I’ve been having fun checking out new homes that are on the market here in Colorado.  I currently rent, but that’s not really why I’m looking.  I want to know how eco-friendly – and particularly how water efficient – these new homes are.  After all, water managers across the state are deeply engaged in Colorado’s Water Plan to address the State’s future water supply gap, which is due primarily to the expected population growth. So I wondered: what are builders doing about it?

I’ve toured a few new developments in Colorado, and it looks like we’ve got everything from your standard new home, to highly energy and water efficient homes (often at least 20% more efficient than a standard home) all the way to Earthship homes (made out of recycled materials like tires).  Ok so Earthships may not be for everyone, but in Colorado, the choice is yours.

New Eco-friendly homes are not hard to find if you’re looking for them, especially if you define eco-friendly as “energy-efficient.” Notably, there are several other features that can make a home eco-friendly, such as the sustainability of the building materials, the ultimate fate of the waste from the building/construction process, and of course, what got me started on all this, the water efficiency of a home.

It seems that in the State of Colorado we have made some serious progress inenergy efficiency. Of the top ten builders in Colorado, half of them are ENERGY STAR partners, indicating that they build some or all of their home to meet energy efficiency standards (beyond basic building code standards) as set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Moreover, many homes are now built to an even higher energy efficiency standard based on the HERS rating score. And, there are areas like the Candelas Community in Arvada in which all the homes come with solar PV (or are solar ready) and are coupled with several energy efficiency features.

But I think it’s fair to say that water efficiency is lagging a little bit. Few homes have earned the WaterSense New Homes label, a standard for water efficiency also developed by the EPA.  I peeked at faucet and toilet flow ratings, and only a few were super-efficient, while most of them just met the standard code (although thanks to SB103 this might change…).  I looked at the outdoor areas for water efficiency, and only some yards feature a mix of grass and xeriscape, others were just grass (if it was a low water use variety I couldn’t tell).

But in some areas – like in Colorado Springs – WaterSense new homes are popping up with some regularity, due in large part to the incentive offered to builders by the water utility.  And a handful of builders incorporate water efficiency features, but simply don’t have a rating or label for them. They build – and they sell – to whatever the demands of the market are, be it granite counter tops or 2 car garages.

New home buyers usually consider things like style and function, location, and price.  Eco-friendly features are an emerging interest, but it tends to be focused on energy features.  Perhaps if we can better include water efficiency into our eco-consciousness, buyers and builders can be unwitting partners in the State’s quest to balance future water demands with our limited supplies.