A Label That Makes Sense

September 02, 2010
September/October 2010
A version of this article appears in the September/October 2010 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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America is a thirsty nation. Between 1950 and 2005, the U.S. population doubled, while our demand on water supplies more than tripled. Although water is relatively inexpensive, the cost to repair our nation’s aging water infrastructure, coupled with recent droughts in unexpected regions such as the Southeast, have made water efficiency the next big environmental challenge.

This increasing need to save water prompted EPA’s WaterSense program to develop the first national specification for water-efficient new homes in December 2009. It’s no coincidence that less than one month after the 2009 WaterSense Single-Family New Home Specification was released, Earth Advantage Institute named water efficiency as one of the top ten green-building trends for 2010.

Just as saving energy was the hot green-building issue of the past decade, water efficiency is becoming the newest concern for environmentally conscious home buyers. Home energy raters have already realized major business opportunities with increased demand for energy-efficient homes, but those who can conduct water efficiency home inspections will be well positioned to capitalize on this latest advancement in green building.

Don’t Forget the Great Outdoors

Because outdoor water use can account for 30% or more of a home’s water consumption, the WaterSense specification for new homes made sure to include outdoor water efficiency criteria. Inspectors trained in the WaterSense new-homes specification will be qualified to evaluate some outdoor criteria, but if an irrigation system is installed, a WaterSense irrigation partner can ensure that it meets the requirements.

Raters and inspectors have the opportunity to acquire yet another marketable skill with certification in irrigation system auditing. Inspectors can also be WaterSense irrigation partners by becoming certified in a WaterSense-labeled certification program, through which they will learn to gather irrigation water use data and test landscape irrigation systems, giving them even more expertise in this growing segment of the green-building market.

Certified to Save Water

WaterSense is a voluntary partnership and labeling program for water-efficient products, new homes, and services. The WaterSense label is a simple way for consumers to identify products that use at least 20% less water while still performing as well as or better than standard models. For quality assurance, all WaterSense-labeled products are third-party tested and certified to meet EPA’s criteria for efficiency and performance by EPA licensed certification bodies.

The WaterSense new-home specification not only requires WaterSense-labeled plumbing fixtures but also specifies an efficient hot-water delivery system, water-efficient appliances (if installed), and a water-efficient landscape design, among other criteria (see “Don’t Forget the Great Outdoors”). These features allow WaterSense-labeled homes to use 20% less water than typical new homes, with annual water savings of at least 10,000 gallons and energy savings of around 580 kWh per year.

Most importantly, all of these features must be inspected by an independent, qualified professional to ensure that the home meets EPA’s efficiency and performance criteria before the home can earn the WaterSense label.

EPA included elements in the WaterSense specification that harmonize with criteria in programs such as the National Association of Home Builders “National Green Building Standard,” Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Homes, and EarthCraft House, as well as other regional and local green-building programs. The WaterSense certification process for new homes is similar to Energy Star, and home energy raters wishing to add water-efficiency inspections to their résumé may already be able to do so after receiving a brief training from their existing accredited rating provider.

Inspected to Save

For a new home to earn the WaterSense label, all of the following features must pass inspection:

  • leak prevention;
  • service pressure;
  • hot-water delivery system;
  • toilets and urinals;
  • bathroom faucets;
  • kitchen faucets;
  • showerheads;
  • landscaping; and
  • homeowner’s manual.
If the following features have been installed, they must pass inspection:

  • dishwasher;
  • clothes washer;
  • water softener;
  • evaporative cooling system;
  • drinking water treatment system; and
  • irrigation system.


An Efficient Process

Here’s how the process works. Builders construct homes to the WaterSense specification. Once the home is completed, but before it is occupied, it must undergo an inspection to ensure that all criteria have been met. RESNET, one of WaterSense’s program administrators for new homes, helps spearhead the certification process by recruiting and working with licensed certification providers. These providers are organizations licensed by EPA to train water efficiency home inspectors, coordinate inspections, and certify new homes that meet the WaterSense specification (see “The Players”).

The inspection was designed to be conducted in a single, hour-long visit and can be coupled with other green-building inspections (see “Inspected to Save”). This saves builders time and money and allows inspectors to check for water and energy efficiency at the same time. The certification system also allows builders to work directly with a rater with whom they have a business relationship that is also qualified to conduct water-efficiency inspections. EPA anticipates that inspection costs will range from $50 to $400, depending on many factors, including whether the inspector also provides ratings or other services to the builder.

Energy raters already have the foundation for becoming water efficiency inspectors. They understand building science, and they have experience with the certification process. Once they have gained simple skills to evaluate water efficiency, they will be qualified to test the flow of showerheads and faucets, evaluate toilets for leaks and efficiency, measure the effectiveness of a hot-water distribution system, and assess outdoor water efficiency.

EPA has developed guidelines and checklists so the inspection can be conducted swiftly and easily. Materials needed to conduct the WaterSense inspection are inexpensive and are often already on hand, making the cost of entrance into this new market extremely low. Required equipment includes a pressure gauge, a stopwatch, a digital thermometer, buckets or flow bags with volume marked, dye tablets for toilets, a flashlight, a digital camera, a tape measure for measuring outdoor landscaped areas, and a laser level to measure slope.

