Whether you’re upgrading an old bathroom or kitchen or building a new home, water plays a vital role, and it’s important to ensure that you conserve water and energy by using water-efficient products.

The reality is that even though nearly three-quarters of the earth’s surface is covered by water, it is a finite resource and very little (less than 1%) is available for humans to use. If you haven’t realized it yet, every single drop of water counts!

A startling fact is that more than half the water we use indoors is used in the bathroom. Another is that 5 to 10% of U.S. homes have leaks that waste more than 90 gallons every day. And most are easy to fix – so there are no valid excuses. Also, water heating is the second-largest energy user in the home, following space heating and cooling.

While it is true that an increasing number of people harvest rainwater and take care not to waste water unduly, it is important that the water systems engineers design are sustainable and that cold water supplied to – and through – buildings is safe, reliable, healthy, and always available for occupants to use. Of course, hot water systems must also be energy efficient so that they cost less to run and ultimately save both energy and water.

What to Look For When Checking Water-Efficiency

If you are buying a house, whether it’s newly built or not, make it your business to find out everything you can about the hot and cold water systems, including the type of water heater used. Also, check the insulation used for pipework and water heaters. Even the best-designed systems will be compromised to some degree if insulation is inadequate.

The newer the house, the more likely the design of the water system will be eco-friendly in terms of energy and water usage. But previous owners might have retro-fitted elements of the system, so don’t rely on the age of the building alone to do your assessment.

Here are some of the elements you should check and questions you should ask.

Remember that all water systems in the U.S. must be designed by professional engineers, and they must be licensed in the state or states they operate in. So, if you aren’t sure what you are looking at, it may be a good idea to consult a mechanical, engineering and plumbing (MEP) engineering firm in Chicago, New York, Dallas, Atlanta, or whichever city, town, or rural area you are looking to buy in. He or she will be able to identify systems and advise you, potentially saving you money in the long-term.

  • Well-designed water distribution systems play a vital role in conserving energy. There are different types of hot water systems including simple distribution and continuous recirculation systems, as well as demand circulation systems and those designed with multiple appliances to supply hot water on demand.
  • Generally, shorter pipes with a smaller diameter will reduce the time it takes for water to get to appliances and fixtures as well as increasing flow rates and reducing flow.
  • Solar systems provide free energy from the sun and are very cost-efficient to run. Most have backup systems that rely on other fuel types, electricity for instance, that ensure you have hot water even on cold, cloudy, or rainy days, or even when it’s snowing.
  • Electric heat pumps improve efficiency but they are expensive to buy. If the existing hot water system incorporates a heat pump this is certainly a big advantage.
  • Water heaters that are oil-fired are also expensive, but they are generally energy-efficient, heating the water a lot faster than other types.
  • Natural gas systems emit fewer greenhouse gases and are relatively cheap to operate.
  • The flow pressure and minimum flow rate for appliances and fittings must be suitable and in keeping with the manufacturer’s installation instructions. The appliances and fixtures themselves are also important.

Water Sense & ENERGY STAR

Water-efficiency in our bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms can be improved immeasurably by using resources and products from ENERGY STAR and Water Sense.

  • ENERGY STAR is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program that provides energy-efficient solutions that save money in energy costs, help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enable us all to reduce our carbon footprint in an endeavor to save Planet Earth.
  • Products certified by ENERGY Star include water heaters as well as a wide variety of appliances including clothes washers and dishwashers.
  • WaterSense is a program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that is more focused on saving water than energy-efficient systems and products. Protects bearing the WaterSense label are guaranteed to be water-efficient. They are certified to use at least 20% less water than regular products, to perform just as well or better than them, and they save energy.
  • Products with the WaterSense label include a range of plumbing fixtures including toilets and flushing urinals, as well as showerheads, faucets, and other accessories.

Of course, if you’re selling a house or apartment, water- and energy-efficiency are equally important to potential purchasers. So, if yours is an old home, consider getting the plumbing system checked by an MEP engineering firm in Chicago or whichever city you are in. They can make suggestions for improvements or, if the system is acceptable, provide you with a written report that could help you sell the property.

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Michael Tobias is the founder and principal of New York Engineers, anInc 5000 Fastest Growing Company in America. He leads a team of 30+ mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineers from the company headquarters in New York City, and has led more than 1,000 projects in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, and California, as well as Singapore and Malaysia. He is passionate about sustainability and is a LEED AP.