Survey of green building water systems reveals elevated water age and water quality concerns
Widespread adoption of innovative water conservation strategies has potential unintended consequences for aesthetics and public health. A cross-section of green buildings were surveyed and compared to typical conventional buildings in terms of water retention time (i.e., water age), water chemistry, and levels of opportunistic pathogen genetic markers. Water age was estimated to be 2–6.7 months in an off-grid office, an average of 8 days in a Leadership in Environmental Engineering Design certified healthcare suite, and was increased to 2.7 days from 1 day due to installation of a solar “pre-heat” water tank in a net-zero energy house. Chlorine and chloramine residuals were often completely absent in the green building systems, decaying up to 144 times faster in premise plumbing with high water age when compared to distribution system water. Concentration of 16S rRNA and opportunistic pathogen genus level genetic markers were 1–4 orders of magnitude higher in green versus conventional buildings. This study raises concerns with respect to current green water system practices and the importance of considering potential public health impacts in the design of sustainable water systems.