The first WaterSense labeled home built in a pilot program by Vanguard Homes in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Vanguard Homes)
Builders are already taking advantage of this efficient system. “As an environmentally friendly company, KB Home sought out the third-party certification from companies that work with us on Energy Star inspections to consider expanding their services to cover WaterSense inspections,” says Craig LeMessurier, director of KB Home corporate communications. “We learned that these companies could perform WaterSense inspections simultaneously using some of the staff that oversees Energy Star inspections, thus reducing travel time and costs.”

If deviations from the specification are found during the inspection, the inspector works with the builder to correct them before the home can earn the label. Many nonconformities can be fixed on the spot, and the inspection can continue, eliminating the need for a second inspection and often avoiding extra fees.

Once the home has passed inspection, the licensed certification provider and the inspector sign the WaterSense-labeled new-home certificate, which the builder presents to the new homeowner.

The first home to meet the WaterSense specification, located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was built as part of the WaterSense new homes pilot program in 2009 by Vanguard Homes. By meeting all the water-efficiency criteria inside and choosing to use 40% turf (Option 2) to design an efficiently landscaped front yard, the home was able to earn the WaterSense label. The second home to earn the WaterSense label, constructed by Nappier & Turner in Hendersonville, North Carolina, used WaterSense Landscape Water Budget Tool (Option 1) to achieve its landscape design.

Water Efficiency Inspector

Home energy raters or individual inspectors can add WaterSense inspections for new homes to their list of services simply by working with an EPA-licensed certification provider that will provide quality assurance as well as training on the WaterSense inspection process.

It is not necessary for inspectors to register independently with EPA. Home energy raters or individual inspectors should just make sure that their RESNET- accredited rating provider has become a licensed certification provider for WaterSense.

“By becoming qualified to inspect new homes to earn the WaterSense label, home energy raters can expand their business opportunities by working with builders in a new way,” says Laurel Elam, program coordinator for RESNET. “The skill set home energy raters already have will be very complementary to what is required for the WaterSense inspection process.”

Trained inspectors can also recruit builders to the WaterSense program, helping to build business and awareness about the need for water efficiency.

The Players

Program administrators (for example, RESNET) ensure that licensed certification providers are trained to certify homes and that home inspections are verified by a quality assurance (QA) professional; coordinate water-efficiency home inspections; and ensure that all parties in the inspection-and-labeling process are in place to support certification.

Licensed certification providers (for example, Southface) train water efficiency home inspectors, oversee inspections, have at least one trained QA designee on staff, and issue the WaterSense new-home label.

Water efficiency home inspectors are qualified professionals hired by, or contracted with, a licensed certification provider to inspect homes before they earn the WaterSense label.

Builders partner with WaterSense and agree to construct homes to the 2009 WaterSense Single-Family New Home Specification.

Water Efficiency in Action

As the U.S. population grows, so does the need for green-building programs that conserve resources, and professionals who are qualified in those programs. The Atlanta, Georgia, metropolitan area is one of the fastest-growing regions in the country, and it’s projected to reach its maximum limit for water use in 20 years. Like many cities experiencing recent droughts and increased demand on water resources, Atlanta has turned to water efficiency to plug the quickly draining supply. According to Eurihea Speciale, quality assurance manager of Southface Energy Institute (an Atlanta-based green-building organization and WaterSense-licensed certification provider), water-efficient new homes are a key component of green building in the Atlanta area.

“With the city of Atlanta continuing to grow at a steady pace, we are in a dire situation,” Speciale says. “Though our recent drought has ended, our water supply is not predicted to sustain our growth rate. Therefore, we are continuing to take action now.

“Southface wanted to make sure we had a water efficiency program and trained inspectors in place as the need for water efficiency becomes dire and demand for water-efficient homes increases. Counties in the Atlanta area are already creating incentives for WaterSense-labeled new homes, and we anticipate that the state will include WaterSense in its comprehensive plan to address water shortages.”

According to Craig LeMessurier, a KB Home survey revealed that home buyers are looking more and more toward environmentally friendly homes that reduce their carbon and water footprints and that will cost less to operate in the long run.

“With this increased market, our drive for quality assurance will most likely increase the need for service providers with inspectors and raters for new homes,” says LeMessurier. “Logically, those inspectors providing one contract and one point of coordination for several certification purposes are in the best position to deliver more value to home builders, and ultimately homeowners.”

Value to the consumer will sell water-efficient homes as the new-housing market recovers. A WaterSense-labeled home saves enough water per year to wash up to 400 loads of laundry, and enough energy to run a TV for four years. Not only that, it also saves the homeowner money on utility bills. Homeowners can anticipate annual savings of at least $100 compared to the cost of utilities for a typical new home.

With those kinds of savings—and the convenience of one-stop inspections—offering energy- and water-efficient home certification will be the best way to capitalize on the recovering new-home market.

Jonah Schein is U.S. EPA WaterSense Technical and Certification Coordinator, New Homes.

For more information:

For more information on WaterSense-labeled homes or on how to become a water efficiency home inspector, visit www.epa.gov/watersense.

To find an inspector, builders can contact RESNET or a licensed certification provider listed on the WaterSense web site, www.epa.gov/watersense/meet_our_partners.html.

EPA WaterSense
Jonah Schein
Tel: (202)564-2720
E-mail: schein.jonah@epa.gov

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