 70% 81%
High-efficiency dishwashers (10 gal or less/load) 55% 79%
Tankless water heaters 52% 71%
High-efficiency clothes washers (water factor of 7.5 or less) 49% 65%
Low-flow kitchen faucets (2.2 gal/min or less) 47% 68%
High-efficiency lavatory faucets (1.5 gal/min or less) 46% 67%
High-efficiency single-flush gravity toilets (1.28 gal/flush or less) 43% 64%
Water metering 42% 51%
High-efficiency pressure-assisted toilets 32% 39%
High-efficiency dual-flush toilets 29% 58%
Dual-flush flush valves 26% 48%
High-efficiency flushometer toilets (1.28 gal/flush or less) 26% 42%
Water submetering 19% 33%
Non-water fixtures (sanitizer dispensers, UV disinfectant, etc.) 16% 31%
Water use audits 11% 24%
Graywater reuse systems (for flushing toilets, etc.) 9% 24%
BASE: 139–140



  Used in last 18–24 months Expect to use in next 18–24 months
Stormwater management plans 73% 77%
Retention ponds 55% 58%
Drip irrigation systems 48% 55%
Low-water-use landscaping, indigenous planting 45% 60%
Pervious pavement (parking, walkways, etc.) 40% 56%
Automated irrigation systems (including evapotranspiration sensors, soil moisture sensors, weather-based systems, etc.) 40% 55%
Pressure-reducing valves (for landscape irrigation) 36% 45%
High-efficiency irrigation systems 30% 49%
Rainwater harvesting/retention systems (for outdoor use, e.g., landscape irrigation) 26% 45%
Bioswales 23% 33%
Low-impact development ("LID") 23% 31%
Turf reduction programs 22% 37%
On-site wastewater treatments systems 22% 26%
Rain gardens 16% 33%
Green (vegetated) roofs 11% 20%
Artificial turf 9% 16%
Municipally provided recycled water systems ("purple pipe") 8% 19%
Rainwater reuse systems (for indoor use, e.g., flushing toilets) 5% 20%
BASE: 131–132


  Used in last 18–24 months Expect to use in next 18–24 months
National Green Building Standard (NAHB) 29% 66%
LEED for Homes (USGBC) 22% 46%
WaterSense Product Labeling Program (EPA) 17% 47%
Green Globes (Green Building Initiative) 10% 32%
LEED for Neighborhood Development 10% 29%
Environments for Living (Masco) 5% 16%
GreenPlumbers Accreditation 1% 11%
WaterSense Water-Efficient Single-Family New Home Specification (EPA) - 45%
BASE: 156–158




In September 2009, Professional Remodeler's sister publication, Building Design+Construction, conducted an online survey among 10,000 residential construction professionals to determine their opinions, perceptions and actions relative to water issues. The results were published in BD+C's November 2009 "Green Buildings + Water Performance" white paper.

Principle findings of the survey

  • Nearly half of respondents said their companies had used water-efficient technologies, products or systems in 26 percent or more of their projects in the last two years, with 30 percent stating that their firms had done so in more than three-fourths of their projects.
  • Nearly two-thirds said their firms plan to use water-efficient systems in the next couple of years, with 38 percent forecasting their companies would do so in more than three-fourths of projects.
  • The majority of respondents said they expect water costs to increase somewhat over the next 2–3 years, with 22 percent expecting significant increases.
  • More than a third of respondents reported problems in as many as one-fourth of their companies' projects.

Stormwater management plans and low-flow fixtures are among the top water conservation measures among residential contractors

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