Water Conservation and Treatment Trends: Where Blue Meets Green

By Linda Seigler
Published in the September 2012 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

In today’s business climate, facility managers (fms) face mounting pressure to reduce costs and become more environmentally conscious. Ironically, one of the most universally used resources is often one of the most frequently overlooked areas for possible cost and usage reduction—water.

As reported by USA Today, water and sewer rates have risen by an average of 7% or more for each two year period since the year 2000. [“Huge hikes in water, sewer rates on tap across USA,” by Dennis Cauchon, December 27, 2007.] It is also important to note that water and sewer costs are not the only expenses that are associated with the overconsumption of water.

Many facilities include foodservice or maintenance operations. Obviously, these departments demand the use of very hot water, requiring significant energy to heat—as well as treat—water. This adds the expense of chemicals and additives to the mix and compounds costs. With all this in mind, many fms find themselves throwing money—and lots of it—down the drain.

But they needn’t despair; there are simple and easy to implement changes that can be made to reduce water consumption dramatically. In turn, these actions will help fms cut operating expenses, meet sustainability goals, and even contribute towards LEED certification.

Simple Strategies

For fms, the first step towards consumption reduction is to develop a water management plan. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an outline that is recommended for use by fms in existing facility operating plans. In this outline, there are seven key areas that help facilities establish a plan, set goals, measure use, prepare for emergencies, and assess important savings opportunities.

A facility’s equipment will play a major role in reducing water consumption. Prior to the EPAct 2005 legislation, most faucets ran at five to six gallons of water per minute (gpm). Now the standard has been reduced to 1.6 gpm, and several companies have introduced low flow faucets and fixtures. These new offerings take gpm one step further by limiting flow to 1.48; some even go as low as .65 gpm.

Another easy fix for reducing water consumption is installing aerators. These devices mix air into the water stream to reduce flow and cut back on splashing. Inexpensive and easy to install, faucet aerators can greatly reduce water consumption and the energy costs of heating the water.

A standard faucet will flow at the rate of 12 gpm at 60 psi. A standard aerator will limit this flow to 2.2 gpm, reducing consumption by nearly 80%. Many facilities have used aerators to limit this flow to as little as 0.5 gpm and have realized huge savings. There are online calculators that can help fms calculate how much they can save by making this simple switch.

An fm’s choice of faucets can also play a major role in conservation efforts. Metering faucets significantly reduce water usage and save energy by cutting water flow and duration. Electronic sensor faucets, which also flow at a pre-determined rate, take this a step further by only turning on when a user’s hands are under the spout.

While most electronic faucets require an AC or DC power choice, a few manufacturers offer options that actually use a hydro-generator powered by running water to control the faucet itself, compounding the energy savings. Both of these features can save as much as one gallon of water per hand wash.

Limiting Leaks

Of course, no examination of water conservation would be complete without addressing the issue of leaks. According to the EPA, a faucet that leaks at a rate of one drop per second can add an extra 3,000 gallons per year to a water bill. To put it in perspective, that’s enough to fill three fire trucks.

Fms can play a leading role in reducing the amount of water wasted through leaks by using durable, high quality products that are less likely to develop leaks and will be easy to replace. Since most leaks are caused by wear, another consideration is favoring the use of ceramic cartridges which have no seals or washers that can wear out. In addition to helping to prevent leaks, ceramic cartridges use up to 20% less water than compression style cartridges.

The Bigger Picture

Of course, profits are not the only area impacted by reducing consumption. This fact remains: usable water is a limited resource and should be treated as such.

Most facilities have aggressive sustainability goals, striving to be as green as possible. Use of the water conservation products outlined in this article can also contribute to USGBC LEED points.

Fms are inundated with equipment choices every day, but there are a few groups that can help fms make valid green product selections. The Alliance for Water Efficiency’s (AWE) WaterSense program independently tests and certifies products to help consumers and businesses identify and buy products that will allow them to make smart water choices that save money and maintain high environmental standards without compromising performance. Only products meeting the highest standards earn certification, so purchasers can rest assured that these products will save water, energy, and money.

Aside from simply being the right thing to do, conservation is truly where the “blue” of water meets the “green” of sustainability and money savings. By doing some homework, making smart choices, and considering all the factors involved in how equipment and design choice impact consumption, fms can be true heroes, making a significant positive impact on their facilities, end users, and the environment itself.

Seigler, northeastern regional sales manager, of Travelers Rest, SC-based T&S Brass and Bronze Works has worked closely with a wide range of facility management professionals to meet their most challenging plumbing and foodservice equipment selection, specification, and replacement needs.

For information on the T&S online calculator, visit www.tsbrass.com/aeratorcalc. For a listing of WaterSense certified products, visit this link.