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5. Certification Programs + Water Performance

5. Certification Programs + Water Performance

August 11, 2010
This article first appeared in the 200911 issue of BD+C.

Water factors into all national green building certification programs, and while it may account for only a small piece of the overall sustainability pie, there are points to be earned by targeting water use reduction and increasing water efficiency. This chapter looks at how and where water factors into commercial and residential green building certification programs.


In 2006, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in partnership with manufacturers, retailers, distributors, and utility companies, established the WaterSense program. The program adds labels to such products as faucets, toilets, and showerheads that meet EPA water-efficiency and performance standards—typically 20-30% more efficient than standard products.

The EPA's goal for the WaterSense label is to have it achieve the same level of recognition among consumers as its Energy Star label, which rates the energy efficiency of products and buildings. The signs are encouraging. “WaterSense has had a big leap in market share,” says Stephanie Tanner, lead engineer for WaterSense. “In 2007, our rated toilets had only 2% of the market, and in 2008 we had 8.8%. We also had 11.7% of the faucet market and 24.6% of all faucet aerators.” Tanner says there are 300 different toilets and 800 faucets and aerators available with the WaterSense label.

The WaterSense Commercial and Institutional Certification Program is still in the planning and comment stage, but the broad outlines of the program are beginning to take shape.


The EPA is defining the CI sector as including any building with a use other than residential, and figures these building types to account for 17% of water drawn from public supplies.

The EPA homed in on six commercial property types that it determined accounted for the largest consumption of water. The WaterSense CI program stipulates a potential 40% reduction in water use: office buildings, 43,338,240 gal/yr; schools, 37,798,766 gal/yr; restaurants, 15,640,869 gal/yr; laundries, 4,887,771 gal/yr; healthcare facilities, 4,877,771 gal/yr; hospitality, 3,258,514 gal/yr.

WaterSense targets include:

  • Indoor domestic water use (restrooms, washing machines, dishwashers)

  • Cooling and heating (cooling towers, single-pass cooling)

  • Outdoor water use (irrigation, native plantings)

Implementing a WaterSense CI program will present the EPA with several challenges, among them whether to roll out a broad program that includes all commercial and institutional sectors or to focus on one sector at a time. The large-scale rollout allows WaterSense to capture economies of scale. However, the-one-size-fits-all program might not work because different types of commercial and institutional buildings have technology and operating procedures specific to their needs.

Choosing the single building type option would enable WaterSense to target those commercial sectors with the greatest potential for improvement in water efficiency first. However, such an approach might mean that the EPA would miss out on water savings opportunities for non-targeted sectors.

The EPA is still accepting comments on its proposed WaterSense program for the commercial and institutional sector. Review the proposal at: http://www.epa.gov/watersense/docs/ci_whitepaper.pdf



LEED has several green building rating “products,” as the USGBC calls its rating programs, all with a Water Efficiency (WE) component. LEED for New Construction, Commercial Interiors, Core & Shell, Neighborhood Development, and Schools all have a prerequisite of a minimum 20% water use reduction compared to a baseline building. LEED-NC, LEED-CI, LEED-CS, LEED-ND, and LEED for Schools water use reduction excludes commercial steam cookers, commercial dishwashers, automatic ice makers, commercial and residential clothes washers, and residential dishwashers.


LEED for New Construction addresses design and construction for both new buildings and major renovations of existing buildings.

In addition to the 20% prerequisite, additional credits are: water-efficient landscaping, 2-4 credits; innovative wastewater technologies, 2 credits; water use reduction, 2-4 credits.


LEED for Commercial Interiors addresses tenant spaces in office, retail, and institutional buildings. In addition to the 20% prerequisite, additional reductions in water use can yield the following: 30% reduction, 6 credits; 35%, 8 credits; 40%, 11 credits.

LEED FOR CORE & SHELL (WE credits: 10)

LEED for Core & Shell is used for projects where developers control design and construction of the core and shell base building but have no control over tenant fit-out. Additional credits beyond the 20% prerequisite: water efficient landscaping, 2-4 credits; innovative wastewater technologies, 2 credits; additional water use reduction, 2-4.


LEED-EBOM certifies sustainability of ongoing operations within existing commercial and institutional buildings.

