As more facilities focus on sustainability one of their primary targets is water. But this might seem a bit ironic.
As this article is being written, in late August 2017, the U.S. Drought Monitor is reporting the fewest number of drought areas in the country in months. In fact, they indicate that precipitation is above normal in many parts of the country with only parts of North and South Dakota and Montana experiencing drought conditions.
However, anyone that has followed droughts in the U.S. over the past decade or longer knows this situation, as good as it is now, is temporary. The driest period in the U.S. was during the 1930s, causing what was called the Dust Bowl. However, since the 1990s, the Drought Meter reports we are getting less precipitation in the country every decade.*
Fortunately, there are steps building managers can take to reduce water consumption and use water more efficiently. While some require a substantial investment, many require none or moderate amounts. We will discuss those inexpensive options here.
Start With Sub Meters
But before we do, building managers are advised to install sub meters in their facilities. This will serve many purposes including making it much easier to monitor where water is being used in the building. It can also cut utility charges significantly.
Here’s why. The utility company is charging not only for the delivery of water to the facility but sewer charges, the removal of water. However, water used for irrigation falls outside this realm. While this will not necessarily help the facility reduce water consumption, it certainly can help reduce water utility charges.
Another reason for sub metering is to help locate leaks. Say, for instance, water consumption in the entire facility has been increasing steadily for some unknown reason. Usually, this indicates a leak. With separate water meters for different areas of the facility, it is easier to pinpoint exactly where the leak is located.
No Cost Steps
With those points made, let’s get started. Some of the most important steps facility managers can take to reduce water consumption involves landscaping. Simple changes and some good old common sense can make a big difference. For instance:
• Check landscape irrigation systems. Most irrigation systems overwater landscaping. If the system is currently set to irrigate vegetation for 30 minutes daily, try reducing that to 20 minutes daily, or 20 minutes every other day.
• Remove water intensive plants. Typically, the more water intensive plants are those that are not native to the area.
• Check sprinkler heads. When was the last time sprinkler heads were inspected at your facility? Invariably, these are rarely tested. Make sure they are working properly and pointed in the right direction.
• Inspect the entire building, inside and out, for leaks.
In most facilities, the greatest amount of water is used for outdoor irrigation. But the second most significant amount is used in restrooms. So here’s what we can do:
• Install aerators on all faucets and showerheads; According to Tom Linstroth, head of Sustainable Initiatives with Melaverk, a property management firm, “an inexpensive 0.5 gallon per minute aerator in a faucet can help reduce water consumption in restrooms by more than 80 percent.”
• Test toilets for leaks; Put food coloring in the tank, wait 15 minutes, and then look into the bowl. If it is now colored, you have a leak.
• Install water displacement devices in toilets; This will help (temporarily) reduce the amount of water used per flush
Medium Cost Steps
Most medium cost steps also involve restrooms, and specifically toilets and urinals.
· Install high efficiency toilets if toilets are more than a decade old. These toilets use less water than is Federally mandated.
· Mount motion sensors on faucets, toilets, and urinals. These are designed to not only release water only when needed, but many regulate the amount of water released. (See Sidebar)
· Select urinals that use less water or no water at all. A newer urinal uses about one gallon of water per flush. With no-water urinals, “water use is eliminated,” says Linstroth. “In the buildings we maintain, we have not had an issue [with them, and we’ve had] fewer service calls, because there are no moving parts, nothing can jam or clog up the system.”
If a facility has not taken any steps to reduce water consumption, there are good reasons to start with the least expensive options first. One reason for this is obvious, little or no expenditures are involved. But the other is less obvious. These initial steps serve as a foundation, encouraging administrators to investigate and implement other water reducing measures.
* EPA Climate Change Indicators: Drought, The Palmer Drought Severity Index, averaged over the entire area of the contiguous 48 states, as of August 2016
Note: Using water more efficiently references strategies that reduce water consumption over the long-term, not just during water shortages or drought conditions.
Sidebar: Analyzing Sensor Controlled Devices
Administrators should review several types of sensor controlled or “hands-free” devices before making a selection. Not all are the same; some are designed for very heavy use while others are not. Some are more sensitive to dust and soiling build up, causing them to malfunction. Also, they should be installed by experts. Installation can be tricky.