The idea of water conservation dates back to the 1960s, with water efficiency not far behind. And yet, the U.S. continues to struggle with both concepts and to effectively protect one of its most vital natural resources. According to the EPA, “The U.S. population has doubled over the past 50 years, while our thirst for water has tripled. With at least 40 states anticipating water shortages by 2024, the need to conserve water is critical.”
It’s no surprise that offices, schools, and hospitals consume a substantial amount of water on a daily basis. The EPA says, “The commercial and institutional sector is the second largest consumer of publicly supplied water in the U.S., accounting for 17 percent of the withdrawals from public water supplies.”
To their credit, more and more building owners and managers are looking for ways to enhance water management. Conservation strategies reduce water loss, waste, or use, while efficiency minimizes the amount of water it takes to perform tasks. There is a strong business case to be made for applying both, especially since they can generate significant savings. Among the largest sources of water use in commercial and institutional facilities are restrooms, kitchens, and landscaping. Cleaning and maintenance practices contribute as well.
AffinEco implements standard procedures aimed squarely at reducing water usage. Just two examples are a wet mopping system that uses up to 90 percent less water and microfiber cloths that also require significantly less water in the cleaning process. Additionally, AffinEco crews routinely listen and look for faucet or pipe leaks, running toilets, unexpected running water, unanticipated discharge to floor drains, or wet spots and puddles on floors or on building grounds. When they notice a problem, they bring it to the facility manager’s attention immediately.
One of the easiest, long-term efficiency measures is to retrofit restroom, kitchen, and break room sinks with low-flow faucets. Many building codes actually require the installation of low-flow fixtures in commercial construction and remodel projects. For conservation, it’s important to encourage building occupants to run faucets only when necessary. Particularly in restrooms, hands-free faucets with automatic sensors significantly reduce usage without having to rely on occupant vigilance.
Similar to low-flow faucets, many building codes require low-flow toilets. Some models use as little as 1.28 gallons per flush as opposed to 5 to 7 gallons with older, conventional models. Considering how many times people flush in a day, there are potentially huge savings to be realized.
Landscape irrigation can waste massive amounts of water in several ways. To start, plant species play a big role. Opting to use only native and drought-resistant plants can greatly minimize irrigation needs. Upgrading from simple timer-based controllers to weather-based ones makes a remarkable difference. The latter analyze local weather data and landscape conditions to program watering schedules based on plants’ needs as opposed to watering at certain times regardless of conditions.
Other methods for reducing irrigation water waste include: repairing broken sprinkler heads, positioning sprinkler heads for the most effective coverage, installing rain and freeze sensors that prevent unnecessary watering, and mounting pressure-regulating nozzles that increase the uniformity of water applied.
An EPA case study showed that by taking all of the above steps in 2009, the Granite Park office complex in Plano, Texas, saved 12.5 million gallons of water for landscape irrigation resulting in a cost savings of $47,000 in that year alone.
Targeting leaks is another major water loss and waste prevention opportunity. On average, leaks account for more than 6 percent of a building’s total water use. In just one month:
- A leaking toilet can lose 21,600 gallons of water for a cost of $2,100 per year.
- A stuck float valve in a cooling tower can lose 216,000 gallons of water for a cost of $21,000 per year.
- A broken distribution line can lose 648,000 gallons of water for a cost of $64,000 per year.
Putting up signs about reporting leaks in restrooms, kitchens, and other high-traffic areas where water is used is a great way to enlist help from building staff, occupants, and visitors.
Commercial and institutional water management strategies are constantly evolving. Today, advanced water metering systems and other smart water management technology can offer actionable insights to identify and resolve issues, improve systems, and recover revenue.
For example, advanced meters and sub-meters can store data – reporting hourly, daily, monthly, and annual water use – and trigger real-time alerts, so building managers can:
- Identify areas for targeted reductions in water use
- Track progress from water efficiency upgrades
- Find and fix leaks and identify malfunctioning equipment
- Identify opportunities to increase water savings
- Track savings from water efficiency projects
As the population grows, everyone will have to be smarter about how they use water resources. For more best practices check out the EPA’s guide, “Water Sense at Work.”
Image courtesy of 2030 Districts