WaterSense: Saving Water And Money

By James E. McWhinney AAA

WaterSense is the lesser-known sibling to the successful Energy Star program that was launched in 1992. The goal of the program is to conserve water, which is not only good for the environment, but also good for consumer's wallets. With the growing global water shortage, the U.S. government hopes to see the WaterSense program gain popularity. (For an overview of the Energy Star program, see Home Energy Savings Add Up.)

Program Overview
WaterSense was launched by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2006. It is a partnership with businesses designed to encourage the creation, sale and installation of products that are at least 20% more efficient in terms of water use than their predecessors. The program began with a focus on professional certification for landscape irrigation processionals, an area of particular focus because the EPA has determined that the "average single-family suburban home uses at least 30% of its water for outdoor purposes such as irrigation and as much as 70% in dry climates."

Commercial enterprises drink up more than their fair share of water too, with golf courses coming in as one of the highest-profile offenders. Audubon International estimates water using on the average American golf course at 312,000 gallons per day. With around 16,000 courses in the United States and double that many worldwide, that's a lot of water getting dumped on the ground. Toss in commercial farming and industrial applications and you've got a virtual tsunami of water consumption. Worse yet, the EPA reports that up to 50% of the water use for landscape purposes is "wasted due to evaporation, wind or over-watering."

Future Potential
The WaterSense program has expanded beyond its origins to include EPA certification for host of products that includes irrigation systems, faucets, shower heads, toilets and even whole houses. The EPA has high hopes that, like the well-known Energy Star program, WaterSense will go mainstream.

While it is likely to take some time to catch on, the success of Energy Star provides hope, as consumers are familiar with it, product providers promote it heavily and savvy marketers have even launched entire sales campaigns around Energy Star rated appliances. Buoyed by that success, the EPA is doing everything it can to replicate that successful model with the WaterSense program.

How You Save Money and Help the Environment
Water is a scarce resource. With just 1% of the earth's water supply available for human consumption, demand rising with population growth, and an aging infrastructure system in terms of municipal water delivery, the cost of clean water is expected to rise for the foreseeable future. As of 2008, the EPA estimates that the average homeowner spends up to $500 per year on water and sewage costs. Retrofitting with water-efficient fixtures can significantly reduce that number. For example, the EPA estimates the average household can save 20,000 gallons of water annually by installing a low-flow shower head. Over the course of a lifetime, that's a tremendous savings in both money and water for one device upgrade.

There's Money in Water
Water and money are linked in more ways that one. From a conservation perspective, takings simple steps can reduce your costs. Even if you cannot afford to proactively retrofit your house, you can make the changes slowly, over time, replacing inefficient fixtures with WaterSense fixtures as the old ones wear out. Fixing a single dripping faucet can save up to 3,000 gallons of water per year.

Limiting your use helps too. Landscaping is the biggest opportunity for conservation. Simply installing drought resistant plants instead of turf grass instantly reduces the need for watering. This aspect of water conservation is so important that it is a key component of the EPAs efforts to certify new homes with the WaterSense label. Cities and towns in drought-prone areas from Florida to Texas have joined the cause, and are encouraging - and in some cases requiring - homebuilders to limit the use of turf grass as a lawn covering. Some municipalities are offering rebates to homeowners that convert their lawns to water-friendly plants, others are offering gift certificates to nurseries to encourage the purchase of non-turf plants.

Conclusion
Minimizing the amount of water used on landscaping isn't the only way to reduce water usage. The EPA reports that taking a five-minute shower uses just 10-25 gallons of water, versus up to 70 gallons for the large bathtubs common in McMansions, and turning off the water when you brush your teeth saves eight gallons of water. (Learn how living in a smaller home can cut major expenses in Downsize Your Home To Downsize Expenses.)

There's money in water from an investment standpoint, too. From pumps and valves to desalination and purification, the efforts to keep this scarce resource flowing generates opportunities for investors.

Read Water: The Ultimate Commodity and Ten Ways To Save Energy And Money for additional insight.

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