Mandatory standards on water use for new homes

Water efficiency standards for new houses are to be introduced into building regulations, according to a consultation by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the Environment Department (DEFRA).1

The regulations set mandatory performance standards for new buildings, including energy conservation. In December, the government proposed tightening the regulations to make all new homes ‘zero-carbon’ by 2016 (ENDS Report 383, p 4 ).

The proposal for a new water efficiency requirement would affect buildings for housing and business use in England and Wales, but not water used in industrial processes. Industrial water use at larger sites is regulated through the integrated pollution prevention and control regime.

The proposals come in response to concerns over government plans to build 200,000 homes per year in the south-east where water demand is already unsustainable. Average household water use has risen 55% over the past 25 years as a result of more single-occupancy households and the use of water-using appliances.

The south of England faced a potentially serious drought last summer and climate change is likely to exacerbate the situation (ENDS Report 374, p 5 ).

The government is proposing to adopt a whole-building performance standard of 120-135 litres per person per day for houses. The consultation invites recommendations for a specific target within this range. Current UK average water consumption is 150l/person/day. Average consumption in the south-east is 160l/person/day.

In the workplace, a standard of 20l per full-time employee per day is proposed. This is based on the minimum level under the Building Research Establishment’s BREEAM office standard.

The standards will apply to all normal fixtures and fittings such as baths, showers and toilets. They also take into account water use by common appliances such as washing machines.

The departments say the standards are "achievable and realistic" and could be met using existing water efficient technology. The whole-building approach will allow housebuilders flexibility to achieve the target. The consultation rejects an alternative approach of setting standards for individual fittings.

The standard does not include items with high water use, such as spa baths. The consultation asks for comments on whether these should be regulated separately, and if so, how.

Strangely, the government rejects making water butts a requirement of the regulations, despite the obvious low-cost benefits of using rainwater for gardens instead of mains water. Bath water recycling is also not included.

The proposals are intended to complement the voluntary code for sustainable homes, which was also published in December.2 DCLG beefed up the code last year after criticism that it lacked ambition (ENDS Report 374, pp 4-5 ).

The code is used to rate building performance in categories such as materials use, energy and water use.

The code’s performance criteria are intended to be set above regulatory standards. The minimum consumption level to receive points under the code is 120l/person/day, while a level of 80l/person/day would score maximum points.

The government says it may amend the criteria depending on what level the regulatory standard is set at after consultation.

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