Efficiency Rating System Scores Water Use in New Homes

by | Mar 17, 2015

gutterman, sara, green mediaI spent a few days last month at the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) conference in San Diego. During the show, I had a conversation with a friend, who is in charge of sustainability for one of the nation’s top production builders.

“The energy conversation is nearing its end,” he said. “When people come to buy homes, they’re already educated about the concept of energy efficiency and saving money on monthly utility bills. We’re now talking with homebuyers about comfort and health. We’re selling the fact that their families deserve a well-built, well-functioning home.”

Indeed, comfort seems to be the frontrunner on builders’ minds these days, with energy efficiency, building science, and healthy indoor air quality as the fundamental tenets.

But there is another element that is racing to the forefront: water. With severe drought conditions expanding across the globe, water is rapidly shifting from a nascent concern to a ubiquitous anxiety.

California, Texas, and Arizona are on the front line of the water crisis, experiencing extreme drought conditions, record warm temperatures, and troubling low reservoir and aquifer levels.

After several years of below-normal rainfall, California faces its most severe drought emergency in decades. California’s crippling drought has brought the state to its knees, forcing policy makers into uncomfortable and unchartered territory.   Communities across the state are running out of drinking water. Wildfire danger continues to be unusually high. And farmers in the Central Valley (the nation’s most productive agricultural zone) may be forced to keep nearly 500,000 acres of cropland fallow, a production loss that could lead to billions of dollars in economic damage and thousands of lost jobs.

States throughout the country are making major investments in upgrading water infrastructure and creating plans for efficient water use for agricultural applications, electricity generation, golf course irrigation, landscaping, as well as industrial, commercial, and domestic use.

Fortunately, as with most calamities that threaten humankind, innovative ideas and solutions are in hot pursuit of the problems. Entrepreneurial companies are experimenting with technologies that can mitigate water risk, and forward-thinking building professionals are introducing new approaches and tools for diminishing water use in homes and communities.

One such innovative program is the Water Efficiency Rating Score (WERS), created by the Green Builder Coalition, in cooperation with Build Green New Mexico (BGNM), Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association (SFAHBA), and members of the City of Santa Fe Water Conservation Committee (SFWCC).

Much like the Home Energy Rating System (HERS Index), which scores the energy efficiency of a home, the WERS is a software-based program that scores the water use of new and existing homes. Unlike the EPA’s WaterSense program (which provides a label for water using devices like faucets and toilets as well as a conservation checklist for new homes), the WERS program calculates water consumption rates from fixtures in a home and compares those rates to industry baselines and prescriptive path requirements for water efficiency programs.

Currently, the WERS only includes indoor water use, but there are plans to incorporate outdoor use, and indoor use can currently be offset by the harvesting and reuse of greywater and rainwater.

The WERS score, which ranks homes from 0 to 100 (with lower scores indicating greater water efficiency) enables the comparison of water use in homes, which will undoubtedly influence appraisals, lending, and insurance, and will certainly encourage builders to increase the water efficiency of the homes they build for further competitive differentiation.

Keep an eye open for the WERS program—it’s certainly coming to a community near you.

Sara is the Co-founder and CEO of Green Builder Media. An experienced entrepreneur, investor, and sustainability consultant, Sara specializes in developing companies that are simultaneously sustainable and profitable. Sara is a former venture capitalist and has participated in a portion of the life cycle (from funding to exit) of over 20 companies. Sara graduated Cum Laude from Dartmouth College and holds an MBA in entrepreneurship and finance from the University of Colorado. This article was republished with permission from Green Builder Media and was originally published on the Green Builder Media blog.

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