By Tom Real
From the October 2022 Issue
Today’s commercial property owners and operators are heavily focused on sustainability initiatives, and for good reason. As tenants and investors grow increasingly concerned about rising energy cost and environmental impact, they are expecting stakeholders, in the buildings where they lease space and place capital, to become stewards of the environment.
In turn, these stakeholders are developing environmental, social and governance (ESG) mission statements that reflect their commitment to sustainability. As they seek ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle resources in their building operations, many facility executives are discovering how water features can assist in these efforts.
Here are a few ways that water features can help stakeholders achieve their unique sustainability goals.
1. Water features can work with building systems to reduce energy use and costs.
Integrating outdoor fountains into a building’s environmental system enables the water system to serve as a heatsink or a cooling tower for the HVAC system. A chilled body of water creates a passive heat exchange that dramatically reduces the need for cooling electricity use, benefiting the property’s environment and lowering energy costs. Similarly, a cascading water feature can act with a cooling tower effect, providing cooling to supplement traditional air conditioning.
Also, interior fountains and other water features can be designed to reduce humidity inside a building, therefore reducing the load on the HVAC system. This is what is referred to as a direct system, and can either work by utilizing chilled water or liquid desiccants.
In fact, by controlling humidity in this manner, facility managers can set air conditioning to run at a higher temperature while keeping everyone inside the building comfortable, which can lower utility bills dramatically during the warmer months. This cost savings could potentially pass on to tenants and investors as a selling point for the property.
2. Contrary to popular belief, these amenities can promote water conservation.
Even though water features obviously use water to operate, they can help property owners conserve water and reduce the rising costs of this precious natural resource. In reality, since the water is recirculated, the only water lost is through evapotranspiration and splash.
A big concern with fountains is their use of potable water—something that need not be a concern at all, as water features can be designed and installed to take advantage of a variety of alternative water sources, such as HVAC condensation, recycled water, and captured stormwater.
Also, when properly designed, engineered, constructed, and maintained, water features do not necessarily use excessive amounts of water. And while some people believe fountains have no place in an arid environment, by providing people with the opportunity to experience the fascination and pleasure of water, fountains can be designed to encourage individuals to value water for its beauty, the psychological satisfaction it offers, and the positive impacts it has on their lives—which additionally promotes water conservation.
3. Modern water feature technology is designed to prevent a waste of resources.
During the pandemic, our team saw firsthand how technology used in water feature operation can diminish water waste and prevent expensive damage and repairs. By integrating a remote-controlled leak-detection system that sends an alert if a problem occurs or shuts off the fountain automatically in case of an emergency, facility managers can utilize technology that protects the property round the clock—whether owners and managers are on-site or not.
In addition, certain program systems allow for lower flow rates when visitors are less frequent, and the variable frequency drive pumps and LED lights integrated into water features can be designed and built to reduce a property’s overall operating costs.
Water feature technology continues to advance, providing greater conservation of resources, less waste, and more efficient operation of these amenities the longer they remain part of a commercial property.
With ESG initiatives top of mind for owners, operators, tenants, and investors, implementing amenities that promote sustainability in the built environment is a win-win for everyone. By working along with building systems to diminish energy use and costs, promoting water conservation, and utilizing state-of-the-art technology to prevent resource waste, water features can go a long way toward helping building stakeholders achieve their sustainability goals now and far into the future.
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Real is the Vice President of Engineering and Preconstruction at OTL, a design-build themed construction company that specializes in creating one-of-a-kind rockwork, water features, and themed environments for retail entertainment, hospitality, gaming, and golf properties around the globe.
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