As Day Zero Approaches, Home Builders Need To Prepare

As Day Zero Approaches, Home Builders Need To Prepare

Day Zero, the day when tap water will no longer be available, has happened in several places in the world in recent years and is predicted to start afflicting more and more cities within the next decade, with Los Angeles and New York in the top of possibilities worldwide.

This crisis would be incredibly devastating, but it can be slowed down. New home design and the education of residents could transform a typical 500 liter per day user to just 50 liters per day without significant sacrifice, which is the goal of a new coalition, called the 50L Home Coalition.

At the head of the coalition is global consumer product manufacturer Procter & Gamble. I recently toured the company’s booth at the 2021 digital Consumer Electronics Show to learn about the coalition with government agency members and other companies like Kohler.

The Why

Frantz Beznik, research and development senior director and global head of sustainable innovation at Procter & Gamble, is spearheading the project, which started two years ago when Cape Town was faced with Day Zero threats because of a massive drought.

  • Fourteen of 20 of the world’s largest cities are already experiencing water scarcity.
  • Two-thirds of the global population is projected to live in water-stressed areas by 2025.
  • Water usage is responsible for approximately 16{911ea05452e114f1778c76ca86733b6032c246f8f651bb1f01d12abf04b54efb} of energy consumption in the home.

Because of the critical supply issue, Beznik was forced to ask, “What if our homes tomorrow could run at 50L per day per person yet feel like 500L?” That was the question that became the ambition of the 50L Home and that drove them to the tradeshow to share awareness and to seek additional partnerships to turn the dream into reality.

Walking around the virtual booth, visitors can see the different things water is used for every day – washing hands, doing laundry, drinking, cooking, washing dishes, showering, flushing the toilet and more.

The tour also offers true quantification of some of the water usage. For instance, a 10-minute shower can use up to 100L of water. Plus, a booth callout states that most of the water usage in the home is heated water, and after heating the home, the process of heating water is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.                                                                        

Designing For A Finite Resource

The 50L Home demonstrates not only a lifestyle change through innovation to use less water per day, but also the ways that a builder or developer can play a role in reducing water use.

Beznik outlines what builders and developers can do to solve this critical issue by breaking it down into two categories: inside the home and outside the home, which both focus on decentralization and circularity. Inside the home, builders should specify water-recycling appliances and systems, water-purifying and enriching products and consumables, and intelligent systems for reuse, enrichment and discharge.

“When water is decentralized, you can recycle it and supply the water more effectively because you can then go to technologies that speed up the heating,” Beznik said. “As you ultimately reduce to 50L, you’ll need less heating and can rely on electric heating at the points of use in the home. It also would allow the flexibility to rely on renewable energy or electric heating and get very efficient. Ultimately, the dream is to go to zero carbon.”

Builders also can specify low water use appliances. In a video about the coalition, Jonas Samuelson, president and CEO at appliance manufacturer Electrolux, speaks to its role in the coalition by offering new, innovative, low-water-use appliances.

Outside of the home, builders and developers will need to think about regulation as well, starting to work with cities for residential wastewater reuse, plumbing codes, and decentralized electricity grids.

The coalition wants to work on defining the regulatory framework to enable the aspects involved with its objectives, which will soon be demonstrated with pilots that start in three to four water stressed cities in the next three years. It also hopes to create an end-to-end modular solution that delivers 50L per person, per day for retrofit or for new built homes.

“We not only save water, but also begin to reduce our overall household energy and cost as water usage is responsible for approximately 16{911ea05452e114f1778c76ca86733b6032c246f8f651bb1f01d12abf04b54efb} of energy consumption in the home.” said David Kohler, president and CEO of the kitchen and bath product manufacturer Kohler Company, in the coalition’s informational video.

Future Innovation

The builders and manufacturers involved are envisioning solutions that would reconsider using fresh water for flushing toilets, that would recycle soapy rinse water from showers or washing machines, or that would even capture water from showers while they are heating up.

“Given water is very local, we’re thinking first about starting small with a pilot program in Los Angeles,” said Beznik. “We’ll use the pilot to really measure progress and impact on total water ecosystem, replenishment, and basins impact. Then, we can enlarge the scope to bigger portions of the US and other places in the world.”  

The caveat is that the coalition just started in October 2020 and is operating like a start up with lots of ideas to be ironed out. The coalition was convened by the World Economic Forum, the 2030 Water Resources Group and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. The initiative was selected by the World Economic Forum as one of its Lighthouse Projects in 2020; a project that exemplifies progress to address the pressing societal, economic, environmental, technology, regional and industry challenges of our time.

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