Domestic water use in the United States: A life-cycle approach

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Water and energy are two primary natural resources used by building occupants. A life-cycle assessment (LCA) is performed for water-consuming plumbing fixtures and water-consuming appliances during their operational life for four different building types. Within the cycle studied, water is extracted from the natural environment, subjected to water treatment, pumped to buildings for use, collected for wastewater treatment, and discharged back to the natural environment. Specifically, the impacts of water use, electricity and natural gas generation, energy consumption (for water and wastewater treatment, and for water heating), and the manufacture of water and wastewater treatment chemicals are evaluated both quantitatively and qualitatively on a generalized national level in the United States of America. It is concluded that water use and consumption within buildings have a much larger impact on resource consumption than the water and wastewater treatment stages of the life cycle. To study this more specifically, the resource consumption of four different building types - an apartment building, a college dormitory, a motel, and an office building - is considered. Of these four building types, the apartment has the highest energy consumption (for water and wastewater treatment, and for water heating) per volume of water used, whereas the office building has the lowest. Similarly, the calculated LCA score for the apartment building is typically greater than those of the other three building types. © 2006 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University.

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Journal of Industrial Ecology