Posts Tagged ‘New Homes Alhambra’

With water a VERY hot topic in California right now, I thought I’d make an Encore post of a Blog I wrote on water back in June 2012. Enjoy.

Water Efficiency – An interesting aspect of the “green” movement.

Today I’m going to talk about Water Efficiency.

I find water efficiency one of the more interesting aspects of the “green” movement. First, unlike coal, natural gas or most other natural resources, the supply of water is actually unlimited. And it keeps getting made every day. Second, and probably most important, we actually NEED the stuff to survive. You could make an argument that we couldn’t “survive” as a modern society without the other supply-limited natural resources we’ve grown to rely on in everyday life, but without water we actually CAN’T survive. Our bodies need it to function.

So why do we need to be efficient with an unlimited resource?

The answer to that question is its the procurement and delivery of water that causes the issue. As I said, there’s enough water on the planet to take care of our needs… plus more gets made every day. Actually it recycles itself in a never ending circle whereby even the water we use today ends up falling out of the sky at some point in the future, available to be “used” again. The crux of the issue is it doesn’t always fall out of the sky or end up in the places where we need it the most. At least not today. Before modern civilization, humans ALWAYS chose to live where there’s water. After all our bodies need it to survive and before modern technology made it possible to get water where we want it, if you weren’t close to it, you didn’t last very long. Now that we’ve figured out how to procure and deliver it pretty much wherever we want it, we’ve been able to live in areas of the world that actually have no source of natural water, or a source so small it limits how much growth can occur without modern technology.

At the end of the day the simple answer is that growth of any kind is limited by the amount of water, or more realistically the access to an amount of water, necessary to sustain the population. Especially since the population NEEDS the water for their own biological survival. The more efficient we are with the use of water, the more growth that a given city, state, nation, whatever, can support. As the population grows and the demand for water increases, it’s obvious that if you don’t become more efficient with the use of that water, over time that population will need more water. The cost of procuring and delivering water to a given population, especially one where water isn’t naturally abundant, can be enormous. And sometimes physically impossible. Becoming more efficient with the use of water becomes a necessity, not an option.

Until next time


The first sub-category in the “Sustainable Sites” category of the LEED certification process is called “Site Stewardship”.

The intent of this sub-category is to minimize long term environmental damage to the site during the construction process.  It’s actually kind of a “duh” aspect of the process because it’s so obvious to builders in California.  The extensive Storm water laws in California mandate that we protect the site during the construction process. I built in Texas for many years and there were no laws whatsoever aimed at limiting environmental damage to the site during construction.  In California you can face some serious fines if you ignore the law.

From the LEED perspective, Site Stewardship, has only two components to it; Erosion controls during construction and minimize disturbance to the site.

Erosion control during construction is kind of self explanatory but this is the one that can get you in big trouble in California.  There has to be a plan in place so that NOTHING from the site erodes off the site. In other words if it rains for 3 days straight, or 30 days straight, not one grain of dirt from the site can end up in the storm drain system.  Protections must be in place to safeguard anything on the site from ever leaving the site.  Sounds pretty onerous, I agree, but in reality if every construction site had no protections in place, then the storm drain system would be overrun with sediment during any kind of rain event.  The only way to fix that is every so often someone has to pay to go clean out tons and tons of sediment from the storm drain system, which is exactly what the State of California was doing for years and years.  Billions of dollars were spent dredging all this dirt from storm drain channels until someone finally figured out that if we make laws forcing all construction sites to make sure nothing erodes from the site we wouldn’t have to clean out the storm drain channels so often.  LEED awards points for doing just that, but in California you don’t have a choice.

The second component has more to do with design than construction but LEED awards points if those decisions “steward” the site towards minimizing disturbance of the site.  If the site was NOT previously developed, and you leave 40% of the buildable area completely undisturbed, you can get points. If the site was NOT or WAS previously developed and you develop a tree or plant preservation plan for the site, you can get points.  The best part of this component is if you design with a density of greater than 7 per acre you can receive all the points in this component without doing any of the other things. Being an infill builder, we rarely ever build anything at less than 7 units per acre so that part is easy to achieve.

To sum up this component, we’re an infill builder in California.  Those two aspects alone make getting these LEED points almost impossible NOT to get.  By law we have to implement erosion controls during construction, and we wouldn’t even consider an infill project that yields less than 7 units per acre.

Next time let’s talk about the “Landscaping” sub-category of “Sustainable Sites”

Until then


So we left off talking about one of the 8 LEED scoring categories. Water Efficiency. Last week I talked about one of the three sub-categories of Water Efficiency; water reuse.

This week I’ll talk about one of the other two sub-categories; outdoor water use.

Outdoor water use has to do with the irrigation system for the landscaping. You’d think that the landscape design and the kind of plants etc would dictate how much water gets used and to a certain extent it does. But in reality it’s possible to have a completely inefficient irrigation system watering an expertly designed LEED certified landscape plan. That’s why landscape is part of another LEED category called “Sustainable Site”. To earn LEED points for outdoor water use, Irrigation systems must be designed and installed to minimize the amount of water needed to maintain the landscape. Although a lot of this is kind of obvious, you’d be amazed at how much is overlooked and ignored in most of the irrigation systems installed.

There are two ways the maximum amount of points can be earned for outdoor water use. One is install a high-efficiency irrigation system and have a third party verify its efficiency. The other is to use a formula that calculates the amount of water needed to irrigate a specified landscape area that takes into account species, microclimate factors and irrigation equipment and then reduce that amount by 45%. If that sounds complicated and subject to serious interpretation issues, I agree. The first way is much easier to comprehend and implement. Here you get points for adopting at least three of 7 “strategies” that create an efficient irrigation system. Obviously it would be most efficient to adopt all 7 but LEED at this time gives max points if you adopt three.

