Home Innovation Insights

Climate change pushes policy makers to adopt water efficiency ratings in Arizona.

Cindy Wasser, MBA
August 4, 2023

Water Scarcity Flows into Policy Change

The changing climate is forcing policymakers and the development community throughout Arizona to rethink current patterns of development to ensure that water is available long-term. 
Arizona’s metropolitan areas, especially in and around Phoenix, are experiencing water stress due to chronic water overuse, historic drought, and diminished snowpack. Groundwater can take thousands of years to replenish, so current water shortages are expected to reshape Arizona’s long-term future. A recent analysis by the Arizona Department of Water Resources shows insufficient groundwater beneath the Phoenix metro area to meet projected demand over the next century. 

The stress of resource scarcity is directly at odds with development. Phoenix is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country. For years, the area has welcomed new industry, including water-intensive microchip companies and data centers, and encouraged ever-expanding new home construction. 

Local leaders have been forced to make difficult choices to help communities adapt to the current and future reality. Governor Hobbs announced a pause on new residential construction in Phoenix suburbs that do not already have proven water supplies. The restriction will significantly impact the fast-growing towns and unincorporated areas on the metro’s periphery.

Where construction is still permitted, builders and developers will be incentivized or required to design and construct for higher water efficiency. 

Improving Water Efficiency

Builders have several mechanisms to improve water efficiency: 

  • Outdoor water use can be limited with drought-tolerant native plants and efficient irrigation systems
  • Mindful design of the hot water delivery system offers both water and energy savings
  • Efficient faucets, fixtures, and appliances—particularly those labeled with the WaterSense and ENERGY STAR labels—offer water savings without compromising comfort and convenience.

I urge builders and developers working in and around Phoenix to work with an NGBS Green WRI Verifier to understand opportunities to enhance the efficiency of their current home construction and consider options to earn a water-efficiency rating or certification. 

Water Efficiency Ratings

A credible third-party water rating allows builders to showcase the efficient design and construction of their homes and measure how they compare to code-minimum construction. A water rating is a score of a whole property’s water uses, including both indoor and outdoor uses. 

The ICC 700-2020 National Green Building Standard introduced the Water Rating Index (WRI) as a new optional compliance path for homes and multifamily buildings to calculate the building’s water efficiency. Home Innovation offers WRI certification to homes and multifamily buildings independently of NGBS Green certification. 

The U.S. EPA’s WaterSense program certifies homes that meet criteria for water efficiency and performance. Home Innovation offers WaterSense certification, with Prescriptive and Performance pathways based on selected practices within the 2020 NGBS. WaterSense certification is well-suited for dual-certification with WRI and/or NGBS Green certification. 

New Regulations & Incentives

Using water ratings as a voluntary tool, jurisdictions can continue to meet housing production goals while ensuring that new construction does not exceed annual water use thresholds. A jurisdiction or water utility can incentivize or require new buildings to achieve a water rating at or below a certain value. 

Achievement of a water efficiency rating or certification positions local builders to meet local regulations and earn financial incentives:

  • Phoenix City Council unanimously adopted the Sustainable Desert City Development Policy-Water (Resolution 22129) to address the future water consumption of new development in the area. This Policy will stipulate water efficient construction for all rezoning cases. WaterSense Labeled Homes and comparable third-party efficiency certifications are accepted methods for compliance. 
  • The Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District (CAGRD) has launched the Water Efficient Construction Incentive, which offers $1,000 rebates for WaterSense labeled homes constructed in CAGRD member service areas between June 2023 and May 2024. To learn more, review the fact sheet and utilize the CAGRD Membership Locator to identify qualifying locations. Homes must be labeled to WaterSense v2.0 by an EPA-recognized Home Certifying Organization (HCO), such as Home Innovation Research Labs.

I also encourage builders and developers to get involved locally and speak up for voluntary measures to address water scarcity. Water ratings are preferred to utility rate increases, restrictive prescriptive measures, and/or building moratoriums. Our team has created a variety of resources to help program partners introduce water ratings and certifications and the benefits that they offer builders, developers, residents, local jurisdictions, and water utilities. 

Building new homes in resource-scarce areas is challenging. Long-term thinking and mindful construction techniques offer an opportunity for residential builders to distinguish themselves as local leaders and best position themselves for continued success. 


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