Given the water shortages that continue to plague many regions of the country, installing water conservation features in new homes certainly makes a lot of sense in theory. But in practice builders who have tried to push this envelope get a lot of push-back from potential buyers.
A big part of the problem is that water in most cities remains cheap. Despite reports of scarcity, EPA reports that the average household spends up to only $500 a year on water and sewer bills. It runs a WaterSense program for new homes that it says will cut that expense by about $100 a year by reducing water consumption 20%. That’s not a lot of money to save, though it would buy an extra six-pack of beer each month.
The problem is that it costs money to save money. The added cost of meeting the WaterSense program could easily run to $1,000 per home or more, though some builders have managed to get it below $500.
To meet the standard, builders need to standardize on WaterSense faucets and fixtures. Fortunately, WaterSense faucets may not cost you anything extra, but there’s usually an upcharge for WaterSense fixtures, and they don’t all work equally well. You may also need to include on-demand hot water and a re-circulating pump, which will definitely cost more than a traditional water heater.
Then you’ve got the added cost of meeting landscaping requirements. Lawns are a big user of household water, accounting for at least 30% of typical suburban household use. Plus, as is always the case with third-party programs, there’s the cost of paying for inspection and certification costs.
Economics, of course, are just part of the equation. Water use also impacts lifestyle habits. Some people feel it’s an inalienable right to have a big grassy lawn where their children and dog can play; they aren’t good candidates for xeriscaping. Others are going to take longer showers even if the government doesn’t recommend it–especially if the government doesn’t recommend it.
The bottom line is that water conservation is a tougher sell than energy conservation. Energy-conserving home features can take a big chunk out of utility bills, though not without a cost, of course. And the lifestyle changes–turning off the lights when you leave a room, turning down the thermostat when you leave on vacation–don’t seem to require as big of a change in lifestyle habits.
That said, it would be foolish not to look hard at some of the water-saving products on the market today. Using them can help in efforts to market greener homes that stand out against resales.
Going the water conservation route may also make sense from a political perspective. It may grease the skids for permit approvals in arid cities where water rights have turned into a big political football game.
In the long run, with water bills going nowhere but up, buyers may one day thank you for your forethought and reward you with a repeat purchase or a referral.