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Promoting Green Plumbing Solutions for
Future Plumbing System Design
For two years, the column “Plumbing Technology of the Future”
looked into the future of the plumbing industry. During that time,
market forces and technological improvements, such as high-
efciency fxtures, changed the plumbing profession. As a result of
these changes, sustainable building elements that reduce energy
and water usage and put a new focus on occupant safety have
moved from a niche market to the mainstream. Green plumbing
continues to evolve to meet the new challenges of tomorrow’s
marketplace, and the intent of this new green plumbing column
is to keep the plumbing engineer informed and to provide design
Te frst “Plumbing Technology of the Future” columns cov-
ered exotic new plumbing fxtures such as waterless urinals,
ultra-low-fow toilets, and dual-fush water closets. Now these
fxtures are part of a plumbing engineer’s everyday vocabulary.
Te intent of this column is not to promote or discourage even
newer systems, but rather to inform the plumbing engineer that
these technologies are on the way.
Many of my previous articles provided information that
looked far into the future, such as the one that discussed the
plumbing systems for the International Space Station. Some of
those systems are now in operation every day. Other articles cov-
ered plumbing systems for future moon and Mars bases. Tese
articles were not written as the speculation of science fction
writers; rather, they covered real research now under develop-
ment around the world.
When the column started, I was overwhelmed by all the new
plumbing products on the horizon to meet the new sustainable
market. It reminded me of all the products developed to meet
the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as the Clean Water
Act. Once again, manufacturers were completely redesigning
their product lines.
What has changed? In the last few years, our generation has
witnessed many events that have caused us to reconsider how
we design plumbing systems. We now ask if the plumbing sys-
tems designed in the 20
century meet the needs of the world for
the 21
Plumbing engineers watched a horrifc chain of events that
began on September 11, 2001. We learned that fre standpipes
located in the stairs of the World Trade Center were severed
and eliminated the fow of needed fre protection water to the
upper foors. City water main valves were hard to fnd, and as a
result, thousands of gallons of fre protection water were lost at a
critical time. Te Pentagon had ceiling cavities with no sprinkler
systems, causing the fre to spread across the building and sever
crucial Pentagon communication systems.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the entire city of New
Orleans. Vital water and power services to hospitals were com-
promised, as pumps, generators, fuel systems, and medical gas
systems all were located on food-vulnerable lower foors of
In recent years, weather events in diferent regions of the
world have resulted in water shortages. Cities that usually have
plenty of water such as Atlanta, Nashville, and Raleigh expe-
rienced limited water supplies, afecting water usage at con-
struction sites. New neighborhoods could not open as planned
because there was not enough municipal water to charge and
fush the piping distribution systems.
Large electric power generation systems had to shut down
because of water shortages. Hydroelectric dams could not gen-
erate power because of low water levels. Nuclear power plants
had to shut down because of the low water levels and high inlet
temperature of supply water. Coal generation plants could not
receive coal shipments because low water levels limited barge
movement. Power utilities had to generate power from natural
gas and diesel fuels, causing record high utility prices.
People started realizing that municipal water projections
were based on 100-year rainfall records. When 500-year rainfall
records were studied closely, it was realized that the 100-year
span used in the calculations was a wet 100 years when com-
pared to the 500-year perspective. Tus, in reality, water avail-
ability may be less than predicted. As a result, regional water
systems may have to supply water to growing populations with
less available water.
Fuel prices for transportation and building utilities increased
dramatically in 2008, restricting municipal water and sewer
companies from expanding and improving because capital bud-
gets were used to pay for unexpected fuel increases.
U.S. and world fnancial markets are in turmoil, and the avail-
ability of credit for new construction and renovation projects is
in doubt. Will building owners and developers be able to obtain
the fnancing they need to continue to build facilities with the
volume of square footage as they have in the past? Residential
markets continue to contract, and developers are concerned that
the efect could pass to the commercial market.
Global pressures are increasing demands on fresh water.
Large populations in developing countries want to make the
fush toilet available to more people. While the fush toilet does
increase short-term quality of life issues, is there enough fresh
water available to support the fush toilet, as we know it today, as
a solution for the world’s growing fresh water requirements?
Future buildings will raise the bar on efciency. Te market
will demand sustainable and green elements. Where sustainabil-
ity was once an option, in the future it will be everyday practice.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design
When I started this column in 2006, I had to explain the basic
concept of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in
Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. Now
our industry is familiar with the LEED point system and how to
obtain points for water efciency.
Te three major building water systems are plumbing fxtures,
irrigation, and process water. Early LEED rating systems concen-
trated on irrigation and plumbing fxtures. Newer rating systems
now include process water applications in a typical building.
While LEED remains for the most part a non-industrial building
rating system, process water includes water used for food service,
WWW.PSDMAGAZINE.ORG 20 Plumbing Systems & Design JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009
such as dishwashers, and mechanical systems, such as cooling
In 2006, LEED for New Construction was a basic, one-size-
fts-all rating system. However, just as the plumbing industry has
evolved to meet changing needs, USGBC continues to develop
new rating systems for diferent building types. Te rating sys-
tems are changing for 2009 and beyond.
