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In a unique information campaign, the Madison Water Utility has plans to build a residential house to demonstrate the possibilities of water conservation technology.

The utility will sell three vacant lots next to municipal Well 9 and its 3 million-gallon reservoir at 4724 Spaanem Ave. on the city’s southeast side. As part of a real estate development agreement, a developer will build one of the homes as the water conservation demonstration house.

“It’s an attempt to sell some surplus property that the utility owns to help increase our revenue and at the same time, do a public education initiative on water conservation and water efficiency,” utility general manager Tom Heikkinen said. 

Madison Water Utility will rent the two- or three-bedroom single family home for several months to conduct tours, educate the public and inform the homebuilding community about ways to improve water efficiency. Eventually, the selected developer will sell the property to a homeowner.

Heikkinen, who is responsible for the idea, said it is a way to show people what water saving technology is possible in modern residential design. 

The utility approved the concept and project plan Jan. 23 and is developing a request for proposals.

The central feature of the house, Heikkinen said, will be a rainwater capture system that will be used to flush the toilets in the house instead of using city water. Pipes will carry rainwater from the gutter to a storage tank in the basement. Any excess water will be pumped out into a cistern that could be used to water a garden.

This “drastically reduces” the amount of water a homeowner would need to purchase from the water utility, Heikkinen said.

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“We’re looking at roughly cutting the usage in half of what a typical household would need to purchase from us,” Heikkinen said, which would be about 30 to 35 gallons daily per capita.

The house will have high-efficiency appliances and fixtures, an energy efficient heating system and possibly rooftop solar panels. It will also feature native plants, turf, rain gardens and permeable pavement to keep nearly all rainwater on site.

The utility plans to invest $87,000 into the project. The three lots are estimated to sell for $120,000 and $180,000, which would net the utility between $33,000 to $93,000. City general funds will not be used for the project.

“We are aiming to keep this home to fit into the neighborhood in terms of value and size,” Heikkinen said.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.