The prerequisite here is for a minimum 20% water use reduction compared with a building with plumbing systems substantially completed after 1992, and a 60% water use reduction compared with a baseline calculated for a building with plumbing system substantially completed before 1993. Additional credits include: water performance measurement, 1-2 credits; additional indoor plumbing fixture and fitting efficiency, 1-5 credits; water-efficient landscaping, 1-5 credits; cooling tower water management, 1-5 credits.

LEED FOR SCHOOLS (WE credits: 11)

LEED for Schools addresses new schools and major renovations to existing schools. Beyond the 20% prerequisite, additional credits include: water-efficient landscaping, 2-4 credits; innovative wastewater technologies, 2 credits; water use reduction, 2-4 credits; process water use reduction, 1 credit.


LEED for Neighborhood Development integrates smart growth, urbanism, and green building into the first national system for neighborhood design.

In addition to the 20% prerequisite, additional credits include: building water efficiency, 1 credit; water-efficient landscaping, 1 credit; stormwater management, 1-4 credits; wastewater management, 1-2 credits.

LEED FOR RETAIL—DRAFT (WE credits: CI, 11; NC, 10)

The LEED for Retail pilot has two ratings systems: LEED for Retail New Construction and LEED for Retail Commercial Interiors.

Both LEED for Retail programs require the 20% minimum reduction for the tenant space (for the CI program) and the building (for the NC program). LEED for Retail CI adds a second prerequisite: 20% water use reduction for commercial equipment performance.

Additional CI credits include: water use reduction of 30%, 6 credits; 35%, 8 credits; 40%, 11 credits. Additional NC credits: water-efficient landscaping, 2-4 credits; innovative wastewater technologies, 2 credits; water use reduction, 2-4 credits.



The Green Building Initiative's proposed American National Standard 01-200XP: Green Building Assessment Protocol for Commercial Buildings is aimed at new commercial construction, major commercial renovations, and multifamily buildings taller than three stories. The program is currently in draft form.

The standard proposes four levels of achievement and a possible total 1,000 points: Level 1, 35-45% of points; Level 2, 55-69%; Level 3, 70-84%; Level 4, 85-100%. Water assessment accounts for 130 possible points (13%).

Water assessment includes 10 categories:

  1. Plumbing fixtures, fittings, appliances, and equipment, 46 points

  2. Cooling towers, 18 points

  3. Boilers and water heaters, 3 points

  4. Commercial food service operations, 12 points

  5. Medical, dental, and laboratory facilities, 11 points

  6. Commercial/institutional laundries, 10 points

  7. Special water features. 4 points

  8. Water treatment, 5 points

  9. Alternate sources of water, 15 points

  10. Metering, 6 points



The Collaborative for High Performance Schools was founded in 1999 to improve energy efficiency in schools. Eleven states have developed CHPS high-performance criteria, and there are 46 completed CHPS schools across the country. Recognition is either by third-party verification or self-certification.

Water efficiency, one of seven categories, maxes out at nine points—less than 8% of total possible points, although there is a prerequisite for a water use budget. The nine available points: reduce potable water for non-recreational landscaping areas (2), reduce potable water for recreational area landscaping (1), irrigation system testing and training (1), reduce sewage conveyance from toilets (2), and reduce indoor potable water use (2), and water management systems (1).



The Green Guide for Health Care gives healthcare designers, owners, and operators a voluntary, self-certifying program they can use to evaluate green design, construction, and operating practices. The Green Guide offers two programs, Construction and Operations, in a single document.

1. Construction: 97 points, with a prerequisite for eliminating potable water use for medical equipment cooling. Water efficiency accounts for six points (6%).

2. Operations (for existing buildings): 72 points, with a prerequisite for a minimum 20% water use reduction compared with a baseline building. Water conservation accounts for eight points (11%).



The National Association of Home Builders offers two green homes programs whose water-efficiency guidelines can be incorporated into new home construction or significant remodeling projects.

The Model Green Home Building Guidelines program (launched 2005) applies to new single-family homes and detached multifamily dwellings. The program offers three levels of green building certification: Bronze (minimum 6 WE points of 237 possible), Silver (minimum 13 WE of 311), and Gold (minimum 19 WE of 395).

