HUD’s Region IV Water Conservation Housing Initiative
By Rich Anderson and excerpts by HUD Regional Director Bob Young
July 24, 2006
Bob Young of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Region IV Director (former Mayor of Augusta, GA) addressed mayors at the Water Council’s Infrastructure Disaster Recovery Work Shop in Biloxi (MS) June 29. HUD has provided essential support for the recovering Gulf Coast communities since shortly after Hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita devastated the region. He focused on the opportunity to integrate water conservation through water efficient housing as the communities move forward with recovery plans.
Young stated that HUD has looked into water consumption in federal assistance housing programs. He stated that, “Many American communities are facing reduced water supplies and some have even imposed water conservation.” He also stated that, “…in many areas of the country, water and sewer rates have increased dramatically over the past few years – and are rivaling or exceeding the cost of energy. Reducing water use through conservation strategies not only saves resources, but also can generate significant cost savings.”
Water represents a significant cost in operating multi-family housing, since water charges are typically included in rental rates. Residents are free to use as much as they wish without any additional charges. While it may be difficult to persuade tenants to conserve water, physical modifications can be made to decrease resident consumption.
Young ran down a list of important ways that technology can play a big role in helping with water efficiencies. He identified a number of examples: improved technology has resulted in the availability of reliable, high-quality water'saving toilets. Toilets account for 25 to 50 per cent of total household water consumption. Older toilets use anywhere from four to ten gallons per flush. New models use 1.6 gallons or less per flush, cutting water use by 60 to 80 per cent.
Young also indicated that lowering water use in existing properties presents special challenges. Extensive renovation may not be economically viable for some properties. Retrofit strategies, on the other hand, are less invasive and may be better suited. For example, installation of low-flow showerheads at a cost of $17 per unit could save as much as 2,000 gallons of water per year. Low flow faucet aerators cost as little as $2, and can save more than 1,500 gallons of water a year.
Young stated that the housing industry is starting to integrate conservation measures. The Housing Authority for Houston partnered with the Houston Water Conservation Branch in a pilot project to assess the cost-effectiveness of installing water-efficient plumbing devices in a low income, multi-family project. Following a water audit, existing toilets at the 60-unit Kennedy Place were replaced with ultra-low-flush models; leaky faucets were repaired or replaced; low-flow faucet aerators were added; and individual water meters were installed to monitor consumption. The project also included water-conservation education for the tenants. Following the upgrades, average water savings totaled nearly one million gallons each month, or 72 percent of the average consumption for the complex. The average monthly combined water and sewer bill decreased by 79 percent. Total cost of the project was $12,000, shared by the two partners.
Young identified another recent example. HUD is working with Atlanta, the US EPA, the US Department of Energy and other partners in a demonstration Energy Star house that will incorporate simple water conservation measures that any homeowner can take with a visit to Home Depot or Lowe’s. HUD has given to the city one of our reposed FHA properties. A local non-profit affordable housing developer will do the actual work to upgrade the house and install water conservation landscaping. The improvements will be labeled so industry partners and the general public can take self-guided tours through the home to see the work and learn how those upgrades can lower the cost of operating a home, while saving resources. At the end of the demonstration period the home will be sold to a family as affordable housing.
Young was excited about the project because water represents a significant cost in operating multi-family housing as water charges are typically included in rental rates. This approach allows residents to continue to consume water as usual but the physical modifications can actually decrease overall resident consumption.
Young and the Mayors Water Council are exploring the opportunity to partner on future projects in HUD Region IV. He stated that HUD has additional on-line resources devoted to housing and water conservation that is available on www.hud.gov.