Water conservation and saving money on water bills are likely top of mind for facility managers and owner/operators going into the new year.
Forty out of 50 state water managers expect water shortages under average conditions in some portion of their states over the next decade, according to the EPA. Water shortages mean higher utility bills and, in extreme cases like California, mandated water restrictions accompanied by steep fees for exceeding water allotments.
“Water is the no. 1 issue for our clients,” Dan Teague, WegoWise VP of business development tells Environmental Leader.
Fortunately, there are simple — and more sophisticated — water saving tips for buildings that can result in thousands of dollars in annual savings.
“Through new data analytics and communication technologies, utility customers are armed with data about their own water consumption along with highly customized savings recommendations to make informed decisions about reducing water use,” WaterSmart Software CEO Robin Gilthorpe tells Environmental Leader.
Replace Outdated Fixtures
Buildings.com reports that the biggest waste is found in older buildings with aging fixtures. Replacing outdated fixtures with WaterSense models can conserve gallons and dollars.
WaterSense is a voluntary partnership program of the EPA that labels products that are 20 percent more water-efficient and perform as well as or better than standard models. WaterSense labeled faucets — or aerators that can be installed on existing bathroom faucets — are about 30 percent more efficient than standard faucets, while WaterSense labeled toilets use 20 percent less water per flush, according to the EPA.
More than 1,600 models of showerheads, 1,900 models of tank-type toilets, 6,800 models of faucet or faucet accessory models, and 150 models of weather–based irrigation controllers have the WaterSense label, which means these models are independently certified to meet the EPA’s criteria for both water efficiency and performance.
A 200-occupant office building could save 230,000 gallons of water and more than $2,000 every year just by replacing old flushometer-valve toilets with WaterSense models, according to Buildings.com. WaterSense-certified urinals could save another 52,000 gallons.
Track Water Performance
But before you can improve water efficiency, you need to understand the water performance in your building, Teague says. WegoWise provides building efficiency software and works primarily with large multi-family property owners and managers.
“If you’re looking to save money on water, the first thing you need to do is get your water data together,” Teague says. “That can be a challenge for facility managers that have buildings in a lot of places because water utilities deliver that information in different ways. The tip is to get your data together and normalize it between properties.”
Properties with landscaping or other significant sources of outdoor water use can conserve through simple measures like installing drip irrigation to more advanced smart systems that measure the water content of the soil and only water when necessary.
“For facilities with landscaping, automatic drip-type irrigation systems are helping consumers and building owners reduce water consumption considerably,” Klaus Reichardt, founder and CEO of Waterless Co., tells Environmental Leader. Waterless Co. manufacturers No-Flush Urinals. “With these [automatic drip-type irrigation] systems, spray heads are eliminated and water is delivered directly to the roots of plants and vegetation.”
Xeriscaping — a low-water-use landscaping method that uses native plants — is another option to help buildings conserve water.
Bank of America expects to save 5 million gallons of water by transitioning from traditional landscaping to xeriscaping at six of its banking centers in Southern California. Similarly, San Diego Gas & Electric expects its new water-wise landscaping project at Century Park, its Kearny Mesa headquarters, to save the utility more than 4 million gallons of water a year, a 40 percent campus reduction.
Look at Low- and No-Flow
With urban commercial buildings and urban multi-family developments, water use and subsequent savings are more likely to be found indoors.
“The thing we see more often, and we track about 40,000 buildings, is toilets,” Teague says, adding that it’s a very easy problem to test and fix. “You can test whether a toilet is leaking in a few minutes. And the fix is a $5 piece of equipment you can install onsite to replace and flapper and save thousands and thousands of dollars.”
A two-year water efficiency study by WegoWise, published in September, found one hotel in Los Angeles saved more than 30 percent annually after a toilet retrofit. Community Corporation of Santa Monica, an affordable housing developer, decreased water usage by over 12 gallons/bedroom/day — a 24 percent drop.
Other water-saving retrofits include replacing sinks, showers and toilets with more efficient models.
“Older flush urinals can use up to 35,000 gallons of water per urinal per year,” Reichardt says. “Replacing these urinals with low-flow systems can cut this amount in about half. However, no-flow or no-water urinals, which have no flush valves or related water-delivery systems, reduce this amount to zero.”
And while a typical faucet releases about 2.5 or more gallons of water per minute, installing an inexpensive aerator can reduced reduce water use to as little as half a gallon per minute. “Related to this, aerators should be installed in shower heads and similar fixtures if present in a facility,” Reichardt says.
Another tip: use water brooms instead of pressure washing floor surfaces, Reichardt suggests. These use about one-tenth the water of a hose alone by turning ordinary tap water into a high-pressure cleaning device.
Make Monitoring an Ongoing Activity
If saving water starts with tracking data, it doesn’t end with retrofits, Teague says. Building managers must continue to monitor water use even after fixing leaks and installing more efficient fixtures.
The WegoWise study, which looked at more than 700 multifamily buildings across California from January 2013 through June 2015, found that among the properties that installed new toilets, showerheads and aerators, the group that tracked and monitored water use saved 25 percent compared to the group that did not, which saved 15 percent.
“It doesn’t end with the installation of equipment,” Teague says. “There needs to be very careful diligence after the installation so the savings are persistent and don’t drop away.”
Photo Credit: water faucet via Shutterstock