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Green Construction: Water and Energy
Questions to consider and resources to help with energy and water design, including technical assist...
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Indoor Water Conservation
Considerations, commercial status and guidelines for assessing indoor water conservation products. ...
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Storm Water Fact Sheet Series: Phase II Final Rule...
Types of stormwater discharges addressed under Federal Phase II Final Rule; permitting options and r...
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Storm Water Resource Locator
Storm water rules are changing and compliance can be confusing. The Storm Water Resource Locator is ...
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Sustainable Building Sourcebook: Water
Considerations, commercial status and guidelines for water projects including indoor and outdoor app...
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Pollution Prevention and Residential Construction- Water Use

Resource Efficient
Residential Construction

Water Use: Quality and Quantity

Water is a precious resource that is heavily impacted by residential construction and the use of modern conveniences. Site clearing and grading activities often produce erosion and polluted runoff. Urban and suburban development decreases the percentage of permeable surfaces, altering the ability of the land to absorb and filter incoming rain and pollution. And, as the population grows there is an ever-increasing demand for water.

Water Quality Impacts
  • In 1996, 40% of the nations' rivers, lakes and estuaries assessed by states and tribes were found to be impaired. Source: http://www.epa.gov/npdes/pubs/comguide.pdf
  • Nonpoint sources of suspended solids contribute approximately 95% of the average daily loading of sediments to receiving waters in the U.S. Source: http://www.stormwater-resources.com/ Stormwater Chemistry and Water Quality by Havey H. Harper
  • Residential land uses have the highest "Event Mean Concentrations" of pollutants in stormwater runoff. Source: http://www.stormwater-resources.com/ Stormwater Chemistry and Water Quality by Havey H. Harper

Water Quantity Considerations

  • Pennsylvania has documented that in 1900, each resident consumed approximately 5 gallons of water per day. By the year 2000, they estimate that each resident consumed a staggering 62 gallons per day. Much of the increase is due to modern conveniences of indoor plumbing (washing machines, toilets, dishwashers, etc.) and exterior landscaping demands. Source: http://www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/deputate/watermgt/wsm/facts/fs2631.htm
  • Typical household water use in the 21st century includes the following:

With almost 1,600,000 residential construction projects a year, many impacts can take place that endanger the quality of water and set the stage for unnecessary drains on the quantity of water. Green building practices can help to alleviate both water quality and quantity concerns. Through design and construction activities the builder can protect this resource and set the stage for long-term conservation at the homesite.


Financial as well as environmental benefits result from designing and constructing homes with water protection and conservation in mind. A summary of benefits follows.

Builder Benefits
  • Avoid National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) penalties
  • Reduced material and labor costs by minimizing plumbing and land clearing activities
  • Increase marketing appeal
  • Lessen strain on municipal services while improving community relations, (this may save money in communities that charge for community service impacts)

Consumer Benefits

  • Enhanced stability of groundwater and municipal water sources
  • Lower sewage bills or increased life of septic system
  • Potentially lower-maintenance landscaping
  • Increase energy-efficiency, since water conservation design often reduces energy use as well, e.g. shorter pump run time, shorter water heating time, etc.
  • Lower water bills
  • Enhanced recreational and economic opportunities in the community

Guidelines For Sustainable Water Use

Two major impacts from residential construction and home use are evident by the degradation of water quality and the large percentage of water used for lawn and garden purposes as shown above. A third major impact is wastewater: research indicates that a typical household wastes between 8000 and 10,000 gallons of water a year while waiting for hot water to arrive at the tap. Impacts to water quality and quantity can be reduced through proactive design and construction measures.

Site Preparation and Construction Activities:

  • Design and construct building with minimal impact on site topography and natural drainage ways; disturb only areas needed to install foundations and roadways.
  • Insure that existing (site or neighbors) and new wells are protected (cased, sealed or grouted) from drainage and contamination.
  • Design terrain to drain away from wellhead.
  • Install anti-backsiphoning valves between well and water pipes.
  • Contact the local building or planning department for sewer hookup and the county or state Health Department for septic tank or drainfield installation.
  • Maintain a naturally vegetated buffer area adjacent to streams, lakes, ponds and wetlands.
  • Replace topsoil removed during construction; replant exposed areas as soon as practical.
  • Minimize impermeable materials for driveways, walkways and porches.
  • Use silt fencing or biofiltration (permeable bags filled with chips, compost or bales of straw) to control erosion during construction.
  • Designate appropriate locations for washing vehicles and equipment - away from surface waters, storm drains and slopes that could erode, at carwash or at builders' shop with a sump.
  • Sweep surfaces rather than spraying with water; dispose of sweepings in trash instead of down drains.
  • Immediately repair all equipment and vehicle leaks.
  • Use biodegradable detergents and chemicals; minimize the amount used.

Design for Indoor Conservation:

  • Strategically place water heater close to point of use (reduces materials and hot water waiting period), install on-demand water heater, or an "on demand" recirculating pump that keeps hot water at the tap.
  • Buy high quality fixtures with replaceable parts.
  • Capture greywater for toilet and irrigation; divert cool wastewater from showers (prior to hot water arrival) for use in toilets.
  • Consider air assisted or compost toilet.
  • Choose low-flow equipment for toilet, shower, faucet.
  • Choose water efficient appliances and equipment.

Design for Outdoor Conservation:

Staying Current


The Residential Construction Topic Hub was developed by:
Peaks to Prairies
Contact Laura Estes at Peaks with questions or comments:
406-994-3451 or laurae@montana.edu