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The Next Wave of Water Savings

Water conservation programs are popping up around the country. Is it time for your approach to go beyond the basics?

Water-saving washers and dishwashers. High-efficiency and dual-flush toilets. Eco performance showerheads and faucets. All are well-established components of water conservation programs - and have proven effective for builders large and small. For instance, KB Home, the first national builder to partner with EPA's WaterSense program, has used water-saving fixtures and appliances to reduce water consumption in its homes by 20 percent.

While a 20 percent savings is impressive, some builders are finding creative ways to save even more. There is potential for big savings, for example, by rethinking the home's interior plumbing infrastructure and reducing the need for lawn irrigation.

Creative Plumbing

Tankless water heaters. A tankless water heater will be most effective if it's placed as close to the point of use as possible. "Sometimes you might need two instead of one," according to John Barrows, a Long Island-based green builder, and co-author of "Green Building for Dummies."

Shorter pipe runs. Centrally locating a conventional water heater can reduce hot water piping. With less heat loss as water travels through the pipe, users won't run the water as long while waiting for it to heat up.

Recirculating systems. A hot-water recirculating system uses a pump to quickly move hot water from the tank to the tap, while simultaneously sending cooled water back to the tank. One potential downside, according to Barrows, is that the system can be an energy drain if it's left on all the time. He suggests adding timers, motion detectors, or a simple switch "so you can turn the system on like you turn on the lights."

Graywater recycling. One such system collects water from the sink and pumps it to the toilet for flushing. Another incorporates a small sink basin and aerated spout into a toilet tank lid. The spout attaches to a water supply line, letting the homeowner wash or get a drink with fresh water that then gets reused for flushing. Barrows likes both systems because they make water "do double duty before it's gone for good."

Outdoor Opportunities

Sprinkler spray. Save water by placing lawn sprinklers so the patterns overlap, rather than spreading them out. This may seem counterintuitive, but when sprinkler heads are spread out, homeowners compensate by over-watering.

Grass elimination. Replace grass, where possible, with plants surrounded by mulch, which need less water.

Rainwater utilization. Deidre Irwin, program coordinator at the Florida Water Star program, recommends:

  • Moving plants away from the home so they need only rainwater for irrigation.
  • Redirecting downspouts so they water landscaped beds.
  • Adding devices that slow water flow, so more can be absorbed before reaching the storm sewer.


"One idea is to take those little spillways at the end of the downspouts and turn them backwards," Irwin says.

Ted Cater of Atlanta's Earthcraft House, a sustainable building certification program run by the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association and the Southface Energy Institute, says the program's staffers are "huge proponents" of rainwater harvesting for irrigation but notes that such systems can be expensive. More affordable options include eliminating the typical strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street, and using water-permeable pavers, which let water filter into the ground instead of flowing down the storm drain.