The following is an excerpt from ‘Forging a path to reduce the residential water footprint’ ~ Water Canada‘s Nov./Dec. issue, by Kaitlynn Dodge
For a city that relies solely on groundwater, conservation is a given challenge. Add to that a rapidly growing population and a strategy to reduce water use by 20 per cent by 2020, and you’ve got one ambitious target. Guelph, Ontario is the fifth fastest growing city in Canada. Currently, population sits at around 118,000, but it is expected to rise to 144,500 by the year 2021.
How will the city meet the goal? Planners believe that builders have a role to play in municipal water use reduction. That’s the reason that the City launched Blue Built Homes, a water-efficiency standard and rebate pilot program.
The initiative encourages collaboration with local builders to promote water efficiency in new building developments and promises long-term financial savings for consumers. The goal is to reduce strain on the water system and help defer costly capital infrastructure investments. Wayne Galliher, Guelph’s water conservation project manager, says that new homes were using on average more water than homes 30 years their age. By understanding the relationship of water use and distribution in the home and going beyond the building code, he says a significant difference can be made. Owners of the 25 Blue Built units built to date are already seeing a return on investment…
The features of a Blue Built Home
Carol Maas, innovation and technology director of the POLIS Water Sustainability Project and author of a pending report on water-sensitive design for new buildings, suggests that Guelph is emerging as an expert in the field. She says that water efficient homes need many of the features that are being applied in Blue Built Homes, such as efficient fixtures and appliances, hot water re-circulation, rainwater harvesting, grey water reuse, and drought-tolerant landscapes… Basic features also include removing water-primed floor drains and improving hot water delivery in the home while using the embedded energy for other purposes. Blue Built silver homes include a grey water reuse system, which reclaims and purifies water from showers and baths to flush toilets. At the gold level, homes feature a rainwater harvesting system that collects, stores, and purifies rainwater for use in toilet flushing, outdoor landscaping, and gardening….
Maas suggests that municipalities benefit most from this type of program through lower infrastructure costs, but consumers seem to be benefiting as well. While there is an initial investment of $800 to $1,400 to acquire a bronze level certification and a $10,000 to $15,000 investment for gold, buyers are seeing financial returns on their investments. On an annual basis, owners are seeing a 20 to 30 per cent reduction in water and energy costs. As the City moves toward full-cost accounting to meet renewal targets for infrastructure, these savings are expected to increase….An important note for home buyers is the maintenance requirements of installed systems. Understanding those needs and the associated costs will reduce after-the-fact surprises.
Driving demand to build blue
Community response to the concept has been positive, but more units will have to be built to achieve the impact that City of Guelph staff are hoping for. Sharing the homeowner experience and educating consumers about the benefits of water efficient homes is an importance piece of that growth. “We want to spread the word about what owners are enjoying about their homes,” says Galliher. The power of social capital is invaluable in helping to gain awareness of what the program is.