Manufacturing and Sustainability

Whirlpool and Kohler team up on zero water waste

Goal is to turn existing homes into self-sustaining systems.

June 26, 2015
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Home appliance manufacturer Whirlpool Corp. has announced plans to join forces with a manufacturer of kitchen and bath products on a zero waste initiative.

For the next two years, Whirlpool, which is headquartered in Benton Harbor, and Kohler Co., headquartered in Wisconsin, will work together to identify ways to achieve net-zero water in the home.

The companies hope to create energy and water advancements that lead to reduced consumption and allow existing buildings to become self-sustaining systems.

That means creating a water system within the home that allows for the collection, storage and purification of enough rainwater and snowmelt to meet all of the home’s needs, both potable and non-potable.

Kohler will join Whirlpool at the appliance maker’s ReNEWW — Retrofitted Net-Zero Energy, Water and Waste —House near Purdue University’s campus in Indiana, which is a living laboratory for zero-waste studies and developments.

The ReNEWW House was originally built in 1928, and, therefore, provides extensive opportunities for Whirlpool and Kohler.

Whirlpool completed a deep energy retrofit of the house in September 2014. The strategy to achieve net-zero water will be similar.

Ron Voglewede, global sustainability director at Whirlpool, said the first phase of the project was to identify “all the outdated plumbing fixtures — toilets that used more than seven gallons per flush, old shower heads and sinks — and specify new WaterSense products from Kohler that are water conserving.

“The other main water consumer is the clothes washer, which Whirlpool replaced with a high-efficiency front loader during the deep energy retrofit.”

With a more efficient water system in place, the companies will look at how to design an appropriate rainwater collection and purification system to reuse the water within the home.

Rob Zimmerman, Kohler sustainability senior channel manager, said Kohler hopes “by combining our engineering resources with those of Whirlpool's to understand the technical challenges of creating a net-zero water house, we can develop new insights for designing home plumbing, water storage and treatment systems that further reduce water use and better protect our water supplies."

Voglewede noted Whirlpool has already reduced energy and water consumption with its products, but said it is now time to “leverage our appliances to optimize and transform the total home system to try to achieve net-zero water impact.”

Each year three Whirlpool engineers from the Whirlpool Engineering Rotational Leadership Development Program have the opportunity to live in the house, where they perform efficiency research on appliances and testing the concepts in a real home environment.

In addition to their appliance research, the three engineers will pilot the new water system put in place and learning what it's like to live in a net-zero-water home.

Researchers from Purdue, Kohler and Whirlpool also will be involved on a daily basis, planning the system design, monitoring the construction phase, which is ongoing, and, after the construction is complete, monitoring the data from the home's data collection system — which consists of more than 90 channels measuring temperatures, relative humidity, energy, water temperatures, flow rates, etc., throughout the house and analyzing the home's performance.

Purdue University also has a team of graduate students who will monitor water quality after the construction phase to generate science-based insights, which can help inform future plumbing codes when coupled with rainwater systems.

According to recent projections from the Energy Information Agency and USA Today, by 2025, Americans will see their water bills double and potentially triple in major metro areas.

This threat to the wallets of homeowners adds to the speculation that pressure on the U.S. infrastructure, already desperate for solutions to a water shortage in California, is headed toward a significant issue in water access.

Whirlpool noted, based on the two companies’ market share, their products make up nearly all of the indoor water usage in the residential home.

“With resource constraints that certain regions of the country are facing, both companies have taken a proactive approach to investigate methods of reducing the impact of residential dwellings on water resources — and more broadly, the environment — through efficiency, local resource (rainwater) and gray water utilization,” Voglewede said.

He said the ReNEWW house offers the opportunity to develop new solutions that could be brought to market and for educating stakeholders on the new technologies that could be implemented to improve the built environment and their impact on current systems.

The ReNEWW House has a project website, renewwhouse.com, where anyone interested can see daily energy usage versus production of the ReNEWW house. As the second phase of work is completed, the website will be updated to include aggregate water usage and rainwater collection data.

Whirlpool and Kohler announced their commitment during the Sustainable Brands Conference in San Diego earlier this month.

The two companies have a history of being sustainability focused in their innovations and community efforts.

Whirlpool’s commitment stretches back to 1970, when it created a corporate office for environmental control, cementing the company's ongoing commitment to environmental protection and natural resource efficiency. It has led the development of new sustainability standards for home appliances and is the most-awarded appliance manufacturer by the Environmental Protection Agency for continued commitment to energy and water efficient products.

Kohler has a long history of supporting water efficiency and sustainability in its products and is aligned with organizations such as the Alliance for Water Efficiency and U.S. Green Building Council. Recognized by the EPA WaterSense program for excellence and partnership for each of the past seven years, Kohler has positioned itself as a sustainability leader in the plumbing industry with educational programs, awareness campaigns and water-saving products.

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