In Search of Net Zero Water: Stepping Stones
Building and sanitation codes do an incredibly good job of protecting the public from waterborne hazards in homes, restaurants and all kinds of lavatories. Yet preventing larger hazards from the built environment – beyond individual buildings – not so much.
Hazards like climate-driven droughts, polluted streams and oceans, and compounding threats to clean drinking water from our petroleum-based economy. Many of these are emergent hazards, becoming clearer every day as the scale of their impact multiplies.
The Living Building Challenge attempts to address these hazards with its net-zero water and energy imperatives, but plumbing, sanitation codes and development rules have a long way to go to make resilient water systems the norm rather than the exception. For that, our homes and buildings would need to capture and treat rainwater for all domestic uses; end the use of clean drinking water for flushing toilets and other non-potable uses; treat and reuse all waste water and stormwater on-site.
Innovative codes adopted by some jurisdictions, spurred by groundbreaking projects providing their own water needs, are stepping stones that offer a pathway forward which building designers and regulators can use to meet the critical water challenges of our time.
- Projects like the Bullitt Center in Seattle, a building that acts like a tree, treating wastewater in a constructed green roof and infiltrating it in a green planter strip in the public right-of-way.
- Like the Birch Home inside the Bellingham city limits that has gone “off grid” by treating rainwater to drink, using waterless composting toilets, plus a green roof and raingardens that absorb rain like a nurse log would.
- And like Bud Clark Commons, a transitional homeless shelter in Portland, that treats water from showers, bathroom sinks and laundry facilities through filters and plumbing to flush all the toilets in the building
These are three of the latest case studies in the Code Innovations Database, documenting successful permitting precedents for high-performance innovations in water ans energy saving , each one a stepping stone that makes it easier for others to follow in the footsteps of our best and brightest EcoBuilding innovators.