What if You Could Measure the Future?
According to the United Nations “World Water Development Report 2014“, annual economic growth is estimated at about 6% in developing countries and 2% in higher income countries between 2013 and 2015. As economies grow and diversify, they experience competing demands for water to meet the needs of more municipal and industrial uses, as well as agriculture. Water availability is expected to decrease in many regions. Yet future global agricultural water consumption alone is estimated to increase by ~19% by 2050, and will be even greater in the absence of any technological progress or policy intervention (link). Understanding what impact growing populations and increased development has on existing resources is invaluable to central planning.
Making the Case: Why is WERS Needed?
Currently, the States of California and Nevada are suffering what the USDA calls an exceptional drought. Not far behind are states in the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest as well as some areas in the Southeast. We may not necessarily know where or when the next drought crisis will occur, but we can monitor its impact. At the same time, what if we could predict water use for both new and existing construction? What if we could estimate the potential impact of new construction on water treatment needs and storm water? Wouldn’t the information generated be of value to planners of municipal infrastructure? To design professionals? To potential home buyers or current home owners?
The WERS Program – A New Focus on Water
The Green Builder® Coalition, in cooperation with Build Green New Mexico (BGNM), Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association (SFAHBA), and members of the City of Santa Fe Water Conservation Committee (SFWCC) have created water modeling software that generates a Water Efficiency Rating Score, or WERS. The premise is that verified measurement and incentives will increase participation in conservation efforts.
The initial goal was to integrate the WERS into the BGNM program and use it to document an empirical method of calculating eligibility for water use reduction tax credits. In February of 2014, goals were generated along with an initial action plan. In the following months, a formalized committee, consisting of representatives from BGNM, the SFWCC, the SFAHBA, The Coalition, and the Santa Fe Community College (SFCC), continued to refine the WERS program.
Measurable parameters were established as the foundation of WERS, along with a scoring scale of zero to 100 with zero being the most desirable. The decided focus was on water using elements that could be measured. Initially, indoor water use was considered that involved the main plumbing fixtures of toilets, showers, lavatories, kitchen sinks, clothes washers and structural waste. Structural waste is the amount of water that is typically wasted before usable hot water arrives at the furthest hot water using fixture. The calculation for structural waste is based on the water wasted for conventional water heating systems.
Much research was done to calculate the loading from the main plumbing fixtures, clothes washers and pipe priming and their eventual impact on the WERS. For the first pilot version, only the indoor water use was calculated empirically based on the estimated loading of the above items while taking into account their associated efficiencies. The current version includes the ability to account for outdoor water use which includes rainwater and greywater catchment calculations. Depending on the verified filtration methods for rainwater and greywater, they can be used to offset indoor water use much like solar panels can be used to offset energy use in the HERS index. Additionally, any remaining unused rainwater or greywater can be credited to potential outdoor use.
Another aspect of the WERS program includes the ability to require points for “Innovative Practices”. BGNM and SFWCC have both created similar lists of items as an overlay that can be incorporated into a future version of the WERS calculation process. But, because these items are either not measurable or a method of empirical data collection has not been determined at the launch of the WERS pilot, they are not a part of the final score. It is envisioned that communities will select a minimum point threshold of Innovative Practices that need to be accomplished as part of the WERS program.
“The zero to 100 scale of the WERS program plays right into the competitive nature of builders and the marketplace,” says Kim Shanahan, Executive Officer of the SFAHBA. “Consumers can easily assess the most water efficient home. A performance-based metric always produces better results than a purely prescriptive standard. It drives innovation and best practices that are quickly adopted by others.”
Project teams will have the ability to do initial estimates of the results of their proposed installed fixtures and appliances as well as innovative water conservation strategies without the involvement of a WERS verifier. In order to achieve a WERS, the project team will have to send the completed program document to a qualified third-party verifier who will then check that fixtures, appliances, and strategies have been installed or implemented as claimed. Once the program document has been verified, it is then sent to The Coalition for certification processing. The certification document that is issued will then be utilized by the project team to apply for any applicable water conservation tax credits or incentives that require third-party verification.
Most product manufacturers of fixtures and appliances that utilize water are already well aware of the multitude of green home building programs, as well as the EPA WaterSense program. Many have responded well by providing products that easily comply with both green homebuilding programs and the EPA WaterSense program. As the WERS continues to develop nationally and incorporates items that for now are only considered innovative practices, manufacturers may want to consider following news regarding the program. One of the best ways this can be achieved is by signing up for the Green Builder® Coalition’s communications.
