Time has come forWERS
I can’t believe we are in the 21st century and we have no water-use rating system. For almost 20 years, the energy sector has had a home energy rating system (HERS), which yields a score for comparing homes on a scale of 0 to 100, lower being better. Very similar to the gas mileage sticker on new automobiles, it provides a measure of how a home should performover time with average usage.
AlthoughHERS is not perfect, it does allow home shoppers to compare new homes against each other. Most home builders throughout New Mexico have been building with this tool for nearly a decade. It has spawned a newindustry of independent home energy raters.
The new Santa Fe Green Residential Building Code lowers the acceptable HERS number for new homes from 70 to 65. “Most homes in the area are already at 61,” per Kim Shanahan, executive officer of the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association, “so lowering the score to 65 should not add to the costs of most new homes.”
The newWater Efficiency Rating Score (WERS) was invented with the association’s assistance and similarly rates homes on a scale of 0 to 100. It has been in development for over two years and tested on over a dozen homes in the Santa Fe area and numerous homes in other areas of the country. One of the tool’s foundations is the EPAWaterSense program, which is a prescriptive approach for new homes. The prior version of the city’s Green Building Code, also based on theWaterSense program, was a complicated 33-page checklist of items from which builders could choose to be in compliance. There was minimal onsite checking to ensure these items were installed or working properly.
TheHERS programis based on independent third-party verification that is paid for by the builder and is required to be turned in to the city prior to completing the construction of a home. The WERS program takes the same approach of an independent third-party rater with the costs borne by the homebuilder. This system ensures that someone independent is verifying that what was supposed to be put in place is actually installed and working properly. The city’s role will be to make sure the independent contractors are trained, independent, and doing a good job of rating homes.
“Water is the true limit to growth in the Southwest,” said Shanahan. “Home building must become radically more water-efficient. The WERS tool can prove that what is planned will be true. If homes double their efficiency then we have twice as many homes that can be built. Cut it to zero and the limits to growth are abated. We knowhow to do this now.”
Santa Fe has been a leader in water conservation for several decades. These very successful efforts have driven down our overall water demand, while the population has increased. WERS is the next-gen- eration approach to water conservation. It evaluates the whole-house water usage, something that has not been possible before. It is a new tool whose time has come.
Doug Pushard, founder of the website www.HarvestH2o.com, has designed and installed residential rainwater systems for over a decade. He is a member of the Santa FeWater Conservation Committee, a lifetime member of the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association, and an EPAWaterSense Partner. He can be reached at doug@HarvestH2o.com.