It is quite possible that everyone has heard about WaterSense already, and I am simply late to the party. But, on the off chance that you haven’t heard, let me be the one to tell you about the Water House, which is the very first WaterSense certified home in Oregon. WaterSense is a new EPA certification program for new homes to increase water efficiency. Yes, it is true that the ubiquitous LEED certification includes water efficiency as a goal as well, but WaterSense dives deeper (sorry, I couldn’t help myself). The Water House is going to serve as a laboratory so that others can learn about different sustainable building practices, materials and systems. The Water House has been included on the Portland “Build it Green” tour, and its development was made possible through public and private partnerships with local green-building leaders donating over $150,000.00 of labor and materials.

WaterSense starts with the premise that residential water usage accounts for more than half of publicly supplied water in the U.S. Going beyond water-efficient fixtures such as low flow toilets or high efficiency shower heads, homes hoping to be certified as a WaterSense home must comply with specific flow rates for all indoor and outdoor water usage and utilize a very specific hot water delivery system, among other requirements. Another interesting component is the requirement for “homeowner education.” The obligation to education is placed on the builder, and he or she is required to provide the homeowner with a written operating and maintenance manual for all water-using equipment, controls for all house and yard usage, and details on the materials used.

What I find most interesting about the WaterSense certification is that unlike other types of sustainable development certification, its concentration on water does not lend it to receiving governmental incentives such as tax credits or loan assistance. The EPA’s website provides builders and home owners with resources, and I was only able to find two Oregon incentives (Medford Water Commission and Tualatin Valley Water District), both related to rebates for water-efficient toilets. If anyone knows of any federal or state programs, I’d love to hear about them.

I guess the upside to pursuing a WaterSense certification is that maybe projects will not live or die by governmental incentives. And this independence, probably creates less legal risks, i.e. an owner is less likely to sue a builder when the water savings is less than anticipated. I wonder if WaterSense certification will start “flooding” residential markets.