Beyond Fixing Leaks: Useful Steps Managers Can Take To Reduce Water Consumption

On September 10, 2017, The Seattle Times carried an article discussing a proposed rate increase for water that would amount to a 5.5 percent increase each year through 2023.  According to the article, this would mean that many residential consumers would be paying as much as $250 per month more than they do today for water and sewer charges.

water leak, old pipes, aging pipes

Similar rate increases are planned for all types of commercial facilities in the city from office buildings and schools, to health care locations.  The reasons for the increase are many including:

•    The city must start replacing aging pipes. 

•    Sewage is leaking into nearby waterways which must be repaired. 

•    Seattle must take steps now to address water shortages in the future. 

This last point is critical. Even though the city typically receives more rainfall than most other American cities, Seattle has experienced what is called “snowpack drought” in recent years. This happens when there is less than normal snowfall. In many parts of the country, it is melting snow that provides drinking water throughout the year.

However, this is not just a problem in Seattle.  Cities and states throughout the country are facing similar issues when it comes to water. Many states are not only having infrastructure issues that must be attended to, but they simply do not have enough water to meet all their needs. As a result, water and sewer rates are escalating throughout the country.

But there are things facility managers (FMs) can do and the steps they take today can help them keep tomorrow’s rate increases in check.  Of course doing things such as fixing water leaks will contribute to reducing water consumption, sometimes considerably.  But, there are many other steps, which receive less attention than they deserve, that FMs can take to reduce consumption.

But before we begin, we need to clarify something.  What we are discussing here is not conserving water. We are talking about long-term water reduction, and that means using water more efficiently.   According to the National Institute of Building Sciences, water efficiency is:

The planned management of water to prevent waste, overuse, and exploitation of the resource. Effective water efficiency planning seeks to "do more with less" without sacrificing comfort or performance. Water efficiency planning is a resource management practice that incorporates analysis of costs and uses of water; specification of water-saving solutions; installation of water-saving measures; and verification of savings to maximize the cost-effective use of water resources.

Steps to Take

The following are some steps FMs can adopt to use water more efficiently. After each suggestion, we will post a “$” sign.  Based on a scale of one dollar sign to five, with five referring to the most costly initiatives, this will give us an idea of what these initiatives might cost.

Conduct a water audit. We have to carry out a water audit for a few reasons, starting with knowing exactly where water is used throughout the facility.  Further, water audits are one of the best ways to locate leaks and where water reducing strategies, such as the installation of aerators, are possible.  If done in house, there are no additional costs for this service. If handled by an engineering company: $

Establish a benchmark.  In many facilities, the water bill comes in, and a check goes out.  That’s the end of it. Start collecting and monitoring water bills.  It’s important to have a baseline, so FMs know how much water the facility is using on a monthly basis and what it is costing. The benchmark serves as a starting point, helping check the progress of a water efficiency program.  It also can be used to look for spikes.  Water spikes often indicate a leak somewhere in the water system. No additional costs.

Adjust water pressure. In many commercial facilities, water booster pumps are installed to overcome the loss of water pressure, for instance in the higher floors of the building. However, this higher pressure can result in water flow rates exceeding the capacity of water fixtures.  The result in water waste.  The excess water simply goes down the drain. Pressure reducing valves can help lessen the pressure, so less water is wasted. Further, they can help prevent ruptured pipes or damage to water fixtures. $$$

insulated pipes

Insulated plumbing. All water pipes and water storage systems must be insulated. The big problem comes when there is a demand for hot water.  Cold pipes will cool hot water as it travels through the system.  It’s not until the warm water heats the pipes that hot water makes it to where it is requested.  $$ to $$$

Rain sensors.  Whenever we see sprinklers running during a rainfall, the first thought many of us have is “how wasteful.”  This is easily preventable with the installation of rain sensors. And while our discussion here focuses on commercial buildings, rain sensors can be installed in residential settings as well. $

barometer, rain meter

Install sub meters.  These meters serve many purposes, including making it much easier to monitor where water is being used in the building.  This way, if there is a water spike, we can pinpoint it more easily. Further, these can help reduce utility charges when attached to the landscaping irrigation system. The water utility is charging for water delivered and taken away from the facility. FMs should not be charged for water taken away from irrigation because it falls outside this realm. $$

Educate users. Often FMs forget one step that can make a big impact when it comes to using water more efficiently.  FMs are encouraged to do the following:

·        Discuss water saving initiatives with building users on a regular basis

·        Encourage building users to suggest water saving ideas

·        Provide and share regular reports about water use in the facility, this way everyone knows how successful the water efficiency program is progressing

·        Designate “water champions,” referring to offices or locations in the facility that have been more proactive in reducing water consumption. 

Taking these steps has proven successful in many facilities. Usually, there are no costs related to this action.

Finally, most FMs are aware of the need to update restroom fixtures.  While they are aware of the need, this does not necessarily mean it is done. The problem with many older toilets and urinals is one, they use too much water, and two, except for repairs here and there, they can last for years. But newer systems use much less water or no water at all and with water rates going up, the return on investment can be relatively quick. 

Always remember that in most facilities, more water is used in restrooms than any other area.  Making a change here can help improve a facility’s water efficiency significantly.


A frequent speaker and author on water conservation issues, Klaus Reichardt, is founder and CEO of Waterless Co. Inc., based in Vista, Calif. Reichardt founded the company in 1991 with the goal to establish a new market segment in the plumbing fixture industry with water efficiency in mind. Along with the Waterless No-Flush urinal, which works completely without water, the company manufactures other restroom and plumbing related products.


* “Rates must rise again, Seattle Public Utilities tells City Council,” by Daniel Beekman, The Seattle Times, September 10, 2017