Evaluating the Life Cycle Environmental Benefits and Trade-Offs of Water Reuse Systems for Net-Zero Buildings

Vaclav Hasik, Naomi E. Anderson, William O. Collinge, Cassandra L. Thiel, Vikas Khanna, Jason Wirick, Richard Piacentini, Amy E. Landis, Melissa M. Bilec

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aging water infrastructure and increased water scarcity have resulted in higher interest in water reuse and decentralization. Rating systems for high-performance buildings implicitly promote the use of building-scale, decentralized water supply and treatment technologies. It is important to recognize the potential benefits and trade-offs of decentralized and centralized water systems in the context of high-performance buildings. For this reason and to fill a gap in the current literature, we completed a life cycle assessment (LCA) of the decentralized water system of a high-performance, net-zero energy, net-zero water building (NZB) that received multiple green building certifications and compared the results with two modeled buildings (conventional and water efficient) using centralized water systems. We investigated the NZB's impacts over varying lifetimes, conducted a break-even analysis, and included Monte Carlo uncertainty analysis. The results show that, although the NZB performs better in most categories than the conventional building, the water efficient building generally outperforms the NZB. The lifetime of the NZB, septic tank aeration, and use of solar energy have been found to be important factors in the NZB's impacts. While these findings are specific to the case study building, location, and treatment technologies, the framework for comparison of water and wastewater impacts of various buildings can be applied during building design to aid decision making. As we design and operate high-performance buildings, the potential trade-offs of advanced decentralized water treatment systems should be considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1110-1119
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 7 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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