Are We Seeing Green Fatigue in the Plumbing Industry?

Green Plumbing Movement
Green Plumbing Fatigue?

Perspectives of the Green Plumbing Movement – Green Fatigue

When the great recession hit the construction industry 2 years ago, I think most contractors looked around and said to themselves “what

Green Plumbing
Green Plumbing Fatigue?

happened?” Quite a few were caught completely by surprise and the ones that did feel it coming never thought it would be this dramatic or go on for this long. With no light at the end of the proverbial tunnel except the train barreling down the track. Contractors, especially plumbing contractors had to find a way to survive.

Green Plumbing a Way to Survive?

So quite a few turned to the only thing they knew that was growing in their field. The Green Plumbing Movement. When the Green Movement began to gain momentum many took the bull by the horns and began to learn everything they could about the Green plumbing movement. They went to Green Plumbers USA, took their fantastic on-line classes or maybe a local trade organization had an instructor come in to certify plumbers and owners on the basics of the Green Movement.

Green Plumbing Overload

“Green Building Sets New Standards in Efficiency”, “Green Construction and Energy Efficient Jobs”, “As Businesses Get Greener They Will Seek Your Help”. I could go on and on and on. These are the story lines being written in our trade magazines ad nauseam. Let me further go on to say that I too jumped on the Green bandwagon with much zeal, this is a good and righteous movement however I’m beginning to see and feel a backlash.

Here we sit almost two years into the movement and there have been just a handful of projects to use these technologies in our area. Solar potable water, water conservation, gray water waste piping and rain water harvesting are the most popular buzz words at the moment with only one truly within the grasp of the average American consumer (it’s water conservation i.e., HET toilets, low flow shower heads, ultra low flow aerators, water usage audits, etc.). It’s very frustrating to open up our trade periodicals and see another 12,000 square foot mansion where the owners are feeling guilty or responsible and all they talk about is how many luxury systems they’ve installed under the guise of green. Look we put in a half a mile of radiant heat to snow melt our driveway but we’re doing it at 96% efficiency, oh look we have two pools and both are heated with solar for a savings of 30%……..yuck. The only way to make this movement work is to make it available for the middle class  and right now putting in a solar water heater in in the mid-west that does the job right is at the very least 8K and more realistically 12K. We don’t have that kind of money, even with a 30% tax credit.

Green Codes and Permits Can be a Problem

Green Plumbing
Green Construction

In Chicago the only rainwater and or gray water systems installed have been special permit projects meaning that there are no codes in place to implement the systems so each project needs a special permit. The permit process in a large municipality is already a difficult road to sow now you add plumbing code issues with systems no one has codes for and it becomes a more painful process to be sure.

It’s quite obvious that rain water harvesting is the less difficult to implement then gray water. If there is room enough on a commercial site or a residential lot, cistern holding tanks can be installed with little difficulty. However a retro fit application can prove much more difficult.

Are Contractors Ready for More Liability with Green Plumbing Systems?

Gray water is a much touchier system to install. There are new national codes that attempt to standardize installation, however there is no “standard training to install the systems” and the filter systems for removing suspended solids are still being perfected. We have even begun hearing rumblings of liability issues stemming from under performing Green systems. Think about this for a second, an engineer or HVAC or plumbing contractor tells a building owner/Developer that a certain system will save them up to 30% of their current utility bill. A year passes and they can only see a 10% savings. Who is responsible? You may say “the person that designed the system”, right? I can tell you that quite a few mechanical contractors work side by side with the architects and engineers for design input and implementation. So to put it gently everyone will share in the exposure and if the exposure proves to be too risky, contractors will shy away from the projects, even if these contractors took charge to put themselves in a position to lead the green movement.

Funding is “THE” BIGGEST” Hurdle for Widespread Use of Green Plumbing Systems

That brings us to the biggest hurdle for us to climb with regards to specification and implementation of rain water harvesting, gray water, solar hot water etc. It is a significant monetary investment to have these technologies integrated into new construction and even more pricey if a project is to be retrofitted. As of this moment building owners, developers and potential building owners are trying to take advantage of the dismal construction environment to get their building built as cheaply as possible. That is not to say there are no buyers willing to pay extra for sustainability but there are far too few to sustain an industry, an industry decimated by this recession. This article is not to discourage, some will become experts in the field and do the bulk of the sustainable jobs but we need to be realistic, this work will do very little in the way of putting our skilled plumbing tradesmen back to work.

It is our belief that the only way to see widespread specification and implementation of Rainwater harvesting, gray water systems and solar hot water usage is a massive widespread federal program to make these changes affordable and minimize contractor liability with respect to performance. In fact it is also our belief that consumers and contractors alike are beginning to tire of the Green movement, we call it Green Fatigue. It is imperative to seize the momentum before the audience is lost.


  1. It was a pleasure reading your examination of green plumbing, and most importantly the outlook on the industry.

    In your conclusion, I believe that you are dead-on with thinking that more incentives need to be in place to push the consumer to more water/energy efficient choices. However, water, sewage, and utility bills are not going down any time soon, therefore the consumer will eventually be forced to choose “green” alternatives. When WaterSense captures the same label recognition as Energy Star, the plumber will reap the benefits of green plumbing.


    1. Thanks Joshua, I again want to reiterate I believe in the cause but I’m also being practical. If a company of a decent size took the initiative and trained their people on all the Green concepts, then trained them on installation and implementation I’m not sure they would get a return on their substantial investment for a decade. And most plumbing contractors I know can’t wait near that long.


    1. Hello 800, thanks for commenting. You are going to have to be more specific when saying it’s a lack of “understanding and knowledge of the green movement”. I think I can speak for quite few contractors out there by saying their motivation for “going green” was not altruistic. It was a way to get back some of the work lost in this absolutely horrendous construction economy. People want to do their part for the environment but they also want to make a profit. For most the green movement has done very little to make up for lost revenue therefore I think they’re getting tired of hearing about it. Again maybe I’m misunderstanding.


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