How to Increase Water Efficiency in Green Buildings?

Water Efficiency in Green Building

If you want to save money by being more efficient with your water, it can be hard to know where to start because there are so many different ways to reduce your impact on the environment. This guide will teach you how to increase water efficiency in green buildings and the basics of water efficiency, and illustrate ways to implement its suggestions into your own life.

More than 70% of the earth’s surface is covered with water. This is an incredible piece of news for us humans. Because water is one of the essential things we need for our survival on this planet.

However, the stumbling block is the fact that an overwhelming 97% of it is seawater. Only 3% remains potable or fit for human use. 

Another fact we need to consider is that our population is growing steadily and water usage has been increasing at double the rate.

Now that we have become aware of this stark reality, it is time we think about water conservation and raising water efficiency.

Read on to learn more about green buildings and water efficiency technologies. Here you will find how adopting these applications can help you leave the planet better than you found it.

What is a green building?

A green building is an economically friendly building that creates positive impacts on the environment in its planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance and avoids negative environmental impacts. This includes the use of renewable energy, efficient technologies to avoid wastage of natural resources, eco-friendly construction materials, and an emphasis on good indoor air quality. 

The concept of green building is different across different regions of the world based on the variations in climate, traditions and cultural differences, and environmental, social, and economic priorities.

What is meant by water conservation?

Water conservation is the policy for better water management by cutting down water wastage and unnecessary usage. It includes strategies, policies, and activities to manage the use of potable water, protect the water reserves and plan for meeting the current and future demands. 

With a limited supply of freshwater available to us and its demand growing consistently, without a well-thought-out plan, we are making survival difficult for future generations. 

Water efficiency definition

Though often used interchangeably, water conservation and water efficiency do not imply the same. While water conservation is focused on reducing water usage and avoiding wastage, water efficiency technologies involve practices aimed at living with less water availability. 

Water efficiency also focuses on reducing water usage but by using less water instead of managing without it. It also aims at minimizing water wastage, not by curtailing water use but with increased efficiency using modern technologies.

As a part of the green building strategy as well as to save the environment and natural resources for the future, we need to follow both water conservation and water efficiency.

Why is water efficiency important?

The daily use of water in the United States is estimated to be 400 billion gallons (Courtesy: The US Geological Survey). Out of this, approximately 12% or 47 billion gallons is used by buildings towards running the premises including gardening and landscaping.

With developmental activities, more buildings come up and water demand also goes up. Most buildings rely on the municipal water supply to meet their water needs including watering gardens and flushing toilets. Using scarcely available drinking water for purposes that can be managed with recycled water can put a huge strain on the municipal supply. 

As we already know, the availability of potable water is limited. As demand goes beyond availability, it will create a strain on the supply, necessitating water rationing. 

Besides the supply side, excess water usage can create a strain on wastewater treatment facilities. In extreme situations, these facilities may be forced to allow untreated water into water bodies. This can lead to pollution of rivers and lakes or even groundwater. The presence of pollutants like bacteria, toxic metals, and nitrogen in water bodies can harm all living beings dependent on it. 

To manage this situation, we need to have more water pumping stations and wastewater treatment facilities. To run them, we need to spend more energy, resulting in more greenhouse gas emissions.

The solution to all these problems is efficient water use.

Raising water efficiency in green buildings

One of the criteria for green buildings is the incorporation of water-efficient technologies in their design and construction. The core concepts of green buildings on water efficiency as per the US Green Building Council (USGBC) are:

  • Bring down water usage for indoor use through better technologies
  • Lesser water consumption to reduce demand on energy
  • Adopt an eco-friendly approach by avoiding wastage of natural resources 

As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Our need to reduce water usage has led to the development of technologies and applications focusing on raising the efficiency of devices using water. 

Some water-saving strategies to increase water efficiency in green buildings are:

  • Installing high-efficiency plumbing fixtures
  • Fixing submeters to monitor individual water usage
  • Using non-potable water wherever possible
  • Opting for xeriscaping and choosing locally grown plants
  • Selecting water-efficient irrigation technologies

Increasing water efficiency in green buildings is all about choosing path-breaking water-saving technologies to use water judiciously. The management can begin the process by assessing existing water usage and sources, prospects to reduce water usage, and coming up with alternatives.

Tips to raise water efficiency in buildings

  1. Check the present plumbing to detect leakage
  2. Upgrade plumbing equipment and installations
  3. Install meters and submeters to track water consumption
  4. Perform periodical water audits
  5. Set sustainability goals for water usage
  6. Ensure timely maintenance of all fixtures and equipment consuming water
  7. Choose a garden concept and irrigation system designed for low water consumption
  8. Set up rainwater harvesting facility
  9. Recycle gray water for non-potable needs
  10. Raise awareness among building occupants about the need for water conservation

5 steps to reduce freshwater usage in buildings

We don’t need freshwater for all our daily needs. We can manage with recycled water in toilet flushes and for gardening. Here are some ideas to reduce our dependence on potable water.

1. Rainwater harvesting

As the name suggests, this involves collecting rainwater and storing it for later use, instead of letting it flow into the sewage. Rainwater collected from rooftops, balconies, and ground is filtered and treated for non-potable needs. If sufficient care is taken in collection and treatment, rainwater can be used for domestic uses as well. 

2. Gray water recycling

Gray water is the wastewater from sinks, showers, baths, washing machines, dishwashers, and other kitchen appliances. In fact, it includes all wastewater excluding sewage from toilets or water from washing diapers.

The treatment of gray water includes filtering, settlement of solids, separation of lighter solids by flotation, aerobic or anaerobic digestion, and chemical or UV treatment. Even after treatment, gray water is not meant for potable use. It can be used for flushing toilets, irrigation, and even washing clothes. It is ideal for gardening because of the presence of low concentrations of organic matter.

3. Reduction in pressure

In high-rise buildings, it is common to experience higher water pressure on lower floors. This leads to unnecessary wastage of water. Moreover, high water pressure can damage the plumbing, leading to leakages. Installing pressure-reducing values can bring down the water pressure and make it uniform across all the floors in the building. 

4. Reuse water in cooling towers

Most buildings use cooling towers to reduce energy usage. The indoors are kept cooler by evaporation of water in coolers. Using non-potable water in coolers can help reduce the use of potable water. Besides this, reusing and recycling the same water can help in conserving water.

5. Install plumbing fixtures designed for low water use

Showerheads, faucets, and toilet flushes are the main water guzzlers in a building. Much research has gone into developing technologies that bring down water use in these fixtures. Whereas toilet flushes used to consume more than 5 gallons of water per flush, the newer models do the job efficiently with less than 1.5 gallons of water. Faucets mix air with water to add to the volume.

Final Thought

With the demand increasing and water sources depleting, the need of the hour is to balance our needs with the conservation of this limited resource. The concept of green buildings as a whole is aimed at taking an eco-friendly approach to living. Water conservation and raising water efficiency are part of the green building strategy.

It is time we wake up and protect the remaining freshwater sources. Our goal should be to leave the world in a better place than we found. 

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