At a meeting in Washington, D.C., USGBC water efciency
technical advisory group (TAG) members met with representa-
tives from all the other building disciplines. Te USGBC staf
asked the group where LEED should go to meet the demands of
the world in the next fve to 10 years. What should the next gen-
eration of LEED look like, and what types of credits should be in
place? Due to the input, LEED will continue to change, and as a
result, plumbing engineers will need to stay informed.
Te current LEED rating systems are as follows. (All quotes are
from the LEED Rating Systems website.)
New Construction (NC)
“LEED for New Construction and Major Renovations is
designed to guide and distinguish high-performance commer-
cial and institutional projects.” Tis is the frst rating system from
the USGBC, and it is very broad in its application. Because it was
the frst, it was intended to cover common green elements in all
building types. Now that more rating systems for other building
types are available, LEED-NC will concentrate on typical com-
mercial spaces such as ofce buildings. Currently, LEED-NC
focuses on water-efcient plumbing fxtures and irrigation. In
the future, it will include process water credits.
Existing Buildings (EB)
“LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Mainte-
nance provides a benchmark for building owners and operators
to measure operations, improvements, and maintenance.” While
LEED-NC focuses on architectural, MEP, and construction
design, LEED-EB focuses on building operations. Buildings can
operate efciently during the design and construction phase, but
it is the facility operations that follow through on the design and
construction and ultimately ensure the building is operating ef-
ciently. Water-efcient credits include process water credits.
Commercial Interiors (CI)
“LEED for Commercial Interiors is a benchmark for the tenant
improvement market that gives the power to make sustainable
choices to tenants and designers.” LEED-CI is for projects that
are built in a shell building. Te water-efciency credits concen-
trate on water-efcient plumbing fxtures.
Core and Shell (CS)
“LEED for Core and Shell aids designers, builders, developers,
and new building owners in implementing sustainable design
for new core and shell construction.” Te LEED-CS rating system
is intended to work with the LEED-CI credit. LEED-CS is for the
shell building, while LEED-CI is for the interior fnished areas.
“LEED for Schools recognizes the unique nature of the design
and construction of K–12 schools and addresses the specifc
needs of school spaces.” LEED for Schools is one of the newer
rating systems from USGBC. It includes irrigation, wastewater,
and plumbing fxture water-efciency credits, as well as some
new credits for process water use reduction, which is planned
for inclusion in the other rating systems. Te process water use
reduction includes food service equipment such as ice machines
and dishwashers and non-food service equipment such as
clothes washers.
“LEED for Retail recognizes the unique nature of retail design
and construction projects and addresses the specifc needs of
retail spaces.” Retail buildings have diferent demands than other
types. Tis is a new rating system just out of the pilot phase of
development. Similar to schools, retail includes water-efciency
credits for process water.
“LEED for Homes promotes the design and construction
of high-performance green homes.” Tis rating system covers
plumbing fxtures and includes some items in the plumbing
system that can reduce material and energy usage, such as
reducing lengths of run for hot water circulation piping.
“LEED for Healthcare promotes sustainable planning, design,
and construction for high-performance healthcare facilities.”
Te complex systems of a healthcare facility are diferent than
other buildings. Tis rating system is scheduled to be ready by
Neighborhood Development
“LEED for Neighborhood Development integrates the prin-
ciples of smart growth, urbanism, and green building into the
frst national program for neighborhood design.” Currently a
pilot program, this rating system includes developments that
include many buildings. It includes wastewater treatment and
reuse systems that reduce the amount of wastewater discharge
and municipal water usage on site.
LEED is one of the most common and popular green building
rating systems. Other rating systems take a diferent approach.
Some people view LEED as too expensive and obtrusive in the
building process. Others view LEED buildings as being less
harmful to the environment than code-minimum buildings, but
think they do not meet the demands of the current marketplace.
Tus, they recommend higher standards. International organiza-
tions in Canada, India, China, Europe, and Australia have green
building guidelines that will continue to change in the future.
All of these guidelines are raising the importance of domestic
water, storm water, and wastewater systems. Tey will help
introduce more innovative plumbing concepts to the plumbing
design industry.
Te intent of this new column is to inform the plumbing
engineer of new developments and provide some solutions. Ulti-
mately, our goal is to provide safe plumbing systems for public
JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009 Plumbing Systems & Design 21
WINSTON HUFF, CPD, LEED AP, is a project manager, plumbing fire
protection designer, and sustainable coordinator
with Smith Seckman Reid Consulting Engineers in
Nashville, Tenn. He is on the U.S. Green Building
Council’s Water Efficiency (WE) Technical Advisory
Group (TAG). He was the founding editor of Life
Support and Biosphere Science and has served as its
editor-in-chief. He is president of Science Interactive,
an organization promoting biosphere science. For
more information or to comment on this article,