A Smart Way With Water

With rainwater harvesting, an atmospheric water collector, and water-conscious appliances, fixtures, and faucets at all levels, the VISION House Seattle Cascades will lower the bar exponentially on water usage.

How do you access water on an off-grid housing site? You capture rainwater and also create it out of thin air. How do you manage that water? You harness innovative technology. This is C.R. Herro’s strategy for ensuring there is a reliable source of well-managed potable water at his home, the VISION House Seattle Cascades.

“One of the things I’m really excited about is the way we’re going to completely close-loop the resource utilization,” Herro says. “This home is built with a cistern as part of the foundation. It will store drinking water and provide other potable water uses for the entire home.” 

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Phyn Plus matches a home’s plumbing fixtures to pressure signatures, creates profiles for each of them, and offers insights into how much water is being used. If the unit detects a leak, it alerts the homeowner and gives the option to turn off the water from a smartphone. Credit: Courtesy Phyn

While ample rain falls in the Cascade Mountains where the house is sited, Herro has a backup plan if there isn’t enough rainfall to generate a sufficient quantity of water. “There’s a really cool technology that we’re incorporating that came from the U.S. military, called an atmospheric water generator, or AWG,” he says. “It’s like a dehumidifier that you’d have in a damp basement that is pulling out moisture by running it over coils and collecting that moisture in a container.” 

Normally, the benefit of a dehumidifier is taking the moisture out of the air, but with an AWG, you are doing the opposite. “We’re using water pulled out of the air to put back in the cistern to make drinking water and other water uses for the home,” Herro explains. “This generator enables a home to be much more resilient as weather patterns change or as we may go through droughts. The home can continue to be self-sufficient without having to reach out and plug into the municipal system.” 

Herro hopes to prove the economics of this system so that other homeowners can lean on technologies like an AWG to ensure they have a safe drinking water supply any time of the year or in the event municipal supplies are interrupted. (For more on the use of an AWG, see Green Builder Media’s video, and ASSE 1090-2020, Performance Requirements for Drinking Water Atmospheric Water Generators (AWG), which is new guidance for builders who want to use atmospheric generators in their projects.)

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Water Leak Detection System

Once Herro solved the problem of having enough potable water, he considered ways to monitor and control the water when he was out of town. 

Enter Phyn’s Phyn Plus, a smart water monitor. Herro chose this solution because of its reliability. The unit matches a home’s plumbing fixtures to pressure signatures, creates profiles for each of them, and offers insight into how much water is being used. The system’s daily plumbing checks can detect even the smallest water-use anomalies.

Phyn Plus helps Herro keep tabs on his off-grid water collection system to ensure that none of that precious water leaks. He can access and manage the system via his smartphone, and if the unit detects a leak, he can use the system’s water shutoff feature to prevent water damage to his home. 

Retailing for about $700, Phyn Plus is a simple, cost-effective system that gives Herro the peace of mind he needs to lock up and leave his mountainside retreat. 

“We waste a tremendous amount of water through detectable and preventable leaks,” says Ryan Kim, CEO of Phyn. “A recent EPA study suggests that 1 trillion gallons of water are wasted through household plumbing leaks in the United States alone on an annual basis. I get knots in my stomach every time I repeat that, knowing that solutions to mitigate much of that are available today.”

Kim points out how crucial water monitoring has become, noting that there are some relatively benign water leak scenarios, such as a leaking toilet flapper that goes unnoticed and increases a household’s water bill. “But there are also disruptive cases,” Kim says. “Failures like burst pipes or slab leaks that go unnoticed that can cause catastrophic damage. All of it, in whatever form, contributes to the 1 trillion gallons of waste at a time where Climate Change is reducing supply.” 

In fact, data from Water Damage Defense suggests that water leaks cost the insurance industry $8 billion a year. “When a leak happens (again, that’s when not if), it can be very expensive, incredibly disruptive, and become a health risk with mold propagation,” Kim says. 

Kim stresses that water monitoring and management is rapidly becoming a home buyer must-have. “I fully believe in the absolute inevitability of what we are calling the Smart Home today becoming the essential home of tomorrow,” Kim says. “What we perceive as ‘smart’ today will be fully expected, everyday experiences in every home. VISION House Seattle Cascades is a great example of where we’re headed. And, as this project showcases, tomorrow is not that far away.”


Editor’s note: Follow along as the VISION House Seattle Cascades is built and learn more about all the innovative technologies used in this ultra-high-performance house.

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