Water efficiency certification programs provide an opportunity for homebuilders to market homes and to be recognized as being environmentally responsible. They set a standard by which a builder can be compared to others and, when properly recognized, can be an advertising tool. Certification also provides consumers with a water conservation option when they are making decisions about purchasing a home. Unlike energy efficiency rating systems that have been in place for many years, water efficiency rating programs are relatively new, with a national level program under development.
Certification programs are voluntary and may add a modest amount to the price of a new home, although savings in energy and water costs would offset the initial investment. The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) efficiency rating and certification system is the most widely used system and includes energy, water, and other green building standards. Certifying interior water use efficiency is more easily done as efficient plumbing fixtures and appliances are readily identified, for example by the EPA WaterSense Program. Exterior water use efficiency certification is somewhat less straightforward given the wide variation in landscape design, consumer preference, and climate considerations. However, there is general agreement about what constitutes an efficient landscape; the hallmark of water efficient landscapes are the Xeriscape principles, including turf and pool limits, efficiently irrigated landscapes, use of native and drought tolerant plants, and incorporation of rainwater harvesting.
A national residential water efficiency rating system, the “Water Efficiency Rating (WER) Index,” is under development. By providing a mechanism to score the water efficiency of a house, it could provide the basis for a voluntary water efficiency certification program. The index is similar to energy efficiency standards that are used to verify energy performance by the EPA Energy Star Program, by the mortgage industry, and for federal tax incentives. The index could be an opportunity for utility incentives, dependent on how highly the home scored.
Providing a water efficiency score would allow homebuyers to know how efficiently water is used in homes that they are considering buying, and would provide homebuilders with a competitive tool they can use to market homes.
Several certification programs exist that can be adopted or modified to meet local conditions. Water conservation certification can be part of a developer incentive program where building water-smart homes can result in an expedited approval process and discounted development fees.
Certification programs include: