LESSONS FOR DEVELOPERS, CONTRACTORS, LANDSCAPERS AND HOMEOWNERS ABOUT GREEN LIVING
By Clint Wolfe
A model exemplifying a new era in home design and construction was built on the campus of the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas. Any developer, contractor or landscaper looking to stay relevant in an environment where homeowners and renters are increasingly resource conscious should know how it’s done. This house holds the keys to residential conservation while saving homeowners thousands of dollars in utility bills and hundreds of hours in maintenance per year.
The WaterSense Labeled Home at the Dallas AgriLife Center is a project in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense Program. The fully functioning home serves as a model of how being smart about water conservation ties into annual household savings and environmental consciousness. The home employs water-saving technologies, landscaping and building methods alongside recycled, renewable building materials to show how several interventions can work in concert to conserve resources and save money.
The WaterSense House
While new homes can be built and landscaped to specification for water efficiency, older homes must be retrofitted. The Dallas WaterSense Labeled Home, for example, was built in the early 1980s as housing for maintenance workers of the AgriLife Center. Retrofitting began December 2012 and the model house was opened March 2013. It is the only WaterSense Labeled Home in North Texas.
The WaterSense Labeled Home employs a series of interventions to tackle the average household’s biggest water-wasting room: the bathroom. Faucets, toilets and showerheads have been swapped for high-efficiency models that together save about 50 gallons of water per day, per person. The toilet alone, for example, uses .6 gallons of water per flush compared to five to seven gallons per flush models used when the home was constructed in the ‘80s.
But the key conservation component inside the WaterSense Labeled Home is a hot water on-demand system, which can save the roughly 200 gallons per day that the EPA estimates are consumed by the average household while waiting for hot water. The on-demand system offsets the wasted amount by delivering instantly hot water and utilizing a thermostat that prioritizes water temperatures throughout the house. Water runs by pushing a button or tripping sensors installed alongside appliances.
Beyond water-saving considerations, the house utilizes renewable and recycled materials for energy savings. All lighting fixtures are power-saving LED models; counter top material is constructed from recycled, crushed fluorescent light bulbs; the faux wood flooring is actually made of porcelain and the kitchen sink is constructed of 80 percent post-consumer materials.
The main water-saving component of the WaterSense Labeled Home is the water efficient landscape, which works to offset the EPA estimate that 30 percent of potable water is devoted to outdoor uses.
Regionally native and adaptive plants, and AgriLife developed drought tolerant turfgrass requires very little water, replacing more traditional higher water use plants and turfgrass along with pervious hardscape landscape features like stone walkways, manmade dry creek beds and decorative boulders. Aside from saving water and money, native and adaptive plants require fewer fertilizers and pesticides and tend to be more resilient to drought and heat than other varieties.
A drip irrigation system, which draws its water from a 1,000 gallon rain water cistern, virtually eliminates evaporation at the WaterSense Labeled Home and cuts water usage by about two-
thirds, saving time and money.
Significance for Business
Why water conservation when water is still relatively cheap? Moreover, why should a business revamp its resource-conscious offerings for what might appear to be a niche market?
Start with the popularity of sustainable living. Entire publications like Green Living Magazine, Sustainable Living Magazine, Dwell and a myriad of online outlets testify to that trendiness of “green business.” But aside from maintaining a “cool” image by promoting business resource conservation for the greater good, there is a pragmatic reason for change: the lowest price likely ever paid for water has already been paid.
In other words, prices are rising and customers will want to offset the cost. If that means conservation must be integral in the household – it will be. This is a “trend” that’s here to stay.
With the continuing drought, resources become scarcer. This is especially true in urban and suburban areas now experiencing an upsurge in residency. Urban areas are growing, not just in Texas, but globally. About 54 percent of humans now live in cities – a number projected to jump to about 66 percent by 2050, according to the United Nations. On a local scale, however, roughly 1,100 persons are moving into North Texas per day and water prices have begun rising alongside government-imposed restrictions on usage.
In much of North Texas, for example, watering last summer was restricted to twice per month after 6 p.m. Cities are also beginning to impose building codes calling for stricter resource management practices while housing authorities have resorted to auditing air conditioning, heating and irrigation practices. These practices have become commonplace across the state, reflecting the simple fact that water has started to run out.
The time for business adaptation is at hand.
Clint Wolfe is Urban Water Program Manager at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Dallas. A&M offers courses, seminars, tours and demonstrations for businesses looking to join the future of water and energy conservation. Visit www.dallas.tamu.edu for information on the WaterSense Labeled Home.