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How to Make Every Drop Count

Back in February, I wrote a newsletter introduction noting the importance of water from a resource perspective. This week, in honor of the new McGraw-Hill publication on the importance of water efficiency, I wanted to explore some of the opportunities and techniques of saving water (and energy) in buildings.

According to McGraw-Hill, saving energy is a big motivator for saving water. Indeed, heating water requires approximately 10 percent of all building energy use in the U.S., mostly in the residential sector. When you add the energy to treat and pump water, it represents approximately 6 percent of national energy consumption, about half as much as all cars and trucks use.

At home, I've got a great 1.5 gallon per minute Roadrunner showerhead by Evolve. Based on flow rate, this showerhead saves more than 40 percent of the water and water heating energy compared to a code minimum (which if it were any more wasteful, it would be illegal), but there is some evidence that people with low-flow showerheads take longer showers.

The Roadrunner also has a really cool feature that it automatically turns off the water when it gets to a certain temperature. Apparently, SOME people turn on the hot water and go do other stuff while they're waiting for the water to come to temperature (you know who you are…). The Roadrunner saves energy, water (approximately 7,000 gallons) and time by keeping the right-temperature water ready for you.

Another great new water retrofit product coming soon is the HydroRight dual flush toilet kit. This product could save 25 percent over standard 1.6 gallons/flush toilets and 60 percent or more over older models. This technology can be installed on just about any flush toilet in a residential or non-residential building and allows you to adjust flush volumes depending on the need.

Waterless urinals are a low-cost retrofit option as well. Several technologies are available from Falcon Waterfree, Waterless and ZeroFlush. Having no electronics or need for water makes these technologies less expensive than automatic flush to install or retrofit.

And, contrary to popular belief, flushing makes urinals dirtier, not cleaner. Bacteria sampling tests show that bacteria counts are 20 times higher on a flush urinal than a non-flush waterless fixture. Basically, as exposure to the air starts putting bacteria on their heels, flushing gives them a protective bath and lets them fight another day, but waterless urinals don't give them that chance.

Combining these technologies with efficient cooling towers, low-water landscaping and rainwater capture and reuse, you can reduce potable water consumption by up to 70 percent. Lack of available water will bring building construction to a halt long before lack of available energy does, so for their own sake, let's hope the development community wakes up to this reality.

If you live in or around the New York area, or near an airport for that matter, you should visit the GreenBuildingsNY conference next week (June 16th & 17th) at the Javits Conference Center to learn about these water-saving techniques, as well as practical tips on how to save energy and take advantage of nearly risk-free returns of 30 percent or more. Yours truly is the conference chair and it would be great to see you-all there.

Rob Watson is executive editor of You can reach Rob at [email protected]  

Image by nkzs.

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