Consider for a minute your toilet: The humble commode is a vital tool for public health and sanitation – not to mention your own comfort – but to function it needs a constant supply of fresh, potable water. That resource is abundant in many Canadian communities, but for Ontario developer Geranium Corporation the question is not whether water conservation will someday become a bigger deal, but when.
“Why would you flush eight cups of drinking water? Water conservation isn’t going to come down to what me or what Geranium wants,” said Boaz Feiner, president of Geranium. “It is going to be a requirement in some shape or form, we are going in that direction. … In parts of the United States, they are already restricting building permits if you can’t show how many gallons of water you’re saving.”
That’s why in a Pickering, Ont., community of 21 homes Geranium is preparing to sell (called Edgewood), it is making standard in each home a water-saving technology called a grey-water system that takes water from your shower drain, filters and recycles it back to fill your toilet tanks. They believe they are the first builder in Ontario to deploy the tech to an entire community in this small pilot.
The water usage could be 25-per-cent less than what a typical home uses.
“We’ve been doing grey-water installation rough-ins for about a decade,” said Mr. Feiner, part of some planning processes award points to builders for sustainability measures. “Geranium Is a behind the wall-builder. … When we have a model home we walk people through, we actually ensure as part of our tour we go into the mechanical room, most builders don’t show it off.”
But the rough-ins required homeowners to go out and find their own filtration systems, and while some do it can be a difficult system to maintain. Simplifying that system has since 2013 been the chief goal of Geranium’s supplier Greyter Water Systems Inc., which has come up with the model the company is installing in Pickering. It’s the company’s first pilot community in Canada, it has a nine-house pilot ongoing in the United States.
“We are the only residential grey-water certified product on the market,” said Jon Bell, John Bell, chief commercial officer with Greyter. The main barriers to the technology’s spread have been cost and ease of use: “What we know about our homeowners, we don’t want to scare them. Not everyone has a PhD,” Mr. Feiner said.
Greyter’s system is essentially a self-contained unit about the size of water-heating tank that doesn’t require the homeowner to do anything, other than every six months a Greyter technician needs to refill a chlorine tank (at a cost of less than $100 a year). Even that is not good enough, and Mr. Bell said Greyter is confident it can make a system that requires even less attention.
“There’s never been an appliance in the home capable of doing this,” said Mark Sales, Greyter chief executive officer. “Most bright minds in the water space thought it was impossible, the builders insisted [it] be achieved.”
Greyter’s market is with production builders, and their key target is the United States, where such states as California, Colorado and Florida are continuing to tighten rules around new construction and water.
If you live in an urban or suburban community it’s likely you don’t spend much time thinking about how the water that comes out of your tap got there. To break through that complacency takes an external even such as a drought, or disaster such as in Flint, Mich., where six years after a crisis of lead poisoning in the municipal water supply began the city still has not replaced all the damaged, dangerous water lines. But there are Canadian municipalities – such as Guelph and York Region in Ontario – that are seeking ways to conserve how much water homes use, and also to limit the amount of water they need to treat at sewage plants.
Still, for most homeowners in North America water is still too cheap (even if costs in some areas rise by as much as 8 per cent a year according to Mr. Bell) to justify the upfront cost of a grey-water system: the builder price is $4,500, retail would be closer to $6,000, and that’s before retrofitting the plumbing in existing homes.
Greyter has secured an investment from U.S. home-building giant Lennar Corporation – which constructed more than 50,000 homes in the U.S. last year – and is working closely with the company to scale up its operation. It’s next pilot will be a 40-home installation in Tucson, Ariz.
“I really believe the next five years one in four new homes will have a grey-water system,” Mr. Bell said.
Mr. Feiner says his experience with pressures on the water supply in Israel convinces him it’s worth experimenting with these systems, even if some Canadians might not see the need yet. “We don’t like to be taken by surprise. … When energy consumption was reduced in the building code we were already experimenting,” he said. “Back in 2008 we made a company decision that we were always building better than the code, and our passion is technology.”
And the pilot homes are 3,500-square-foot buildings on 50-foot lots that start at more than $1.2-million, so to Geranium a couple thousand extra for a grey-water system seems like a worthwhile investment in the future of water conservation.
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