Design a system with head to head coverage is one. Doing this keeps the water coming out of the heads from overlapping each other causing some areas to be watered more heavily than others. A second way is to use drip irrigation on at least 50% of the landscape beds. This puts more water in the ground and less in the air through evaporation. A third is to create separate zones based on the bedding type. More porous bedding types obviously absorb water quicker and can stand longer watering times while non-porous beds will create runoff in the same time frame. Installing a timer is a fourth way. This allows the landscape zones to be watered at the best time of day to avoid evaporative effects and to only water for a specified time related to the needs of each zone. Fifth is to install pressure regulating devices to maintain proper pressure and avoid misting. Misting water never hits the ground and ends up as humidity in the air. Sixth is to use high efficiency nozzles that control distribution uniformity so areas within the zone receive the same amount of water. And seventh is to install a moisture sensor controller that shuts the system down in case of rain. How stupid is it when you see someone’s sprinklers on while its raining.

As I said its best to use all 7 seven strategies but for LEED purposes you max out in terms of points at three. I think over time in locales that have water issues, all these strategies will be law instead of optional, and in reality they should be. As I said before most of the growth in this country is occurring in areas with water issues and learning how not to “waste” water now, makes it easier in the future.

Next time we’ll talk about indoor water use.
Until then


So last time we talked a little about water efficiency. I talked about how water is an interesting natural resource because we definitely need to be efficient in its use, but not because of its scarcity. In fact water is basically an unlimited resource. We need to be efficient in its use because it’s a pain in the ass and costly to procure, treat and distribute. Especially if you live in an area where it doesn’t naturally exist… most of the southwestern portion of the United States. Of course that’s ironic because MOST of the growth in this country in the last 50 years has occurred in the southwest portion of the United States.

Remember I also said last time that growth can be severely limited by access to water. As a region tries to grow, if it can’t get water, it won’t grow for long. As the costs of getting MORE water to an area increase, it will eventually become a situation where those costs will exceed the ability of that region to grow. If the costs of getting MORE water are prohibitive, then the only way to grow is to use the water that you ARE getting more efficiently.

LEED awards points in their certification process for building new homes and neighborhoods that use water more efficiently. There are three areas points can be earned.

First is the reuse of water. And there’s three ways points can be earned there. First we can capture and reuse rainwater. Obviously it can’t be used for everything as it isn’t treated for drinking or bathing purposes, but it can certainly be harvested and used for landscaping. Of course it’s a little expensive and impractical to try and harvest rain in an area that has little or no rainfall so we haven’t looked at this option very seriously.

Second is the use of “gray water”. Gray water is untreated household wastewater that has not come into contact with toilet waste, kitchen sinks or dishwashers. It includes used water from bathtubs, showers, bath sinks, and clothes washers. Toilet waste and used water from kitchen sinks and dishwashers is called black water. It cannot be reused. Gray water absolutely can be reused for landscaping purposes. A sewer system must be devised that separates black and gray water and diverts them to different areas. This is where the cost comes in. In most communities ALL wastewater goes into the same sewer system and ends up in city treatment facilities. LEED will award points for a project that devises a system to separate and capture gray water so it can be reused.

Third is utilizing a Municipal Gray Water system. Some forward thinking cities have their own systems in place that separate gray and black water. Building a project that hooks into that system gets LEED points as it helps use water more efficiently.

The other two areas LEED awards points for has to do with outdoor and indoor use. I’ll address them next time

Until then


Last time we learned that the “energy” from natural resources required to run a home are not the only natural resources involved in the production and operation of a new home. We also learned that LEED certification is a way to measure how green a home is by documenting how each of those natural resources is more efficiently used when compared to a non-green home, or even another less green home.

So what are those other resources? Well LEED has 8 separate measurements in defining a green home. Of course we’re already familiar with the first and largest component which is “Energy”. The others are; Innovation and Design Process, Sustainable Sites, Locations and Linkages, Water Efficiency, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, and finally Awareness and Education.

Now at first glance you’re probably asking “how the heck does Innovation and Design Process make a home greener or use natural resources more efficiently?”. Well that’s why I’m here…. To be the answer man. Let me go back and remind you that way back in Blog #1, I defined “green” as any effort and any strategy taken to reduce the DEMAND of natural resources. Any effort. Any strategy. Any natural resource. Reduce demand of natural resources and you’re being green. Period.

I also said that being green is a great short term strategy for Mother Earth, but it still won’t solve the problem. More people means more demand no matter how green everyone is being and eventually we still run out. Mother Nature isn’t making any more natural resources, so supply is limited. We keep making people, so demand grows. Eventually those lines will cross on the graph of bad news.

Whoops… now I’m backtracking.

The point I was going to try and make was that when you’re talking about Green Homebuilding, its not always obvious how certain practices or strategies can be considered green. Especially as it relates to how LEED scores and certifies projects. And that’s actually why I started this blog. So when you hear some news story or some builder claiming to be doing something green you’ll have a reference point from which to challenge them and decide if its true …or if its hype.

But now my rambling has left me no more room for this excerpt.

Until next time




The Green Builder’s Journal is written by Herb Gardner, President of City Ventures Home Building Group. Herb has 30 years experience managing the building of residential and apartment communities in over 60 municipalities in 3 different states.

A big proponent of in-fill communities and the urban lifestyle Mr. Gardner has extensive experience in all aspects of residential home building, ranging from land acquisition to warranty management, he specializes in managing teams of people in delivering communities on time, on budget and to the quality standards the marketplace demands.

For Questions, Feedback or observations you can Click here to Email Herb