“Having a ‘performance path’ for water will help transform the building industry in the same way that the HERS index did for energy”, says Steve Hale, Program Director for BGNM. “Already, we are seeing much better performing fixtures and appliances. Now, with the ability to ‘mix and match’ flow rates while simultaneously examining the overall performance of indoor water use, builders and consumers can make smart choices for the products they put into their homes.”
The program continues to be developed under the tutelage of several industry stakeholders and has already been used within the State of New Mexico. Additionally, The Coalition has worked with Santa Fe Community College to begin a training program for use of the WERS program, verification procedures, and certification.
2015 was a busy year for the program. We ended the year with 19 pilot licensees in 12 states. The program won an award from the Sustainable Santa Fe Commission. We used numerous webinars to show it to municipalities, water districts, green building programs, etc. We presented at ACI in May, StormCon in August, Passive House in September, EEBA in October, and ARCSA, AWRA and ABX in November. The City of Santa Fe, NM has already passed a resolution that they will incorporate the WERS program into their residential green building code, and it looks like it will go into effect in November 2016. The NM state legislature extended their very popular sustainable building tax credit. When they did, they added a water conservation requirement. WERS was cited in the tax credit’s rules as a way to determine the degree of water conservation. GreenStar, an upper Midwest green building program, has decided to utilize the WERS program as the water component of their overall program. We signed a 2-year agreement with ARCSA to partner on education, training and promotion. But in maybe the biggest news of all, a NM homebuilder used his WERS report in conjunction with his building permit application, and that helped him save significant time and approximately $2,000 in permit fees.
“We’re very proud of the inaugural version of WERS,” said Green Builder® Coalition Executive Director Mike Collignon. “Now that we’ve completed that work, we’re interested in collaborating with municipalities who have a need or interest in conserving water. The WERS program can be valuable to those communities as either an incentive or regulation. We’ve also formed a national committee to help us with the next iteration of the WERS program, where we’ll look to expand the program’s functionality.”
The momentum hasn’t slowed down in 2016. Members of the WERS Development Group have given or will give presentations at the following conferences: Land & Water Summit, AWWA’s Sustainable Water Management Conference, ACI, Energy Out West, AWWA’s ACE, New Mexico Housing Summit, EEBA, WaterSmart Innovations, the Irrigation Show and National Groundwater Week. In early March, the first WERS Verifier training course was held in Santa Fe, NM, and 10 students passed both the written and field exams. Two more courses, in Santa Fe and Maitland, FL, are scheduled in Q4 2016.
About Green Builder® Coalition
The Green Builder® Coalition is a not-for-profit association dedicated to amplifying the voice of green builders and professionals to drive advocacy, information and education for more sustainable home building practices. We are an action-oriented community of green builders and professionals dedicated to uniting and growing our joint expertise, values and voice to create stronger standards for sustainable, more environmentally responsible home building. For more information, visit www.greenbuildercoalition.org.
About Build Green New Mexico
Build Green NM is an education and certification program for building High Performance Homes across the State of New Mexico. High performance means added comfort, lower utility bills and healthier indoor air quality to name a few of the key features. We don’t build great homes; we certify them from experienced builders across the state. Added in 2015 is a complementary program regarding efficiency upgrades to existing homes. For more information, please visit www.BuildGreenNM.com.
About Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association
As a local Home Builders Association in one of America’s most progressive and green-focused communities, SFAHBA proudly reflects its local demographic and constantly pushes the envelope in re-imagining the built environment. With national lab scientists, world-renowned artists, and indigenous cultures going back centuries and millennia, Santa Fe builders have many sources of inspiration to draw upon. Their creative thinking on water, energy, and resource efficiency finds its way into the unique homes that embody “Santa Fe Style”. For more information, visit www.sfahba.com.
About EnergySmart Academy
The EnergySmart Academy at Santa Fe Community College is a nationally recognized training center specializing in energy efficiency, green building and sustainable technology trainings. As well as offering Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) accredited clean energy programs, Building Performance Institute (BPI) and RESNET trainings, staff have been involved in the development of the WERS protocol and offered the inaugural WERS Verifier training course. For more, visit www.energysmartacademy.com.