Elements of Building: Water

April 22, 2008

tapwater3.jpgIn the United States, 340 billion gallons of fresh water — or 1/4 of the nation’s total supply — are pulled from rivers and reservoirs every day. (See greenerbuildings.com)

Our taps, plumbing fixtures, and irrigation systems all draw from the same sources of clean, potable water. After being used, most of the water ends up in the sewer system — all of it, at that point, contaminated. Then it is treated and returned to a body of water. This creates a cycle in which unnecessarily large volumes of water circulate through the built environment and municipal treatment facilities. However, in the last decade or so, major strides have been made in reducing the amount of water that must go through such a cycle.

The maxim “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” can easily be applied to water usage.


  • Fix any leaks.
  • Install low flow fixtures (toilets, faucets and shower heads), and utilize automatic controls for commercial spaces.
  • Install Energy Star appliances.
  • Choose landscape materials that are appropriate for your climate and that will not need to be heavily watered; reduce evaporation by not irrigating during the heat of the day.
  • Use pervious paving materials.


  • Collect rainwater. (Rain barrels work well for residential applications; cisterns can be used for larger buildings.)
  • Collect gray water (wastewater from sinks, showers, washers).
  • Use a bioremediation system. Many mid-size commercial projects are implementing mini-ecosystems which use plants, bacteria — even fish and snails — to break down sewage.
  • Grow plants on a green roof.

To RECYCLE, use reclaimed wastewater to:

  • Irrigate plants.
  • Flush toilets.

see also: Elements of Building: Energy

Photo Credit: http://flickr.com/photos/refractedmoments/