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Sustainable Community Prototype Prioritizes Water

Water conservation measures in Transcend Communities will address the water crisis directly.

Water in the West is often referred to as “blue gold.” So it’s no surprise that a new type of eco-friendly community being developed for net zero-plus living puts H20 conservation near the top of its priority targets.

Dvele, a California-based prefab homebuilder, and Green Builder Media have partnered to design and develop Transcend Communities, which are sustainable communities with net zero, all-electric homes with solar power and battery storage and the Dvele IQ smart home system.

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While each Transcend Home is net positive for energy, producing more than it uses, Brandon Weiss, cofounder and chief innovation officer of Dvele, says the goal for Transcend Communities is not only to be net positive for energy, but also net positive for water use.

“It doesn’t make sense to connect to a nearby city’s centralized water system if we can avoid it,” Weiss says. 

State of Water Resources

In a sad indication of the depths of the water crisis in the United States, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation imposed “Tier Two” water restrictions on seven Western states in September, the first time that emergency measure was required.

The decades-long megadrought, which has plagued the Southwestern United States since 2000, dipped the Colorado River to record lows earlier this year. Other signs of the effects of extreme heat and reduced snow due to climate change include empty spillways at Hoover Dam, a white rim on Lake Powell that shows the former normal water line, and decades-old sunken boats now visible on severely depleted Lake Mead.

The Colorado River supplies drinking water for approximately 40 million people along with electricity for about five million households. In 2023, Arizona will see its share of the Colorado River water cut by 21%, while Nevada will have its share reduced by 8%. Further restrictions are anticipated. 

In September 2022, the Biden administration gave seven states (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, California, Arizona and Nevada) 60 days to come up with a plan to reduce their water use.

While emergency measures may address some of the immediate concerns about water shortages, long-term solutions require the level of focus devoted to energy efficiency in recent decades. The average American family uses 300 gallons of water per day, about 70% of which is for indoor use, according to the EPA. 

Outdoor water use can be a higher percentage than 30% in states that are drier. For example, households in the West have the highest residential water use because of landscape irrigation.

Decades of research have made it easier for builders to provide high levels of energy efficiency and health and wellness benefits to residences, says Brandon Weiss, cofounder and chief innovation officer of Dvele, a California-based prefab homebuilder.

“There are options for water conservation, but we need to work harder on that issue in homes and communities to be truly sustainable,” Weiss says.

The first prototype of a Transcend Home is under construction near Lake City in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. The modular home can be configured into numerous floor plans, is suitable for any climate and can be manufactured, delivered and installed in six months. Transcend Communities, which will consist of numerous Transcend Homes in a neighborhood, are planned for sustainability, a healthy lifestyle and social connection.

Transcend Communities and Water Conservation

Electricity costs for wastewater treatment can be expensive for cities, so the vison for Transcend Communities is to decentralize wastewater management.

“We can get to 99.8% clean water but have a little nitrogen in it, which is good for gardens,” says Weiss. “We could use that water to drip irrigate organic gardens throughout a community.”

In addition, Weiss says, there are systems that can filter rainwater throughout a community to be purified to be drinkable and then piped to each house. Each household can also be built with additional purification systems.

“There are regulatory issues around using greywater and rainwater, but as Dvele grows we hope to pursue that issue with municipalities,” says Weiss.

Water Management for Residences

Each Transcend Home has features to monitor and conserve water for optimal health for residents and the community. Every home as low-flow fixtures from American Standard, DXV, GROHE and Duravit.

The Dvele IQ system includes sensors that monitor everything in the house and will alert residents to extra water use or a leak. The system can provide tips to improve the sustainability of the house. For example, if there’s a slow leak, the system will identify the location and let the homeowners know so they can fix it. 

If water use is unusually high in one location, the homeowners can evaluate the reason and take steps to reduce their water use such as teaching their kids to turn off the faucet when they brush their teeth.

The Dvele IQ system uses multiple control interfaces to predict the routines of the occupants of each Transcend house and to suggest changes. The system optimizes efficient use of water and will lower the cost of operating the house.

“We also optimize water distribution in the house because if you can get hot water quickly there’s less waste,” says Weiss. “We want people to be able to get in the shower and then turn it on to economize their water usage rather than turn on the water and let it run to warm up.”

Heat pump water heating technology will provide a more energy efficient method to heat water in each Transcend home. Water filters are installed throughout every home to ensure pure clean water is available for drinking, cooking, cleaning and bathing.

Depending on local regulations, water harvesting systems can be installed in the homes.

“It’s easy to add rain capture and greywater capture systems to the Transcend house,” says Weiss. “The systems can be adaptable depending on local codes.”

Water conservation and other features of Transcend Homes provide sustainability benefits in two ways. First, the occupants will consume less water. Second, the highly efficient Transcend house provides a replicable model of a self-powered home that contributes to the electrical grid more than it consumes. Transcend offers a new vision for climate-friendly building.