Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Value of Value Engineering - Part 3

Recap - Parts 1 & 2
So to date, I've talked about paradigm shifts, easy buttons, LEED and sites. This week, it's water. I've written about water before in this blog -see my Water Follies post. But I don't think you can ever talk too much about water, especially our increasing lack of it. And water use is the second LEED category -Water Efficiency that is.

Water, Water Everywhere...??
Each day, we in the United States use an estimated 340 billion gallons of water to support our daily lives, from sewage conveyance, to water for drinking and cooking and washing, to irrigation, to manufacturing and more. We view water as an abundant resource and are used to turning on the tap or shower and having clean, fresh water at our disposal. We need water –we cannot live without it. It quenches, cleanses, nourishes and cultivates. But where does all this water come from? Generally, from lakes, rivers, and aquifers, whose health and balance, if you remember from Part 2 of this series, are tied directly to how much water infiltrates into the ground on site and how much runs off. And we are currently running at a deficit, using about 10 billion gallons more each day than what is really available to us.

Now you might think that 10 billion gallons a day over what we have isn’t really a lot. But that is based on the current population, estimated at around 304,000,000; predictions for 2050 hover around 402 million, with some predictions of US population topping 1 billion by 2100. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that the water deficit will continue to rise. In fact we are already starting to see hints of water wars, a significant one occurring in late summer of 2007.

Our Use and Misuse
So how do we use water?

Landscaping. We love manicured, landscaped lawns, whether it be our house, a campus, or an office park. But often we have landscaped with non-native species, inappropriate grasses, trees, shrubs and flowers all which require more water for irrigation, because we like the look or wish to win an award for best landscaped office park.

But what if we value engineered the landscaping to be a more natural landscape, like grasses and wildflowers, native species only. It would require less water –if any at all beyond natural rainfall. It would also reduce the need for lawn maintenance, and support restoration of ecosystems on site.

Then there’s toilets, sinks, urinals. There are quality low-flow fixtures out there, yet so often I hear people complain that they don’t flush –that you need two or three flushes, waterless urinals smell or plumbers fight their installation because they’ll lose work. Often however, the toilets which don’t flush correctly are the cheaper low flush toilets –because believe me, there are good toilets and there are bad toilets. Or waterless urinals aren’t maintained properly –you need to pour very hot, almost boiling water down into the pipes to help melt the calcified stuff. Or the cheaper sensor operated toilet or faucet is installed, because again, there are quality sensors and well, really bad sensors.

So in all of this, you save money in first costs on installation, but you spend more money in maintenance and to boot your water bills are higher. And with our water supplies dwindling, the cost of water will only rise.

And where is the value in any of this?

Water Reflections During Lent
I think during this time, Lent, it is especially important to consider water, and what it means. In the Episcopal church today, the readings all centered around water. Genesis 9:8-17, God's covenant with mankind after the devastating flood that wiped out all of humanity, creation really, save Noah and his family and the animals on the Ark. Never again, God promises, will a flood destroy all of humanity, of creation. Then 1 Peter 3:18-22, which talks about baptism and water, "...not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for good conscience..." And finally, the Gospel According to Matthew, 1:9-15, which talks about Jesus' baptism by John. It might be a good time for us to reflect on our use of -and abuse of, water. Are we destroying ourselves, our own humanity, by our misuse of water? Are we acting in good conscience in our use of water, no matter your faith or spritual belief? And, do we need 40 days of being in the wilderness to reflect on this, to emerge anew?


Richard Stafursky said...


I like your statement

"But what if we value engineered the landscaping to be a more natural landscape, like grasses and wildflowers, native species only. It would require less water –if any at all beyond natural rainfall", A Green Building Theology.

We can wear the "skin" of the natural landscape, but to be honest, if we build on or near the natural landscape we always perpetually harm the natural landscape. The question then is who speaks for the natural in landscape in close encounters? Well, we must choose which hat to wear ... we can't wear two as some architects/landscapers would want you to believe. However, fifty years ago I chose to wear the hat solely speaking for the natural landscape each and every time ... even when push comes to shove.

In any case, you have done3 some thinking about such things. Great! Most people do not.

Richard H. Stafursky
Pres., WSLF
Conway, MA (Massachusetts), United States (USA)
(802) 257-9158
WSL (World Species List Forest)
The Natural Landscape
Richard is also known as Dropintheforest on YouTube

Richard lives in Brattleboro, VT (Vermont), United States

Sara Sweeney said...

Hi Richard -

Thanks for your comment -much appreciated and very thoughtful. I agree with you that whenever we build on or near the natural landscape, we indeed always harm it. My hope is that instead of re-making the landscape into our image, that when building, we understand what IS there or what WAS there, that is, what is natural to that place. Then, instead of re-making the landscape in our image, we make it in the image of what it IS, naturally. So in essence, it is value engineered to what it wants to be.

That of course probably opens up a whole host of questions too, which you allude to as well in your comment, that is, who speaks for the natural landscape.

Thanks again for your comment, and for reading.