[Editor’s note: The following information is gleaned from a series of videos covering the 2011 Delta Faucet Water-EfficiencySummit held November10-11 in Los Angeles, http://www.residentialwaterefficiency.com/. ]

Effectively heating and cooling a home often gets the focus in terms of home performance and energy-efficient home improvements. But Several organizations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), are working to bring attention to the role of water efficiency in helping homes run better. The improvements, they hope, will benefit not only the homeowners, but water users everywhere.

"Over the last 50 to 60 years, the population of the country has doubled, but the strain we're putting on our nation's water infrastructure has more than tripled." says Jonah Schein, EPA's technical and certification coordinator for new homes. "Somehow we need to make up this gap if we're going to provide clean, safe water to all people."

Making Sense of Water Use

For the last several years, the EPA's WaterSense program has been labeling the most water-efficient building products, such as high-performance toilets, and low-flow showerheads and facuets. To earn the WaterSense label, products must be third-party certified to use at least 20% less water than their traditional counterparts.

What's more, whole new homes can also be WaterSense labeled, in the same manner as earning Energy Star or LEED for Homes certifications. Prior to the advent of WaterSense labeling for homes, some regional agencies developed their own programs, such as the Southern Nevada Water Authority's (SNWA) Water Smart Homes program.

"As early as the 1990s, we were petitioning EPA for 'something like Energy Star, only for water,'" says Doug Bennett, conservation director for the SNWA. Since EPA was still a ways off from their program, SNWA developed their own with incentives in place to prompt builders to use products like low-flow toilets in their new homes. "The Las Vegas area was growing rapidly, and we started noticing an anti-growth sentiment that if we're short on water we should stop building houses," Bennett says. "You can't stop people from moving to any urban areas, but you can have policies in place to make the construction more efficient."

Schein suggests that builders and remodelers interested in getting their projects WaterSense labeled should first contact home energy auditors familiar with other programs like Energy Star, LEED, or HERS.

Every Drop Helps

Concerns for water use don't just apply to drought-stricken areas of the country, adds Doug Bennett, conservation director for the Southern Nevada Water Authority. "Areas like New York City want you to conserve water, not because they don't have enough water, but because they don't have enough pipes and lifts and infrastructure."

For this reason, WaterSense labeling for homes means more than just product selection. "We want to go beyond just specifying products and change the paradigm of how we get water through the home and to those fixtures," Schein says. Trunk-and-branch plumbing became the norm many years ago, but as homes got larger, their ability to efficiently move water - specifically, hot water - to fixtures diminished. "We took a page from Water Smart and outlined that there can be no more than 64 ounces (half a gallon) of water between the water source and the furthest fixture," Schein says. This is compared to as much as 200 or 300 ounces for a standard 2,500 square foot home.

Since WaterSense was first started, Schein says the program has had a positive impact on utility bills and water use. "We've already saved 125 billion gallons of water and $2 billion on utility bills," he says. "That doesn't include infrastructure savings - just the money that can be tracked to people's utilities. And it's not just EPA investing in this program. There's a huge amount of time, energy, and money going into improving water efficiency education."