In many areas of the United States, water is not only in short supply, but becoming a chronic problem. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), at least 36 states have experienced or can anticipate some type of local, regional, or even statewide water shortage this year and into at least the first half of next year. Water issues and shortages are already having a significant impact on both consumers and commercial facilities such as office buildings.
First and foremost, water is getting more and more expensive. In Chicago and neighboring communities that depend on the city for their water supply, a 25 percent rate increase took effect January 1, 2012. The rate went up again in 2013 by 15 percent, and will increase again in 2014. That’s a 55 percent rate increase over a three-year period. Even though American municipalities have traditionally underpriced water, a 55 percent rate increase in such a short amount of time is an indication that a serious problem exists—with no resolution in sight.
Water Use in Commercial Facilities
Water use in commercial facilities is very dependent on a number of factors, including the age of the building, the local climate, and how the facility is used, among others. For instance, office buildings that include a cafeteria and a kitchen probably use more water than locations that do not have these features. Further, the type and age of the HVAC systems installed can greatly impact how much water a property consumes.
However, in virtually all settings, restrooms use more water than any other part of a facility. This is according to the U.S. Department of Energy, which estimates that about 60 percent of all water used in a commercial facility is used in toilets, sinks, and urinals.* If building owners and managers want to use water more efficiently, the best place to start is in the restroom.
Before going any further, we should clarify what is meant by the terms water efficiency and water conservation. Typically, when there is a serious water shortage, local governments ask or even require consumers to use less water. However, once the shortage has passed, these restrictions are lifted. This is an example of water conservation—water is conserved during the shortage.
Water efficiency, on the other hand, refers to a long-term reduction in water consumption that is not in response to current water conditions or shortages. Facilities that use water efficiently have systems and fixtures in place that are able to meet users’ needs while also using less water than conventional equivalents.