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Slow the flow of wasted water

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Written by: Alexa Stone

How much water do you drink each day?

If you keep an insulated reusable water bottle at your desk and fill it every hour, you will consume about a half gallon in a workday. That includes the two cups of coffee that you enjoy.

The surprising truth is, all of those glasses and cups are negligible when compared to the average 8.5-gallon daily use per employee in and around office buildings. Water can be a significant utility expense in many work environments.

  • Office buildings
    While coffee-drinking is an office ritual, essential for a morning wake-up, the largest water uses in office buildings are restrooms, HVAC systems, and landscaping.
  • Educational facilities
    Teachers consume no less coffee, but schools also require cafeterias and commercial kitchens. Restrooms, landscaping, and HVAC require significant quantities as well.
  • Healthcare facilities
    Beyond HVAC, plumbing fixtures, and landscaping, medical process rinses contribute to total water costs at hospitals and clinics.

It all adds up. Commercial and institutional facilities consume 17 percent of U.S. public water supplies. To make the monthly expense total little less in your organization, consider these quick-win suggestions:

Small investments

Many commercial-grade automatic faucets cost less than $300 per fixture. Add the necessary plumbing and electrical installation expense, then factor in the monthly benefit.  Automatic faucets can save 70% of the water that would otherwise swirl down the drain unused.

The investment pays off in other ways, most significantly in touch-free cleanliness that spreads fewer of the germs that add to sick days. Automatic faucets require far less routine maintenance as well.

If fixtures are to be replaced but automatic faucets are not in the budget, know that single-lever faucets will trim the expense of hot water heating and are less likely to drip. On standard faucets, the lowest-cost option takes two minutes to install. For a few dollars, a flow restrictor will pleasantly aerate the water while reducing the volume to about 1.5 gallons per minute. Note that these devices may be gender-specific to the faucet design.

Minor maintenance

Even a slowly dripping tap can send 2,500 gallons of water down the drain in less than a year. The wasted volume could otherwise fill the insulated reusable water bottles of 20 health-conscious employees.

The single-lever faucets mentioned above quickly reach the desired temperature. That, too, saves water.

A switch from styrofoam

You have heard of the perils of polystyrene. It takes five centuries to decompose. Styrofoam cups leach carcinogens into our morning java. It kills marine life.

Styrofoam cups conveniently stack in the breakroom cupboard, but so do mugs which can be customized with a logo, distributed as a corporate perquisite, and washed again and again. If your well-equipped breakroom has a dishwasher, instruct employees to place the mugs there rather than in the sink. Skip the wasteful pre-rinse, and wait until both racks are full before initiating the air-dry cycle.

When upgrading the breakroom, remember that water-efficient dishwashers use 50% less water than average models.

More resources

As you consider the alternatives, consult the online calculator provided by Kohler Co. It estimates water use in a commercial building and provides comparisons to both the U.S. average and the USGBC LEED baseline.

For some quick reading, download the EPA’s two-page guide to Saving Water in Office Buildings.