Water Woes: What the California Drought Means for Home Building

Filed in Environment, Membership by on April 17, 2015 2 Comments

parched groundAfter visiting a survey site near Lake Tahoe that should have been covered with five feet of snow on April 1 and instead finding dry grass, California Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order mandating new water conservation measures.

The drought that began four years ago continues to worsen, and residential use is now in the crosshairs.

The order called for a 25% reduction in urban water consumption. That means stricter code requirements for water efficiency in fixtures and appliances, mandates for replacing lawns with drought-resistant landscaping, and incentives for replacing older, less efficient home appliances.

But it does not mean a moratorium on home building.

“That would be counterproductive. You won’t get the water conservation results you want, but you will adversely affect the economy, and current new home building is already less than half of what is needed to meet existing demand,” said David Cogdill, president/CEO of the California Building Industry Association. “Home building is part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

The association, which supports the new rules, has been making a strong case for the industry’s decades-long commitment to water conservation for some time.

Early last year, CBIA commissioned a research report that shows how dramatically water use in new homes has been reduced over time, and makes clear that replacing fixtures and appliances in existing homes will achieve the greatest savings in residential use.

In fact, new homes in California can save 46,500 gallons of water a year — nearly 50% — compared with those built before 1980. Plus, home construction is a major driver of growth. Building 100,000 new homes creates 209,000 jobs and pumps $38 billion into the state economy, and that’s at only half the normal pace of construction.

In an op-ed published in the Sacramento Bee, CBIA’s Cogdill drove home these realities and called for an incentive program for retrofitting older homes.

Michael Strong, a California builder who teaches NAHB Certified Green Professional classes, says, “Consumers don’t have to sacrifice performance to switch to water-conserving fixtures and appliances, and rebates and discounts for retrofits are working in places like Santa Monica. But water is still cheap, and some Californians pay a flat rate for water no matter how much they use. Making people pay the real cost for their water should also be part of the solution.”

Strong would also like to see a major public relations campaign to educate consumers about the need to conserve water. “Some people aren’t paying attention to this problem.”

With additional regulation in individual water districts possible down the line, that’s worrisome.

Here’s how new homes can be built to use less water:

  • Low-flow faucets, including those with EPA’s Water Sense label
  • Dual-flush toilets that use only 1.28 gallons per flush
  • Shower heads with a maximum flow rate of 2 gallons per minute
  • Dishwashers, washing machines and water heaters certified by Energy Star
  • Demand-controlled hot water systems to minimize waste while waiting for hot water
  • Xeriscaping with drought-resistant plants
  • Computer-controlled, low-volume irrigation systems using drip or microsprays
  • Minimization of turf on community grounds
  • Artificial turf

For additional information, contact NAHB Director of Sustainability & Green Building Kevin Morrow, 800-368-5242 x8375.

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  1. Great article!
    The measures noted have worked in Colorado for more than a one hundred years!
    All it takes is implementation and constant supervision to ensure that these noted measures take place daily!
    ONwards and UPwars with water and energy conservation and preservation!

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