skip to main content

Science Nation: Off the Water Grid--Energy Efficient and Sustainable

4 minutes

(Describer) In an animation, streams of light collide to create a globe filled with water. Title: Science Nation.

(Describer) A young woman rinses mugs and another puts them in a dishwasher.

(male narrator) It looks like a typical college apartment. These students and their water supply are definitely ahead of their time.

(Describer) James Englehardt:

Our objective is to develop design principles for buildings of the future that are off the grid in terms of water and wastewater.

(narrator) With support from the National Science Foundation, University of Miami environmental engineer James Englehardt and his team created this net zero water residence hall. That means all their water is treated on site and reused again and again in a sustainable loop. We're in the courtyard. This is the wastewater treatment end of the system. Water comes first here from the apartment back there.

(Describer) He opens a hatch in the ground, where water bubbles around pipes and cables.

You can see right now actually we're aerating the water. This treated water is what goes into the garage to be treated.

(Describer) A fountain stands in a tank.

(narrator) In fact, unlike municipal water plants, this system even removes common household chemicals, such as cleaners, even pharmaceuticals, and it uses a lot less energy. We spend about 80% of the energy involved in water and wastewater management moving water back and forth from central treatment plants and only 20% on treatments.

(narrator) Four residents in one apartment here use the recycled water for laundry, showering, and washing dishes. Water quality gets tested three times a day.

(Describer) Water in a vial is tested.

(male) We got the result that we had met 115 of 115 drinking water standards, as analyzed by an external, certified lab. I was ecstatic.

(Describer) A glass is filled from a spigot.

(narrator) For now, the students aren't actually drinking the treated water or using it for cooking. They use city water for that. But Englehardt is happy to drink it and has high confidence it is safe.

(Describer) He drinks a mug of it.

Englehardt and architecture professor Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk see many additional uses for net zero water buildings: desert communities, military bases, and progressive urban developments.

(Describer) Plans shows buildings with green roofs, and windmills near beaches.

(female) Even though this is a big challenge, it could happen in fairly short order. But the kind of smaller, individual, or corporate efforts that could be made could be very meaningful next steps.

(narrator) The students who live in the net zero water apartment are excited to be part of something important.

(female) If I wasn't living in this apartment, I might not be as conscious about how much water I use.

(Describer) Katelynn Storey:

But I am more conscious, which is definitely a benefit. It's made me want to tell people to watch water usage and be more environmentally friendly.

(Describer) Water goes through a sink filter.

(narrator) Taking water off the water grid. I could tap in to that idea.

(Describer) A globe turns beside the title.

For Science Nation, I'm Miles O'Brien.

Transcript Options


Now Playing As: Captioned (English) (change)

Report a Problem

This University of Miami residence hall may look typical, but students in one of the apartments are participating in research involving one of the planet’s most precious commodities--water. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), environmental engineer James Englehardt and his team created a net zero water system, which serves most of the residents’ daily needs, including dish washing, showering and laundry. All of the water is treated just outside the building, and reused in a sustainable loop. Part of the National Science Foundation Series “Science Nation.”

Media Details

Runtime: 4 minutes

Science Nation
Episode 1
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 2
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 3
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 4
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 5
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 6
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 7
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 8
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 9
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 10
4 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12