Last year Tucson, Ariz., became the first U.S. city to require rainwater harvesting (RWH) for all new commercial developments. Yet Andy Lindus, sales and marketing director for Lindus Construction/Midwest LeafGuard in Baldwin, Wis., reports some of his commercial clients are recognizing the benefits of RWH even without a government mandate.
“RWH systems are appealing to its commercial customers who are looking for LEED credits,” Lindus explains, speaking of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council. “Recently, we installed two rainwater harvesting units capable of holding 3,000 gallons of water for a large agribusiness corporation, helping them get the credits they needed.”
Though 90 percent of his customers are residential, Lindus says the commercial clients who account for the other 10 percent have become an increasingly important profit center.
“And even though we’d been installing rain barrels for a few years, we could tell these customers were looking for more,” he relates. So Lindus Construction tested a few RWH systems and ultimately partnered with Englert because the manufacturer offered a variety of above and below ground catchment options.
Englert RWH systems can be used by companies such as Lindus’ client to store rainwater that can be used for landscape irrigation, car washing, decorative fountains and as non-potable water for toilet flushing, laundry and indoor fire sprinkler systems. But because of the many options, he advises, installation requires research.
“In addition to considering the budget,” Lindus points out, “you must find out how much water is coming off the roof, what the customer wants to use the water for and carefully plan where to excavate for the underground tank. And you must make sure the system is large enough to handle the amount of water that could potentially enter it. If it’s constantly overflowing, that will cause damage.”
Yet Lindus Construction has not forgotten the potential for RWH in residential applications — where the range of options is also increasing. “A homeowner can spend as little as $75 for a rain barrel,” Lindus notes, “and there are great options in the $300 range for gardening. Aesthetics also play a role. So it helps to offer different colors — and to be creative in finding ways to get the tank out of sight.”
Today’s homeowners often learn about RWH on the Internet — and, after installing a system, will often post their stories. “It’s even more important to have happy customers than it was 10 years ago,” Lindus counsels, “because they can tell the world in about three seconds about their success story or their horror story.”
An independent streak
President Steve Pratt of HPS Palo Alto in Los Altos, Calif., has also noted that some customers are not waiting for government mandates. “Most of my customers who are interested in RWH systems are altruistic with an independent streak. They wanted to be off the grid.” These clients have moved ahead, he reports, despite the fact that any tax breaks for rainwater harvesting have not caught up with those offered for installing energy-saving devices.
HPS recently installed a 100,000-gallon underground RWH storage tank for a “client who was remodeling his backyard and wanted a net-zero water source so he could be self-sufficient,” Spratt relates. “It takes a large system to do that, but we were able to come up with a design that allows his system to have city utilities as a backup.” Spratt is founder of Rain Technologies in Jacksonville, Ore., manufacturers of the RainTube gutter protection product and RainSpace rainwater harvesting system. Once a general contractor and remodeler, in the 1990s his company evolved into Home Preservation Services in order to provide long-term maintenance services. “I wanted to increase the durability of the structures I built as well as make them operate more efficiently and the checklist I made became its own business,” he relates.
RainTube grew from Spratt’s observation that “one of the biggest problem areas in most homes was rain gutters,” while RainSpace was developed because “most people use more water outside their home than on the inside, so that the biggest waste of water is actually when it’s used for irrigation and landscaping.”
A 2,000-square-foot roof can provide more than 1,125 gallons of water from a single inch of rainfall, notes Spratt, and can provide up to 60 percent of the home’s annual water needs if properly collected. RainTube both protects gutters and collects rainwater, and then RainSpace captures and stores water for reuse. The system can be installed without heavy equipment and is configurable in any shape since water is stored in small, shallow subsurface excavations.
“Twenty years ago, people were simply concerned about maintenance,” Spratt recalls. “Today, the tough economy and the green movement have brought attention to the importance of maintaining the investment of your home. My clients who install RWH systems understand that operating more efficiently and using less energy brings more value.”
Selling the value
Such increasing awareness gives Spratt hope the United States will “catch up with a lot of countries that are ahead of us when it comes to sustainability.” A survey in 2007 counted as many as 250,000 active RWH systems in the U.S. Several states — including Texas, Virginia, Oregon and Washington — have developed guidelines for RWH system design and installation. And the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association operates a professional accreditation program.
Yet by comparison, one in 10 New Zealanders depend on rainwater for drinking needs, as do one in 6 Australians. Other leaders in RWH development range from Germany and Great Britain in Europe, to India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Asia.
Owner Victor Wright of Rainwater Control Solutions in Waxhaw, N.C., admits that East Coast homeowners might not be as gung-ho on “going green” as those in the West. Yet the state of North Carolina is now promoting RWH through a 30 percent tax credit on up-front costs and an additional 30 percent for those who use that system to irrigate.
Further, as a RainTube and RainSpace installer Wright has been impressed by customers’ acceptance of RWH once they learn more. “I had a similar experience,” he relates, after becoming dissatisfied with gutter protection products that “tended to be expensive and made claims of zero-maintenance which just aren’t true.” After doing some research, he found RainTube and RainSpace and went to Oregon for installer training. Then last year he sent out mailings, made the rounds of home and garden shows, and launched a website.
“Before, I would tell my remodeling customers about rainwater harvesting,” Wright recounts, “but now, ironically, I get more remodeling jobs from installing RainTube than the other way around.” He has also added $100 annual roof and gutter maintenance service for RainTube customers, which he pitches to homeowners by explaining, “I could maintain your roof for 21 years for the price of another gutter protection system.”
Tax incentives and government mandates may be helpful, but Wright believes that consumer and business interest in RWH will ultimately pick up as people see the value. “In my opinion,” he predicts, “the future potential for RWH products like RainSpace in is applications like new subdivisions and commercial developments. Builders are already required to spend the money for a stormwater management system. But instead of sending that water away to be processed, why not make good use of it?”