Blue is the new green
As water conservation moves from trend to mandate, particularly in new construction, industry leaders are shifting their focus toward improving consumer confidence in products and systems that use less water without sacrificing performance.
With better-performing water-conservation products entering the market, it’s to a contractor’s advantage to target consumers who are interested in investing in water- and energy-saving applications, says Kevin Tindall, owner of Princeton, N.J.-based plumbing contractor Tindall & Ranson Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning, which works on residential and light commercial jobs.
As the 2008 chairman of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association’s Green Construction and Water Conservation Task Force, Tindall pushed an agenda that sought to bring to an industry-wide audience an issue that had been relegated to water-starved localities. But the first generation of water-saving products’ lack of efficiency, coupled with poorly communicated industry standards, left little in the way of consumer confidence in green plumbing systems.
“We certainly opened the eyes of the industry that there needed to be an effort in putting this thing together and to have some direction on how to proceed,” he says.
New territorySince then, the industry has largely continued to embrace the concept, first targeting common plumbing products such as toilets, faucets and showerheads, Tindall says. Now, as codes and regulations develop and manufacturers compete to release more efficient products, water conservation will likely push its reach to a range of new applications.
“If we can document and prove this success in water reduction usage through the initial applications, then it gives us more emphasis as we go forward to the more complicated systems,” Tindall explains. That’s likely to include more water-efficient plumbing systems in existing buildings as well as advanced rainwater catchment and graywater systems in new buildings.
Dave Viola, director of special services at the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO), agrees with Tindall. Viola adds that commercial kitchens and the health-care industry are current areas of focus.
“We’re now looking at establishing water-efficiency measures for building water uses that have historically not been covered by the plumbing or mechanical codes, such as landscape irrigation systems and car washes,” he notes.
How plumbing contractors approach these new options depends on whether they’re working with new or existing building stock, says Batya Metaliz, manager of LEED technical development at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in Washington.
Meantime, if a building’s plumbing system is already built to handle products designed for water efficiency, including those accredited by LEED or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program, these unique applications can be easily incorporated, she adds.
“If you can impact change on all the new building stock that’s coming into the marketplace with higher energy-efficient plumbing products and technology, you’re catching it before the building has been put into plans,” Viola explains. “It’s easier to accommodate higher-efficiency appliances, plumbing products, technology and design practices.”
Emphasize educationThe rise of green plumbing products has placed the industry at a crossroads: Better technology will require more effort by contractors to educate consumers on the improved benefits. But educating installers and users of the products is key to building owners receiving the best value for their money and inciting their continued demand for ever-improving water-efficient systems.
Metering, submetering and energy audits also can give consumers understandable metrics for their return on investment, Metaliz says. These measurements encourage continued application of best practices.
“You can get the people who are living or working in those buildings involved in a communal goal,” she explains. “With water, the value placed on it isn’t as high as maybe it should be. Showing a contrast over time is valuable, even if it’s not a monetary value.”
IAPMO works through its Green Plumbers USA division to train industry professionals on how to incorporate a conservation focus into their plumbing practices. The programs train contractors “to determine where opportunities lie for saving water and indirectly energy, and what the cost-benefits associated with those changes are,” Viola says.
Play by the codesWhen IAPMO releases the second edition of its Green Plumbing and Mechanical Code supplement the first half of this year, plumbing contractors can expect to see another strong push in the direction of improved water-conservation efforts, Viola notes. And as consumers and industry leaders delve further into water conservation, practices such as those outlined in the Green Plumbing and Mechanical Code will become mandates, he adds.
“The most effective water-conservation tool is to change the minimum require-ments,” he says. “Making it voluntary and incentivizing green building is great. And voluntarily, many companies, many individuals are making that leap. But it’s not until you make it mandatory that it’s a wholesale change that really makes the benefits.”
Industry regulators continue to add to a growing list of codes, committees and commissions. The National Association of Home Builders features a Green Building Standard that specifies water-conservation practices.
The PHCC’s Green Construction and Water Conservation Task Force offers water- and energy-conservation webinars and online classes for members on its website. For nearly a century it has been active in producing the National Standard Plumbing Code, updated every three years.
States and metropolitan areas are beginning to go beyond standard water-conservation codes to feature restrictions colored by regional climates as well as current and projected available water supply. California, for example, is requiring that by 2014 all toilets and urinals use no more than 1.28 gallons of water per flush.
Contractors can expect increased consumer consciousness based on tax incentives and regular, consistent cost savings.
Tindall explains that, for the most part, water saving-related regulations will facilitate the building process. Beyond that, consumer consciousness will increase as the idea of saving money by saving water and the availability of more efficient products prolong the water-conservation effort’s stay in the spotlight.
“The automotive industry understands that you can get conservation and not give up convenience and comfort, and the plumbing industry is doing the same thing,” Tindall says. “The cost of energy is obviously going to go up as time goes on, and the cost of water is going to go up as well. As water availability in different areas becomes an issue and the price is driven higher, I think consumers will embrace water-conserving technology.”
Hallie Busta is a free-lance writer working toward her master’s degree in journalism.