Cut the cost of water waste
The costs of wasted water are easily overlooked. A single faucet that drips once per second will send over 2,000 gallons of water down the pipes within a year. The potential expense faced by office, commercial, and industrial facilities is significantly multiplied.
Fortunately, planning and awareness will shut off the dollar drain. Water waste can be avoided through conservation measures, signage, and maintenance.
Every use of water inside and outside of a building can be wasteful or watchful. Conservation can be achieved through strategic choices in fixtures, use of reclaimed water where appropriate, water monitoring tools, and maintenance of a water-wise landscape.
Water-wise fixtures in restrooms and breakrooms will reduce waste. The Energy Policy Act (EPAct) of 1992 specifies maximum flow rates for the fixtures seen in homes as well as every office restroom and breakroom. The resulting federal law limits created a challenge for inventors and engineers. The new fixtures had to work just as well while operating with substantially reduced volumes of water.
Aerators on faucets reduce water flow without limiting its usefulness in washing hands or rinsing breakroom dishes. Their low cost and easy installation quickly return value in lower utility costs, including less energy needed when less hot water is used.
Standard water flow aerators allow 2.2 gallons per minute (GPM). Up to 75% more water can be saved by installing water saving flow aerators which allow a 0.5 GPM flow.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s WaterSense initiatives include several online resources for commercial building owners and managers. These include the water use tracking capabilities of the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager along with several tools for water assessment:
- Water Audit Forms
- Spreadsheets and other software tools
Look for the WaterSense label on all new fixtures. Independent third parties have certified those products to meet EPA specifications for water efficiency and performance.
Maximum reuse and retention
Building systems can capture and reuse water from condensate and rain for operations such as irrigation or non-potable water systems. In many engineered systems, water from wash basins or HVAC systems is reclaimed through filtering or other processes. Air handler condensate has limited mineral content which makes it valuable for reuse with minimal to no pre-treatment. Water already used in a cooling system or recycled municipal water, given adequate treatment, can also be a source for cooling tower and irrigation needs.
Stormwater runoff can have substantial value. General Motors reported saving $140,000 in one year at an assembly plant. By filtering stormwater through sand, that single facility avoided discharge fees and reduced its water consumption by more than 20 percent.
Gravity and weather can bring rainwater to storage barrels or a cistern. The water from roofs and paved areas can be routed to a rain garden. Rainwater gardens can be attractive and practical green spaces comprised of native grasses, shrubs, and flowers that provide food and shelter for wildlife. These gardens are a practical use of water that might otherwise be routed to storm drains.
A building’s gardens and landscape design are essential components of water conservation. Native plants will grow and thrive with less care, less fertilizer, and less water. Landscapers with local experience can engineer or advise when and how long to water the plants they supply. A quick internet search will bring up resources from nearby horticultural societies and educators. One Florida source, the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida provides a free online database of plants, shrubs, and trees that are recommended for its subtropical/tropical climate.
Strategically posted signs are powerful tools for achieving optimal water use. One faucet, dripping every 20 seconds, wastes 104 gallons per year. Businesses with a substantial number of break room and lavatory faucets are likely to see benefits by communicating best practices.
No one likes to waste water, but if employees don’t know where to report a leaky faucet, that waste will happen. Post a sign so everyone will know:
- What to report (e.g., leaking faucet, running toilet)
- How to report it (e.g., phone/voicemail extension, email address)
Find places where people use water and let them participate in conserving it. Thoughtful reminders posted near showers or sinks will cap wasteful use.
Building water fixture maintenance and engineering investments have a short return on investment (ROI) through water conservation and reduced sewage fees.
Insulation on hot water pipes provides energy savings and helps reduce water use. On average, water heating consumes 7% of the energy in a commercial building. When warm water is slow to reach a faucet, the cooler water ahead of it is wasted. Once the faucet is turned off, any water in the pipes will quickly cool, wasting the energy used to heat it. Insulated pipes hold heat longer and can avoid significant energy and water waste.
A tiny geyser at a broken sprinkler head does nothing to enhance a building lawn Instead, it is a visible expense. Frequent irrigation system inspections will cap that water waste.
Monthly inspections by your landscape company will identify damaged nozzles or pipe leaks when each zone is tested. A key component of those tests will verify that water reaches the areas that need it rather than puddling on concrete and asphalt.
If substantial losses persist between monthly inspections, advanced flow sensors can trigger email or text notification when water runs at the wrong time, place, or volume. Seasonal weather patterns should be considered when calculating irrigation needs.
Systems with heat and moisture sensors can respond to weather. If that technology cost exceeds value, irrigation system inspections should include zone-by-zone review of scheduling and clock programming.