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May. 7, 2013

Prevent Water Waste

By Alicia Marrs, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The new housing market is looking better than it has in years, and the multifamily sector is leading that recovery. According to Fortune magazine, multifamily homes comprise an estimated 33 percent of all residential construction today—quite an increase from the 20 percent of years past.

To capitalize on current market conditions, multifamily executives and builders are looking for ways to differentiate themselves from the competition. Many forward-thinking firms have already incorporated environmentally sustainable features, including insulation, energy-efficient windows and ENERGY STAR-qualified appliances. But with much of the housing upswing occurring in drought-prone parts of the country, it’s not enough for buildings to be energy-efficient. Today’s homeowners, renters and building managers also understand the value of saving water, especially if they can maintain the quality and convenience expected in a new home.

That’s where WaterSense comes in. Launched in 2006, WaterSense is a voluntary partnership program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help protect the future of our nation’s water supply by offering people a simple way to use less water with water-efficient products, new homes and services. All WaterSense-labeled products must be independently certified to be at least 20 percent more efficient and perform as well or better than standard models. From performance-tested toilets and satisfying showers to irrigation controllers that only water plants when needed, WaterSense-labeled products have been making waves in homes of all types for several years.

Since the program’s inception, WaterSense has helped consumers save 287 billion gallons of water and $4.7 billion in water and energy bills. WaterSense is hoping to increase those savings numbers by tapping into the burgeoning multifamily market. As of January 2013, units in multifamily buildings can earn the WaterSense label, giving apartment residents, condo owners, building developers and operators a new way to save water, energy and financial resources.

Certified—with convenience 

When originally released in 2009, WaterSense’s labeling specification for new homes covered only single-family homes. Builders were invited to join the program and construct residences to earn the WaterSense label. The program got off to a slow but steady start due to the housing market downturn, but the EPA estimates there are now more than 220 WaterSense-labeled single-family homes across the country.

Compared to traditional homes, WaterSense-labeled new single-family homes, condos and apartments can save a family of four up to 50,000 gallons of water per year (equivalent to the amount of water used to wash 2,000 loads of laundry) and as much as $600 per year in water and energy costs. Consumers can feel good about themselves every time they turn the key—and save money every time they pay utility bills. For multifamily buildings where utility costs are included in monthly fees, this means an opportunity for building management to reduce operating costs and keep rents low.

With the plethora of green building certification programs available today, the EPA didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. The WaterSense certification process was designed to dovetail with other green building programs such as the National Green Building Standard, the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED and EPA’s ENERGY STAR programs. In fact, some WaterSense-licensed certification providers also participate in the ENERGY STAR Qualified Homes and USGBC’s LEED for Homes programs, and site visits required for all of these programs can be conducted by the same inspector or rater.

To earn the WaterSense label, units in multifamily buildings must meet the criteria in EPA’s WaterSense New Home Specification (Version 1.1). The specification includes requirements for water-saving technologies and features within individual units, and WaterSense criteria apply to many common spaces in multifamily properties such as laundry rooms and pools. Units must be inspected and certified by a licensed certification provider before they can earn the WaterSense label, providing added confidence and credibility to a building’s greening efforts.

Savings inside and out

On average, about 70 percent of water used at home is used indoors. Apartments and condos that have earned the label will include WaterSense-labeled toilets, faucets and showerheads that have been independently certified to be both high-performing and water-efficient.  In addition, these homes will have ENERGY STAR-qualified dishwashers and clothes washers if installed when the unit is built.

An efficient hot water distribution system must be employed to decrease the amount of time it takes for hot water to reach the faucet or shower. This means that residents won’t waste time, energy and thousands of gallons waiting for hot water to reach the tap or tub—a selling point for future tenants. Building managers will also provide residents in WaterSense-labeled units information to help them understand and reduce their own water use, which can help instill a “green” ethic in the building and cut down on utility bills.

In order for an apartment or condo to earn the WaterSense label, the building must also have independent heating, cooling and hot water systems for each unit. However, buildings utilizing central hot water systems powered by alternative energy sources (such as solar or geothermal) for at least 50 percent of the hot water needs of residential units may also have units that qualify for the label.

Outdoors, WaterSense labeled apartments or condos must have water-smart landscapes. To help landscapers design with water conservation in mind, EPA created a Water Budget Tool that helps ensure efficiency and regional suitability of plantings based on local climate data. If in-ground sprinkler systems or pools are installed on the property, efficient technologies are required to help keep water use low.

A wise choice

From recent college graduates just getting started to empty-nesters looking to simplify their lives, multifamily tenants know that choosing an apartment or condo is a wise investment for the future. Given today’s green and resource-conscious buyers and renters, the decision to provide WaterSense-labeled units is an even wiser investment, not only for the planet, but for your bottom line.

Builders interested in constructing WaterSense labeled homes in multifamily buildings can join the WaterSense program as partners and receive the tools they’ll need to support their efforts. If you’re a multifamily executive looking to add water efficiency as an enhancement for the units in your development, ask your builder to join WaterSense. To learn more about the WaterSense new homes program, visit the EPA homepage.

Alicia Marrs coordinates new homes partnerships and marketing, partner recruitment, and social media outreach for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) WaterSense® Program. Prior to EPA, she worked as an environmental planner in Washington State.


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