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Water Efficiency to Play Bigger Role in Home Building


Water Efficiency to Play Bigger Role in Home Building

Stormwater management plans and low-flow fixtures are among the top water-conservation measures employed by home builders, according to a Professional Builder survey.

By David Barista, Editor-in-Chief, and Robert Cassidy, Contributing Editor December 31, 2009
This article first appeared in the PB January 2010 issue of Pro Builder.

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

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 35 percent of respondents said their firm used water-efficient features on the majority of projects in the last 18-24 months (Table 1).

What's driving the increased demand for water conservation in home-building projects?

The desire to reduce water and energy costs, including sewer and wastewater charges, is the biggest factor cited by survey respondents. Two-thirds of builders 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 who is the president of a Texas home-building company. “High-performance houses help the environment as well as the end user of the home.”

Other respondents, including this Boston-based builder, said the demand for water-efficiency measures is being driven primarily by compliance requirements: “The government regulatory agency has already restricted use of water, particularly for irrigation on new projects. This has impacted us directly and forced us to reduce [the use of] turf and increase [the use of] native species that will not require irrigation after they take hold.”


Naturally, the added cost for implementing water conservation measures is a major concern among respondents. As one residential developer 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 home-building 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.”


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).

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 with home builders (Table 2).

When it comes to “exterior” water-saving measures in home-building projects, it's no surprise that stormwater management plans and retention ponds are the most commonly specific strategies, given that these measures are often mandated by local codes or permit requirements. Drip irrigation systems, low-water-use landscaping and pervious pavement were also cited by respondents as popular strategies. Automated or weather-based irrigation systems and rainwater harvesting/retention systems are among the exterior water-saving strategies that are gaining popularity (Table 3).

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 monthsExpect to use in next 18-24 months
Less than 10% of projects17%11%
10% to 25% of projects10%7%
26% to 50% of projects14%12%
51% to 75% of projects5%15%
More than 75% of projects30%38%
Base: 161
Source: BD+C/Professional Builder 2009 White Paper Survey

 Used in last 18-24 monthsExpect 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 heaters52%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 metering42%51%
High-efficiency, pressure-assisted toilets32%39%
High-efficiency, dual-flush toilets29%58%
Dual-flush flush valves26%48%
High-efficiency flushometer toilets (1.28 gal/flush or less)26%42%
Water submetering19%33%
Non-water fixtures (sanitizer dispensers, UV disinfectant, etc.)16%31%
Water use audits11%24%
Base: 139, 140
Source: BD+C/Professional Builder 2009 White Paper Survey

 Used in last 18-24 monthsExpect to use in next 18-24 months
Stormwater management plans73%77%
Retention ponds55%58%
Drip irrigation systems48%55%
Low-water-use landscaping, indigenous planting45%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 systems30%49%
Rainwater harvesting/retention systems (for outdoor use, e.g., landscape irrigation)26%45%
Low-impact development (“LID”)23%31%
Turf reduction programs22%37%
On-site wastewater treatment systems22%26%
Rain gardens16%33%
Green (vegetated) roofs11%20%
Artificial turf9%16%
Municipally provided recycled water systems (“purple pipe”)8%19%
Base: 131, 132
Source: BD+C/Professional Builder 2009 White Paper Survey



  • Nearly half of respondents said their companies had used water-efficient technologies, products or systems in 26 percent or more of their home-building 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.
  • Builders were most concerned about the possible impact code restrictions or regulations, as well as general economic conditions.
  • 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 projects.

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