Services & Maintenance: Stemming The Tide

Actively monitoring water use and educating facility staff and occupants about use and management planning goals is key to reducing facility water use. Strategies that facility managers can use include metering and leak detection. (Photo:

By Tara O’Hare
From the September 2013 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

The idea of “going green” isn’t new to most facility managers (fms), and the benefits of energy efficient operations and environmentally preferable products are well-known in the industry. Today’s forward-thinking fms are also recognizing the critical role of water in helping their organizations reduce energy use, operating costs, and environmental impacts.

Within the past decade, the costs of water and wastewater services have risen at a rate well above the U.S. Consumer Price Index, according to a recent study by Michigan State University’s Institute of Public Utilities. Fms can expect these expenses to continue increasing to support utilities’ costs of replacing aging water supply and delivery systems.

In the U.S., the operation of commercial and institutional facilities account for as much as 17% of total municipal water demand and 18% of energy use nationwide. Among the different facility types, hotels and restaurants have the highest consumption, with the largest amount of water use taking place in kitchen and restroom areas. Implementing water efficiency measures not only lowers the costs associated with operating and maintaining equipment; it decreases the amount of energy used to pump, heat, treat, and deliver water.

Beyond delivering water, energy, and cost savings, a successful water management plan can help an organization be more competitive in the “green” marketplace. To help fms better understand their buildings’ water use, EPA’s WaterSense program has developed WaterSense at Work: Best Management Practices for Commercial and Institutional Facilities. This online resource aims to help fms establish effective water management programs and identify practices that can reduce facility water use while improving the bottom line.

The first step to achieve and sustain long-term water savings is to create a water management plan. The plan should focus on ways to address water use such as identifying leaks, increasing fixtures and systems efficiency, encouraging water efficient behaviors, and reusing water on-site (e.g., reusing treated gray water or rainwater to water landscape areas).

On average, leaks can account for more than 6% of a facility’s total water use. A single toilet that leaks water at 0.5 gallons per minute (gpm) can cost a facility an extra $2,400 per year on average. Reminding occupants to report any leaks in restrooms, kitchens, or other areas helps build water efficiency awareness. And to encourage reporting, leaks should be repaired in a timely manner.

Restrooms And Laundry Operations

Restroom fixtures and laundry equipment can account for nearly 50% of a building’s total water use, depending upon the facility type (see Figure 1). Recent advancements in commercial laundry equipment provide fms with options for reducing water use in laundry operations. Commercial coin- or card-operated washers similar to conventional, residential style washing machines can be replaced with ENERGY STAR qualified models. These washers are 37% more efficient than standard models, which reduces energy, water, and detergent use.

Fixtures and equipment in restrooms and laundries can account for nearly 50% of total water use within a facility. Depending on the facility and population, there are significant opportunities for savings. (Source: EPA WaterSense)
Fixtures and equipment in restrooms and laundries can account for nearly 50% of total water use within a facility. Depending on the facility and population, there are significant opportunities for savings. (Source: EPA WaterSense.)

In addition to specifying ENERGY STAR qualified clothes washers, fms can look for EPA’s WaterSense label to ensure optimal performance and water savings. WaterSense labeled products are independently certified to be at least 20% more water efficient and perform as well or better than standard models. To date, nearly 10,000 models of showerheads, tank-type toilets, flushing urinals, residential bathroom sink faucets and accessories, and weather-based irrigation controllers have earned the WaterSense label.

Each of these products helps to reduce water use significantly in facilities. For example, based on typical use, a business can save 4,000 gallons of water per year or more for every WaterSense labeled urinal installed. By replacing old, inefficient urinals with WaterSense labeled models, a high school with 1,000 students can save nearly $1,700 in water costs per year. Outdoors, WaterSense labeled irrigation controllers can help make landscapes beautiful and efficient. These water smart technologies act like a thermostat for a facility’s sprinkler system, using local weather data and conditions to determine when and how much to water.

Dishing Up Savings In The Kitchen

This fall, WaterSense is releasing a final specification to label the pre-rinse spray valves that commercial kitchens use to remove food waste from dishes prior to dishwashing. These devices account for nearly one-third of the water used in a typical commercial kitchen. Like other WaterSense labeled products, these valves will have to be tested and independently certified to meet EPA’s criteria for efficiency and performance (which include minimum spray force) to ensure effective and efficient cleaning using 20% less water than the national standard.

EPA estimates that replacing one commercial pre-rinse spray valve with a WaterSense labeled model will help a commercial kitchen save more than 7,000 gallons of water per year—equal to the amount of water it takes to wash nearly 5,000 racks of dishes in a commercial dishwasher. Combined with an ENERGY STAR qualified commercial dishwasher, which uses 40% less energy and water on average compared to conventional models, commercial kitchens can really clean up with energy and water savings.

Specific Challenges, Opportunities

Certain types of facilities, including hospitals and laboratories, face distinct challenges with regards to the quality and amount of water required to maintain health and safety standards. However, many of the processes employed in these facilities use traditional, constant-flow or single-pass cooling systems that are outdated and inefficient. Hospitals may use more than 15% of their total water budgets on laboratory and medical equipment, such as X-ray film processing machines, which can require a constant stream of cooling water. To reduce these water intensive processes, many medical facilities have moved to digital imaging, which eliminates the use of water entirely from recording and printing functions.

Like many other facility types, fms in laboratories can save water by revisiting their cooling systems. By replacing much of its building and process equipment to eliminate single-pass cooling, for example, EPA’s Mid-Continent Ecology Division Laboratory in Duluth, MN, reduced the facility’s potable water use by 90% (approximately 7.5 million gallons per year) and has saved approximately $75,000 in water and sewer costs per year.

Older steam sterilizers—used to disinfect laboratory equipment—can waste a significant amount of water if tempering water is allowed to flow continuously. At a flow rate of 1.0 gpm, as much as 400,000 to 500,000 gallons of tempering water can be used per year. Retrofitting a steam sterilizer with a thermostatically actuated valve can reduce by up to 90% the tempering water needed to cool hot steam condensate before discharge.

O’Hare (Photo: Eric Vance.)
O’Hare (Photo: Eric Vance.)

The strategies mentioned here are just a few of the ways to reduce water use in buildings. By maximizing and maintaining water efficient practices, along with a broad resource management plan, fms will garner notable results.

O’Hare is the implementation lead for the EPA’s WaterSense program. Since the program’s inception in 2006, WaterSense has helped Americans save a cumulative 487 billion gallons of water and $8.9 billion in water and energy bills.


  1. The EPA has some wonderful ideas. They have some crackpot ideas, too.

    The City of San Francisco, is/was an early adopter of the EPA’s WaterSense toilets. The City financed the installation of about 16,000 of these devices with a financial rebate to the citizen/consumer.

    According to the manager of the San Francisco Wastewater Department, Tommy Moala, these “High Efficiency Toilets” (as the EPA calls them) don’t have sufficient flow of water through the sewer system to flush the waste. There are approximately 300,000 residences in San Francisco. Now, (no pun intended) there is a stink in San Francisco. And the City is pouring chlorine bleach in the sewer system in the amount of 12 million pounds a year to ameliorate the problem.

    Saving water is a great idea. Ruining one’s home and environment isn’t.

    I hope you consider what the government is doing and report on it constructively.

Comments are closed.