The choice to build homes that use less water was the easy part for Beazer Homes USA's Jacksonville, Fla., division president Barbara Moore. Figuring out how to do it without adding much, if anything, to the cost of a home was much more complicated.
In late July, Beazer became the first national production builder to agree to build Florida Water Star certified homes, signing an agreement to build 100 houses that meet the year-old guidelines.
But before it made that commitment, Beazer spent about four months doing research and conducting meetings to ensure it could do it without raising the cost of its homes. Because Moore was sure customers would be unwilling to spend more for a water-saving house, she tasked Jim Moore, the company's vice president of construction, and no relation to her, with figuring out how to make it happen for next to nothing.
"They have got X number of dollars to spend on upgrades," says Jim Moore. "They are going to upgrade the cabinets, the countertops, the tile first, the things that really show off their home but they are not going to spend $1,000 more to get an Energy Star or Water Star home. They may say they will, but they won't."
Beazer worked closely with the water-saving experts at the St. Johns River Water Management District to figure out how to get the right combination of features to earn the Water Star label without adding to the bottom line.
"They were very helpful working with us to help figure out what would work, to save the most water for the least cost," says Jim Moore. But it took a lot of meetings, not only with the water management district's experts, but also with designers, materials suppliers, and contractors.
Finding ways to cut water usage inside homes was the easiest task. Already the company was using low-flow toilets and faucets. The only additional cost was beefing up the connections to dishwashers and washing machines, installing ones less likely to break and cause costly leaks and damage.
The challenge to conserve water for outside irrigation was much more complicated. Ideally, new homes would have no irrigation systems at all. Sprinklers can easily become the largest water-user in a home. But that wasn't an option for Beazer in northeast Florida, says Barbara Moore. "It's an expected feature."
By limiting thirsty turf grass and using native plants that are used to surviving in Florida's sandy soil and hot sun, the amount needed to irrigate was reduced. Then, by grouping plants around the house in relation to which areas are sunny and which are shady, further savings can be found, Moore says.
With the help of all the advisors, Beazer was able to develop several generic landscaping plans that can be mass-produced for production building in Florida. Already, Beazer has started using the plans. "It's great and it's working," says Moore.
The irrigation systems also are designed with a soil moisture sensor, in addition to the traditional rainfall monitor, that will keep automatic sprinklers from coming on when the soil is wet enough.
Barbara Moore thinks the company will earn more than goodwill with its Florida Water Star certified homes.
"I think with Energy Star and with Water Star there's definitely a competitive advantage."
But it's not one that might last for long. Already, other builders have been calling, asking about participating in the plan, says Linda Burnette, director of the water management district's office of community and governmental affairs.
And that's okay with Moore. "That's the only thing that will make this program of any benefit to the environment long-term–for a large number of builders to use it."
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