Working for Efficiency

January 08, 2013
veronica blette_epa_watersense
Veronica Blette

Last fall, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) WaterSense program introduced several new actions to help businesses, organizations and homeowners save water. WQP Assistant Editor Williette Nyanue spoke with Veronica Blette, WaterSense program manager, to learn about the new initiatives and the benefits of water efficiency.

Williette Nyanue: Tell us about the new workplace best management practices (BMPs) and the new specifications for apartments and condos.

Veronica Blette: “WaterSense at Work: Best Management Practices for Commercial and Institutional Facilities” is a compilation of water-saving tips, techniques and fixture recommendations for the commercial and institutional sectors, including hospitality, food service, healthcare, laboratory, office buildings and educational facilities. The easy-to-use guide includes in-depth sections covering BMPs for water management planning; water use monitoring and education; sanitary fixtures and equipment; and much more.

In 2012, we released an update to our specification for new homes, which applies to homes labeled after Jan. 1, 2013. The update enables apartment and condominium units to earn the label, which will allow those residents to enjoy the comforts of home and save water and energy by using WaterSense-labeled plumbing fixtures, efficient hot water systems and low-maintenance, water-smart landscapes.

With the revised specification:

  • New apartments or condos can earn the WaterSense label.
  • WaterSense requires builders of WaterSense-labeled homes to use EPA’s Water Budget Tool to inform their landscape design.
  • If an irrigation system with a weather-based irrigation controller is used to water the lawn, the controller must be a WaterSense-labeled model.
  • Showerheads must be WaterSense-labeled models that use 2 gal per minute or less.

Nyanue: How is the WaterSense program faring?

Blette: Our program as a whole is faring well, and the BMPs specifically have been very well received. In developing them, we tried to work closely with a variety of stakeholders to ensure that they would be compatible with and complement existing programs and resources provided by Energy Star and other green building programs. We developed case studies for different types of facilities to demonstrate the possible savings and help users apply the BMPs to their specific challenges. We also created sector-specific fact sheets to highlight the greatest water uses in the facility and direct users to the most applicable sections of the guide. We are looking forward to receiving feedback from users as they put the guide into practice within their organizations and facilities.

Nyanue: How does being water efficient benefit homeowners and businesses?  

Blette: With pervasive droughts and high energy prices across the country, nearly everyone is looking for ways to conserve resources and cut costs. Promoting water efficiency is our priority, but it is easy to forget that it takes a considerable amount of energy to deliver and treat the water we use every day. Heating water also requires a lot of energy. Homes with electric water heaters, for example, can spend one-quarter of their electric bill just to heat water.

By using a little “water sense,” we can all save water, energy and money. Giving a home’s main bathroom a high-efficiency makeover by installing a WaterSense-labeled toilet, faucet and showerhead can reduce the average family’s water and electricity costs by $130 per year. A hotel featured in one of our BMP case studies was able to save $68,000 in annual water and electricity costs by doing the same in its guest rooms.

Nyanue: What are easy ways to make homes more water efficient?

Blette: Look for the WaterSense label. The label means that a product has been independently certified to use about 20% less water and work as well or better than standard models. The label can be found on toilets, faucets, showerheads, urinals, irrigation controllers and newly constructed homes.

Find and fix leaks. An American home, on average, can waste more than 10,000 gal of water a year due to common, easy-to-fix household leaks. Finding and fixing these leaks is a simple way to stop water and money from going down the drain.

Make easy shifts to your daily routine. Turning off the water while shaving and brushing your teeth, filling the sink to wash dishes instead of letting the faucet run, washing full loads of laundry and dishes, and watching showering time can all add up to big savings.

Veronica Blette is program manager for WaterSense. Blette can be reached at watersense@epa.gov. Williette Nyanue is assistant editor for Water Quality Products. Nyanue can be reached at wnyanue@sgcmail.com or 847.954.7922.

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