The National Green Building Standard, launched in 2007, developed in partnership with the International Code Council (ICC), is the first residential green building rating system to receive full ANSI approval. Four certification levels are offered: Bronze (minimum 14 WE points of 222 possible), Silver (minimum 26 WE of 406), Gold (minimum 41 WE of 558), and Emerald (minimum 60 WE of 697). As of October 2009, 500 homes have earned certification.

Both programs exclude additions of any size to existing multifamily buildings, additions greater than 75% of the original conditioned area of an existing single-family home that do not involve renovation of the original building, and developments that do not contain any residential uses.



Masco's Environments for Living and Environments for Living Certified Green are national turn-key programs designed to help builders construct green homes. More than 130,000 homes have been certified under the programs.

Environments for Living Certified Green's water-efficiency features are designed to provide a minimum 20% indoor water savings.


LEED FOR HOMES (WE credits: 15)

LEED for Homes targets the top 25% of new homes. Of 15 possible Water Efficiency credits, a minimum of three must be achieved in the water efficiency category. Credits include: water reuse (3-5 possible); irrigation system (1-4), and indoor water use (1-6). A total 3,050 homes are LEED certified, and more than 19,000 are registered.



The WaterSense New Home Certification program, which is expected to go into effect by the end of the year, will apply to new single-family homes and townhouses up to three stories.

To comply, builders must construct homes where water usage is at least 20% less than that of standard homes. Their homes must then be examined by EPA-approved, third-party certification providers and inspectors who will evaluate individual properties.

WaterSense Requirements

Indoor Water Use

Static service pressure: Maximum 60 psi.

Hot water distribution system: No more than 0.6 gallons of water storage in any piping/manifold between hot water source and fixture.

Toilets and bathroom faucets: WaterSense-labeled high-efficiency fixtures.

Kitchen faucets: Maximum flow rate, 2.2 gpm.

Showerheads: Maximum flow rate of 2.5 gpm at 80 psi. Total allowable flow rate for all showerheads flowing at a given time limited to 2.5 gpm in a single shower compartment. The WaterSense draft specification for showerheads sets the maximum flow rate at 2.0 gpm at 80 psi.

Appliances: Energy Star-rated units.

Evaporative cooling systems: Maximum 3.5 gallons per ton-hour of cooling.

Water softeners: Must meet NSF/ANSI Standard 44.

Outdoor Water Efficiency

Landscaping: Option 1 allows the use of turfgrass, not to exceed 40% of the landscape. Option 2 allows sustainable plantings with specific water allowances based on a 70% evapotranspiration adjustment factor.

Pools/spas: Must have a cover.

Irrigation system: Must be designed to sustain landscape without creating runoff or direct overspray, achieve a lower-quarter distribution uniformity of 70% or greater, and be equipped with rain sensors to prevent operation during rainfall.

Irrigation controls: Must have multiple programming capabilities and allow for variable scheduling.


  Used in last 18-24 months Expect to use in next 18-24 months Used in last 18-24 months Expect to use in next 18-24 months
  Nonresidential Residential
Base: Nonresidential, 667-674; Residential, 156-158
*LEED for Neighborhood Development only.
**Green Globes (New Construction) only.
Source: BD+C/Professional Builder 2009 White Paper Survey
LEED (USGBC) [New Construction, Commercial Interiors, Core & Shell, Retail, Existing Buildings O&M, Schools, Neighborhood Development, etc.] 64% 82% 10%* 29%*
WaterSense Product Labeling Program (EPA) 26% 46% 17% 47%
LEED for Homes (USGBC) 19% 41% 22% 46%
Green Globes (Green Building Initiative) 17% 40% 10%** 32%**
National Green Building Standard (NAHB) 14% 33% 29% 66%
Green Guide for Health Care (GGHC) 14% 29% - -
Labs21 (U.S. EPA and USDOE) 10% 20% - -
WaterSense Water-Efficient Single-Family New Home Specification (EPA)- 25% - 45%  
CHPS (Collaborative for High Performance Schools) 7% 18% - -
Environments for Living (Masco) 2% 10% 5% 16%
GreenPlumbers Accreditation 2% 8% 1% 11%
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