By David Scelsi
From the December 2018 Issue
The high-traffic, heavy use nature of commercial restrooms has traditionally dictated a design ethos focused on durability rather than sustainability. But perspectives have been changing, and facility managers are incorporating other priorities into restroom design, seeking ways to increase sustainability and cut costs without sacrificing function or quality.
Due to forces like droughts, economic challenges, advancing laws and standards, and general social awareness, water has risen to the forefront of the sustainability conversation. Commercial restrooms, which are among the top consumers of water in buildings, are ripe for sustainability-driven change.
Restrooms account for 45% of water use in educational facilities, 37% in office buildings, and 35% in hospitals, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In fact, there’s no facility type where bathrooms aren’t responsible for at least 30% of total water use.
And, with water rates rising faster than inflation in many locations, and with added costs for the energy and sewer associated with water use, controlling water consumption helps to keep costs under control.
Faucets are perhaps the most cost-effective place to realize immediate water savings. Adding or updating aerators (easy-to-install devices that restrict water flow) can cut use to as little as 0.35 gallons per minute (gpm), a dramatic reduction from the 2.2 gpm common in non-public settings. Vandal-resistant versions also prevent unauthorized removal.
When it’s time to renovate or rebuild, go a step further by upgrading traditional manual faucets to hands-free sensor faucets, which save as much as one gallon of tempered water per handwash by flowing water only when needed. Sensor faucets also eliminate the potential to accidentally or purposefully leave water running. An automatic shut-off feature ensures any malicious efforts to cover or otherwise interfere with sensor operation won’t result in an untended flow of water.
To extend resource conservation further, consider hydrogenerators (which harness the flow of water to produce energy) to power sensor faucets and flush valves. These eliminate the need for regular battery replacements or electrical wiring.
Toilets and urinals are other water-guzzling components, particularly when these fixtures haven’t been updated in several years. WaterSense, the EPA-operated water conservation advocacy program, estimates there are nearly 27 million flushometer-valve toilets currently installed in the U.S. Of those, about 26% (7 million) have flush volumes as high as 3.0 to 7.0 gallons per flush (gpf), far higher than the federal standard of 1.6 gpf. Updating fixtures to the new standard, or going further to a 1.28 gpf or 1.1 gpf version, can reduce water consumption significantly.
Advances in plumbing are also making it more feasible for facilities to reclaim and recycle non-potable water to flush toilets.
Urinals, too, are widely using more water than they need to. As with toilets, many facilities are still outfitted with old, inefficient versions, and the EPA estimates that a typical office building could cut water use by 26,000 gallons per year or more by updating to efficient, modern urinals. Today’s urinal flush valves commonly use as little as a pint of water per flush, a reduction of 88% over the federal standard of 1 gpf. Waterless versions are also available, though these require ongoing maintenance to replace cartridges.
Beyond introducing water-saving fixtures, processes and procedures that can reveal potential for water savings or uncover culprits that are undermining efforts are an important part of any conservation effort.
Before buying and installing a raft of new products, a commercial facility should undertake a water audit to first analyze water flow across the facility and determine where efficiencies can be gained with repairs, retrofits, or updated equipment. Leak monitoring is another critical step, because these account for more than 6% of a facility’s total water use, according to EPA, and may often go undetected if a facility doesn’t regularly monitor for and repair leaks.
Scelsi is marketing product manager with T&S Brass, a manufacturer of commercial plumbing products with global headquarters in Travelers Rest, SC.
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