Casa del Agua and Desert House: Two Residential Demonstration-Research Projects on Water and Energy Efficiency

An Essay on a presentation made by Richard Brittain to Diwan al-Mimar on May 31, 2001

Prepared by Mohammad al-Asad and Majd Musa in association with Richard Brittain, 2002

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Support for the publication of this essay has been made possible by a grant from the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development. Additional support has been provided by Darat al-Funun - The Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.





Table of content: 

1. Introduction

2. Casa del Agua

3. Desert House

4. Questions and Answers

5. Endnotes

6. List of Figures




Richard Brittain (1) started his presentation with a comparison of rainfall patterns in the Sonoran Desert region, particularly in Tucson, Arizona, and in Amman. He mentioned that both have similar levels of precipitation, which amount to approximately 300 mm per year. He added, however, that the rainfall pattern in Tucson is bimodal, but is unimodal in Amman. (2) Tucson has a rainy season during the summer and another one during the winter. The situation is different in Amman where rain falls in one season, from November through March.

Brittain added that the total water demand exceeds the total available renewable supply in Tucson. This is the result of a number of factors including low levels of precipitation, rapid population growth, and the high levels of water consumption by the mining industries and agricultural activities in the area. Therefore, the issue of water conservation in the different sectors of water use in Tucson is of great significance. Brittain believes that implementing an efficient use of the limited water resources on a residential scale can play a significant role in reducing the amount of municipal water used in Tucson. In order to motivate people to save water, residential education and demonstration projects are required.

By a residential demonstration project, Brittain refers to a house that would demonstrate to the public and educate it about water conservation. Such a house would be one in which a family would live, while researchers would monitor the house and record data about how much water is being used and what possible savings in water use might be achieved. Through such a research project, researchers would be able experiment with the use of water-saving mechanisms such as using graywater and rainwater for irrigation. The project also would allow the general public as well as water conservation specialists and other concerned parties to visit it, tour its facilities, and examine the ways in which different water conservation technologies are implemented in a real-world setting. Such a project should also incorporate a public information center that would allow visitors to gain in-depth knowledge about the project and the research being conducted through it. This would allow them to implement in their own residences some of the ideas on water conservation being used in the demonstration house.

When Brittain, at the College of Architecture, and his colleagues at the Desert Research Unit in the Office of Arid Lands Studies (OALS) at the University of Arizona considered their first water conserving demonstration house in 1983, they had been engaged for a number of years in research on various aspects of water conservation. Before they undertook their first demonstration house project, they had realized that the only way they could possibly succeed in achieving higher levels of water conservation in a given community was through involving a large segment of the community and gaining its support. Brittain and his colleagues spent a couple of years discussing the idea of a water-conserving demonstration house with individuals and relevant organizations. Participants included Tucson Water, the Pima County Wastewater Management Department, the University of Arizona, the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association, and building suppliers. (3) According to Brittain, it is this wide level of commitment to the idea of demonstration projects that allowed for the success of the two demonstration houses in which he has been involved. These two projects are described below.


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