Water Efficient Living

  |  May 21, 2015


Do we have plenty of water in the Hudson Valley or should we be concerned about how we use this very important resource? We are surrounded by water: rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and reservoirs.

The recent lack of rain in our area – April had 0.99 inches of precipitation in the Hudson Valley, while the average is 4.21 inches – raises the issue of good and proper water use and management. Rainfall, year to date, is 6” below average, a difference of almost 40%! Although we are not in the situation that California finds itself, a reduction in the demand on our water supply seems to be a critical issue for our times and for the ecological systems around us.

In our household we consider water to be “the life-blood of the Earth Mother”. Without water there is no life. Yet we all take good clean fresh water for granted. We turn on the faucet, or flush the toilet, with little regard for where the water comes from, or where it goes. That is until “the system” does not work. Where does your water come from? Where does it go when it goes down the drain? Do you know? How does your use of water affect the environment that you live in?


The right approach to water ‘management’ is two-fold:

1) Reduce water usage wherever possible through the use of low flow fixtures, appliances and systems.

2) Supplement water supply with rain water harvesting systems and gray-water systems.

The combination of these efforts can greatly reduce your impact on the water supply and down stream water quality.

Reduce Water Usage:

–Flow Fixtures: A typical residential bathroom sink can use up to 2.2 gallons per minute (gpm). By using aerators and other technology like WaterSense and EnergyStar rated fixtures, this number can be reduced by almost a gallon per minute to 1.5 gpm or lower! Since faucet usage accounts for 15% of indoor household water use, this can amount to a big savings, both for the individual as well as the community. Not only does this save water, it saves the energy it takes to treat, pump, and heat it.

–Washing Machines: The classic, top-loading, washing machine uses between 40 to 50 gallons of water per use. Use of a newer front loading machine will cut this number by more than half, to around 15 to 20 gallons per cycle.

–Dishwasher: ENERGY STAR certified dishwashers use advanced technology to get your dishes clean while using less water and energy. Again, less water use means less energy use.

–Flush Fixtures: There have been tremendous advances in flush fixture technology as well. A toilet made in the past would use 3.5 gallons per flush (gpf), while most low-flow fixtures use 1.6 gpf. We currently have toilets which use 0.8 gallons per flush! The toilets are traditional gravity assisted systems (as opposed to the loud pressure assisted toilets).

–Landscape irrigation with micro sprinklers and drip irrigation: If you need to water your plants you should consider installing a water efficient micro-irrigation system such as those provided by Green-Irrigation. Or, to keep it really simple, you should use drip hoses and a timer to be sure you put the water where you want it when you want it. Try to avoid the typical shotgun type sprinkler systems when watering your garden.

Supplementing your water supply:


First flush diverter system removes initial debris from roof water

Supplement your water supply with rainwater: At our new office building, we have installed a rainwater harvest system, which is sized to provide enough water to operate all flush fixtures, as well as provide sufficient water for irrigation. Our calculated usage for flush fixtures (based on the number of people in the building), is 930 gallons of water per month, or over 11,000 gallons annually.

We established that for every inch of rain that falls on a 1ft by 1ft area of roof (after factoring in certain system inefficiencies), we can store 0.46 gallons of useful water . Multiplying the square footage of our roof by the annual rainfall provides us with almost 80,000 gallons per year. This surplus in water will allow our flush fixtures to operate year round, as well as provide sufficient water for irrigation as necessary during the summer months. A sufficiently sized water storage tank can easily carry us through dry periods. Our experience shows that new buildings can easily be built with a rainwater harvesting system that can provide enough water to flush toilets and water the landscape.


A rainwater harvest tank pump, backflow preventer and filtration system.

Conservation of water is easy and inexpensive. Unlike the installation of a solar system or new heating equipment, the installation of water efficient plumbing fixtures and appliances is very simple. Check out the Energy Star and EPA Water Sense web sites. Change some fixtures and save water. Anyone can make a difference and save money too!

About Rick Alfandre

Rick Alfandre, AIA, LEED AP BD+C is an award winning prolific architect and a leader in the green building movement. As the principle of Alfandre Architecture over the last 22 years, he has designed more than 200 built projects ranging from high performance residences, churches, retail spaces, and multi-million dollar hotels and resorts. He is an expert in the design of energy-efficient, site and climate responsive buildings that are durable, with an eye towards the whole life-cycle costs. With his construction company, EcoBuilders Inc., Rick has continued to use his expertise to design and build state of the art buildings. Rick is National Council of Architectural Registrations Boards (NCARB) certified. He currently serves as the Chair of the Upstate New York Chapter of the United States Green Buildings Council (USGBC) and is also a founding member on the steering committee for the Hudson Valley Branch.

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