Look, Listen, And Learn To Find Leaks

By Tara O’Hare
From the September/October 2015 Issue

The four year drought in California has highlighted the need to focus on water management in facilities, and not just on the West Coast. The U.S. Government Accountability Office recently found that 40 out of 50 state water managers expected shortages in some portion of their states in the next decade. The cost of water is also up; water and sewer rates increased 8.5% from 2013 to 2014. With water scarcity and prices on the rise, facility management leaders face the challenge of reducing water waste to conserve this limited resource while controlling costs.

(Photo: Kahtany.com)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) WaterSense program is one resource; it is both a water savings education program and a label for water efficient products. WaterSense labeled products are independently certified to use at least 20% less water than the federal standard and perform as well or better than standard models. Commercial products that can earn the label include tank-type faucets, showerheads, flushing urinals, and pre-rinse spray valves used to remove food from dishes.

By 2016, flushometer-valve toilets will also be eligible for the WaterSense label.

Installing WaterSense labeled fixtures and other water efficient equipment can be an important step in saving water, but establishing an ongoing maintenance program to detect and address leaks helps further reduce and prevent significant water loss. On average, water leaks and other types of water waste can amount to more than 6% of a facility’s annual water use.

Leaks can occur in any fixtures, pipes, and plumbing joints; water can also be wasted by malfunctioning or failed fixtures and equipment. A one-gallon-per-minute leak results in more than 500,000 gallons of water loss per year, costing the average commercial facility more than $5,300 annually.

Sometimes the issue isn’t as obvious as a dripping faucet or running toilet. On page 39, the table outlines common examples of maintenance mistakes or components that can malfunction and lead to water loss.

Best Practices To Nip Those Drips

(Source: EPA WaterSense)

Creating a program to detect leaks and malfunctioning equipment can save facilities thousands of gallons of water per year, benefitting both the environment and the bottom line. From reading water meters and installing failure abatement technologies to educating building occupants and making repairs in a timely fashion, facility managers should keep the following practices in mind when developing a leak detection and repair program.

Monitor Water Consumption. Regularly reading and recording building and system-level water meter data can help identify water use inconsistencies, which in turn can help facilities address water losses faster. Facility managers should monitor water and sewer bills monthly and check water meters (or submeters, if available) regularly.

It is also a good idea to periodically check the water meters during off-peak hours, when water using equipment and fixtures are not being used or can be shut off. Meter readings that differ after a one-hour period indicate there might be a leak somewhere within the facility.

Walk the Space and Assess Water Use. By walking the entire facility—including mechanical spaces—to look for leaks and listen for running water, maintenance staff can identify unnecessary water use. Staff should check for dripping faucets, running toilets, unanticipated discharge to floor drains (particularly in mechanical spaces), and soggy spots in landscaping or water puddles in parking lots when it hasn’t rained recently.

While facility walkthroughs help identify individual causes of water waste, overall assessments consider the big picture in preventing water loss and reducing overall consumption. During an assessment, all major water uses should be identified and estimated. If more than 10% of total water use is unaccounted for, a facility might have leaks or unnecessary water loss somewhere in the system.

During a water assessment at EPA’s Science and Technology Center in Kansas City, KS, assessors found that the vacuum pump system was operating incorrectly. The vacuum pump system, by design, had a recovery and recirculation system that was intended to reduce water use by 80%; however the system was continuously discharging the liquid ring seal water. Instead of using 200,000 gallons of water per year, the system was using more than 1.2 million gallons. Following the assessment, the vacuum pump system was cleaned and serviced, saving the Agency an estimated one million gallons of water and $9,000 in water and wastewater costs annually.

(Source: EPA WaterSense)

Install Alarms or Sensors. Leak detection devices sense abnormal water flow increases, which could indicate potential equipment malfunction and help stop water loss. Leak detection devices can alert a user of an issue through alarms, flashing lights, or electronic alerts, or they can automatically cut off the water supply. Connecting the device to a building management or automation system ensures the alert will be sent to a centralized location where a facilities staff member is monitoring building operations.

Educate Occupants to Report Leaks. All building occupants should know how and where to report leaks. Many facilities display signage in kitchen and restroom areas describing what occupants can do in case of a water related maintenance issue. Once a leak is reported, it should be repaired immediately to not only address the water waste but also to encourage future reporting. Staff should use call logs or work order data to identify recurring problems with equipment, and consider replacing items that malfunction frequently.

Hotels, college campuses, and other facilities with temporary residents can inform guests how to report a leak in their rooms or other areas of the facility. For example, Kalaloch Lodge in Washington’s Olympic National Park created in-room literature as part of its “Water Is Vital” campaign that encourages guests to report leaks to the front desk. Caesars Entertainment’s CodeGreen program lets resort employees know that a leaky tap can waste 100 gallons per day, and gives incentives to employees who suggest water saving ideas.

Put WaterSense To Work

To help facility managers assess and reduce water use, EPA has created “WaterSense at Work: Best Management Practices for Commercial and Institutional Facilities.” The guide covers a variety of building types and areas to save water, energy, and operating costs.

water-managementO’Hare is an environmental protection specialist and the implementation lead for the EPA’s WaterSense program (www.epa.gov/watersense/commercial). Since the program’s inception in 2006, WaterSense has helped Americans save a cumulative 1.1 trillion gallons of water and $21.7 billion in water and energy bills.

Do you have a comment? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below. Or send an e-mail to the Editor at acosgrove@groupc.com.


  1. wow, what a nice reply! I actually talked to a friend over dinner on the EPA list, who is in the green building industry, and before I got this reply. He says that if a product is not on the EPA list they would not consider it as the EPA WaterSense label is in most cases now a prerequisite for buildings,especially federal ones. So,where does that leave those urinals if they are not on the list?? Strange! More so if a product uses no water at all why would it not be on the list!! I may have to look into this a bit further …..

  2. great article and we all should be aware of this, not only facilities. Have been using more and more of those waterless urinals in all types of restaurants plus my boys have them in their schools. Work great and really are the next step on water conservation-plus no leaky valves :) I went to the EPA water website and could not find these in the list???

    • My office installed two of those waterless ones lately and I do like them. I think it’s cool to do what I have always done going to a urinal and at the same time saving water.

    • Hi Benji, Thanks for your comment and thoughts on waterless urinals. The author at EPA WaterSense has shared the feedback below on waterless urinals.
      — Anne Cosgrove, Editor-in-Chief, Facility Executive, acosgrove@groupc.com

      Why are non-water urinals not included in this specification?

      Non-water urinals, although often very similar in appearance to flushing urinals, are different in their design, components, and functionality (i.e., how they remove waste). In addition, non-water urinals are subject to significantly different performance standards than flushing urinals. These standards are designed to ensure a high level of performance for non-water urinals, and WaterSense has no basis to propose improvements to these existing standards at this time. As a result, WaterSense has no means to help purchasers distinguish among these products based on either their efficiency or performance.

      Although the specification does not apply to non-water urinals, it is not WaterSense’s intention to preclude or prevent their use in water efficiency, green building, or other conservation programs. Non-water urinals continue to be compatible with and a key component of, the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and other green building programs. WaterSense encourages designers, program administrators, and facility managers to consider all available technologies when making purchasing decisions concerning water-using products, including non-water urinals. The specification and WaterSense label are simply one of many tools available to help consumers make informed purchasing decisions. If decision-makers decide to specify and install water-using urinals, then WaterSense encourages them to choose products with the WaterSense label.

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