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  • Writer's pictureKaren Fletcher

The SectorScope Analysis: Water conservation in buildings

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

Running water from a tap

Background Water shortages have been described recently as: “Europe’s next big crisis.” Northern Europe, including the UK, is getting hotter. In April 2023, more than a quarter of Europe is officially in drought. And it’s not just our summers that are sweltering – warmer winters mean less water to fill the reservoirs.

Drought affected soil

While climate change is one of the leading causes of our water crisis, poor management and planning must also take the blame. Across Italy, France, Spain and the UK, governments have let water management fall by the wayside. The resulting scramble to sort out the issue means that all business sectors can expect to see increased legislation on water use - and that applies to construction and its clients.

What’s happening now? Here in the UK, the government published its Plan for Water early in April 2023. It sets out a mission that involves “transforming the management of the whole water system” to tackle shortages and other problems such as pollution and leaks.

On the demand side, the Plan outlines targets for water use reduction. A headline goal is to cut use in England by 20% per head of population by 2030. Non-household use (i.e. businesses) will have to cut their water use by 9% by 31st March 2038. By 2050, that target is 15%.

Using a shower

Another proposal is the inclusion of water scarcity information in EPCs for buildings. However, it should be noted that the government is also changing EPCs and how energy use is certified, so this may appear in some other format. In addition, the government is also proposing the development of guidance on ‘water positive’ or ‘net zero water’ developments.

This latter point leads to the use of planning powers to regulate water use in new developments. This may see the introduction of 'credit points’ for incorporating measures to enhance water efficiency, reuse and rainwater harvesting.

In September 2022, DEFRA undertook a consultation on Mandatory Water Efficiency Labelling. The study focused on a proposed labelling scheme (to be introduced in 2025) for significant users of water in households: showers, toilets, kitchen and bathroom taps. Other products submitted include washing machines and dishwashers.

While these products are primarily found in homes, they are also installed in offices, schools and other non-dwellings where the labelling would also apply. The label would be separate from any energy labelling but work similarly with gradings from A to G. The aim is to make the label accessible to consumers and installers.

Washing machine

Along with the mandatory label, the government would also set maximum flow rates for products. The modelling in the government’s background analysis for this scheme introduces a maximum flow rate five years after introducing a mandatory water efficiency label, with revisions made to tighten that flow rate at years eight and eleven. The government document notes: “We may in future consider consulting on policy proposals to introduce minimum standards for water-using products.”

What does this mean for construction suppliers? Manufacturers of water-using products should be aware of the progress on the product labelling and flow-rate proposals. Products that carry labels would also be listed on a database of products. It will be essential to ensure your products are on that list so that they can be identified easily by domestic and commercial construction sector customers.

Looking at products which could benefit from this increased focus on water, anything that reduces water consumption should be marketed accordingly. This could range from water-reducing taps to pressure-reducing valves.

Rainwater harvesting and reuse will become increasingly important in domestic and commercial developments. For commercial building developers and owners, good water management policies will support sustainable corporate credentials. For example, helping them understand the benefits of technologies such as greywater harvesting will be essential for marketing and sales teams.

water conservation, energy use and carbon reduction

For designers already focused on delivering energy-efficient and low-carbon buildings, water use should also be added to considerations and raised with clients. Given the proposed dates (and pressing need) for introducing improved water conservation measures in the UK, it is better to get ahead of this issue rather than handing over buildings that are wasteful of this vital resource.

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