KBB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Jun 17 2010

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Making every drop count

Water efficiency is more important now than ever before

I spoke last week at the PCBC Conference in San Francisco about water efficiency. Although buildings only account for about 15 percent of water use (in California, as per the USGS), conserving water in our buildings is becoming increasingly important. Global-warming-fueled droughts, changing weather and water pollution are pushing our finite water supply to its limit.

It’s important for architects and designers to take responsibility for this water use. Water-efficient faucets, toilets and showerheads should be standard practice (and are standard in states like California, by code).

This illustration (pictured above) best demonstrates how fragile our water supply really is. The blue marble (shown) represents all of the water on Earth. After all, we don’t make water. There is no new water. All of the water on the planet is all of the water we’ve ever had on the planet. The water in your glass may have been sipped by Thomas Jefferson, or in your case, peed out by a dinosaur!

Water is one of the most abundant resources on Earth, yet also one of the most scarce. Although water covers 70 percent of the planet, we cannot drink most of it. A whopping 97 percent of the water on Earth is in the ocean and undrinkable, and another 2 percent sits frozen in the polar icecaps (though not for long with global warming), leaving the remaining one percent for us to drink. Unfortunately, 70 percent of that remaining water is polluted. We are running out of fresh drinking water at an alarming rate.

Currently, some 20 percent of the world’s population (over a billion people) lack access to fresh water. Someone in the world dies of thirst every 8 seconds. A child dies of thirst every 15 seconds. Conserving water is more important now than ever before.

In the United States, we consume more water per person than any other country. The average American uses more water per day than someone in Brazil, Germany, China, Honduras and the United Kingdom combined. More so than anywhere else, conserving water here in the U.S. is not only important, but also necessary as we are consuming more than our share of clean water.

It requires an enormous amount of energy. Some 50 billion kW of energy are used each year to pump, process, clean, filter and transport all of this water. This equates to about a half pound of carbon dioxide for every gallon of water we consume. We can’t solve the energy crisis or climate crisis without addressing our relationship with water.

Our homes consume an incredible amount of fresh drinking water, and most of it is used in places it does not need to be so drinkable. You could easily cut household water use by 30 percent through water-efficient fixtures. I wanted to share some of my recent finds that have me excited about water savings:

More than a third of all of the water used inside your home is being flushed down the toilet, literally. We don’t need to flush with clean drinking water. We can use some of the soapy water (called graywater) that gets dumped by your laundry and shower. A dual-flush toilet (pictured) lets you choose a half or full flush, depending on your needs.

Then of course, we don’t need to use water at all. A waterless urinal (pictured) doesn’t need flushing and saves thousands of gallons of water a year, paying for itself in about three years. The Kohler urinal is a work of art.

Showers add up to nearly 20% of all indoor water usage and are the largest users of hot water. By simply installing an ultra low-flow showerhead, you can save up to 4,000 gallons of water annually, and for every gallon of hot water you can save, that’s gas or electricity you don’t need to use to heat it. You can beat the federally required 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) with models that use 1.75 gpm.

Foot pedal controls are a nice design feature that also happen to save an incredible amount of water. While your hands are full with food or dishes, you simply tap the controls to release water only when needed.

Although dishwashers use only 2 percent of the water in your home, they do use nearly 20 percent of the energy. The new Bosch dishwasher is water- and energy-efficient in an incredibly attractive design.

Of course, there are a dozen simple things you can specify to cut water use and not sacrifice design quality. For the complete list of suggestions, you can download my slides from the lecture here.

Eric Corey Freed is an architect and author of four books, including Green$ense for the Home.

This entry was posted on Thursday, June 17th, 2010 at 6:00 AM and is filed under Green, Trends. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.