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The United States, and particularly the West, is currently in the throes of a serious drought. At the time of writing, the U.S. Drought Monitor reports that 34% of the country is officially in drought, while half of the country is at least abnormally dry. All the while, water rates continue to increase, rising 33% on average since 2010 across thirty major cities, according to a study by Circle of Blue.
These trends are prompting commercial water consumers to implement innovative ways to conserve water, but it can be disorienting to know how to start the process without a water expert on staff. Fortunately there are many ways that building managers, property owners, and facility managers can use readily available technology to effectively and efficiently manage water. Better yet, they can do it in a way that maintains vibrant properties while saving on utility costs.
Growing Grass and Cutting Costs
For many commercial and multifamily properties, the landscape sets the tone for people's on-site experiences. Property managers want to ensure the aesthetic appearance of their building is as inviting on the outside as it is on the inside, which requires a solid landscaping strategy with the use of water to maintain greenery. There are plenty of reasons why water is so important for properties, so how do you maintain a building's exterior, save water, and reduce irrigation costs? There are several technology solutions and strategies that can keep your building looking good without costing too much.
1) Perform a water assessment: A variety of online resources are available that estimate how much water is required for a landscape given its location and characteristics; comparing that to a water bill will provide a good starting point for understanding baseline water use and areas for improvement. Irrigation system inspections are a good way to quickly identify if water is being wasted due to issues like broken sprinkler heads or water running off into the street. While monitoring and control technologies can achieve significant savings, a properly functioning irrigation system is a necessary first step.
2) Irrigate intelligently: Irrigation controllers are ubiquitous on commercial and multifamily properties, but technology advancements have significantly improved the ability to save water and manage complex sites. One of the biggest advancements is in the incorporation of weather data to irrigation schedules so sprinklers don't run before, during, or after rainstorms. In addition, connecting irrigation hardware to the internet provides visibility into irrigation history and system performance without setting on the landscape itself.
3) Make savings sustainable: While smart controllers determine irrigation requirements, landscapes are heterogeneous and constantly in flux. Irrigation zones can be replanted or moved, wires can be cut and pipes can break, among other issues. Maintaining a water-efficient property means staying on top of these issues so that landscapes stay healthy and water isn’t wasted. Measuring and analyzing water consumption in tandem with smart controls and system alerts allows users to consistently minimize water waste and maximize savings over time. The good news is that today’s real-time technologies can lead to significant savings without sacrificing landscape health, even if water restrictions are in effect.
Go With the Flow
While irrigation management is a mature industry, indoor water management technology is a newer advancement. Utility-based smart meters have become more popular but rarely provide detailed water use data to end-users. Fortunately, the recent availability of monitoring and communication technologies can deliver powerful information to property managers’ fingertips in real time.
As the saying goes, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Fortunately, anyone can begin the process by tracking monthly consumption on water bills—a surprisingly obvious, yet overlooked, resource. Armed simply with a spreadsheet of monthly use, property managers can begin to identify trends and anomalies. Yet, a single number representing a month’s consumption is often insufficient to make meaningful efficiency gains. When does water use spike during the day? Is there consumption in the middle of the night? With higher-resolution data and good analysis and visualization tools, the data can paint a much better picture of water use patterns and allow users to begin making improvements.
While monitoring technologies immediately provide value through identification of large anomalies, water waste is often smaller and more gradual. Because of this, water data is much more valuable when consistently tracked over time to allow historical trends to emerge. Water use data also becomes actionable when compared to other properties; this benchmarking lets portfolio managers knowledgeably prioritize efficiency efforts at properties where the best ROI opportunities exist.
Plan for the Future
While intensifying drought and water rate increases may someday dramatically change the way we use water, the technology available to us today allows us to make incremental, yet significant, progress towards a water-efficient future. Not only is this good for local communities and good for the environment—it’s good for commercial water users’ bottom lines, too, and that’s hard to beat.
Gillan Taddune is CEO of Banyan Water. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to a 2014 report on energy-efficient commercial building retrofits, the worldwide market for energy efficiency retrofits in commercial buildings will increase from $68.2 billion in 2014 to $127.5 billion by 2023. This ever-present trend for renovations to commercial facilities is driven by facility managers who constantly strive to maintain successful facilities. However, budgets are often minimized and facilities managers are challenged with making the dollar go further.
The good news is there are options that can make tremendous improvements while reducing costs in other aspects of the building portfolio. Lighting is one component of these upgrades and the building industry is moving towards LED lighting – and for good reason, compared to other renovation options, LED lighting renovations can be relatively inexpensive, providing a quick return on investment, and can improve the lighting quality of the built environment.
Often times, the decision to proceed with a LED lighting retrofit project is based largely on the anticipated energy saving in conjunction with recuperating the cost of completing the retrofit project. In recent months, the cost of the LED lighting has decreased significantly and assists with making the case for moving forward with replacing incandescent and fluorescent lighting with LED lamps and luminaires. Retrofitting to improve lighting quality may not be an initial consideration, but facility managers should be aware of this key benefit and need to be equipped with information to make good choices that influence lighting quality.
What is lighting quality, or quality lighting? The answer to that question has been debated and is considered subjective in the lighting design and technical community. For the purposes of this article, lighting quality encompasses many attributes from color, to ease of control and comfort.
Color attributes for lighting remain critical components of lighting quality. Correlated color temperature (CCT), expressed in Kelvins (K), describes the appearance of a LED light source, and will affect how objects appear in the environment. LED sources provide more color temperature options than incandescent and fluorescent sources and include standard color temperatures of 2700K, 3000K, 3500K, 4000K/4100K, 5000K and 6500K. It is important to choose luminaires with color temperatures that will provide an appropriate experience. In a residential setting, warm white or lower color temperature LED sources are a closer match to the traditional incandescent source, so installing a cool white or higher color temperature source in a residential application, such as placing a 6500K luminaire in a multifamily dwelling, is unexpected and may appear harsh to some occupants.
LED light sources of the same color temperature can look noticeably different when in close proximity to one another, and ensuring color consistency is a priority for spaces with luminaires with multiple sources or spaces with luminaires laid out in a pattern, e.g. a row of downlights to highlight an accent wall. Requiring LED sources to fall within 7-steps maximum of the ANSI quadrangle (sometimes referred to as the MacAdam ellipse) for the designated color temperature will provide a level of color consistency from source to source.
Color fidelity or color rendering index (CRI) provides a measure of how accurate a light source causes objects to have the same color appearance as they do under a reference light source, such as black-body radiators or daylight, based on a scale to 100. For indoor applications, a CRI greater than 80 is desirable, and the market contains several LED products with a 90+ CRI. A lower CRI value may result in object colors looking unnatural, and may cause occupants to feel uncomfortable in a space. It is important, however, to remember when comparing CRI values, it is only appropriate when the light sources have the same color temperature.
Additionally, an LED lighting retrofit project can increase the visual comfort of occupants. LED luminaires are often designed for optimizing optical performance, producing light where needed and reducing or eliminating light in trouble zones that can cause discomfort from glare. The optical precision also allows for effectively placing light high on vertical surfaces, giving a brighter appearance and an open feeling in a space. LED lighting products can now match the light output or brightness level of traditional light sources and are able to maintain the light level over the life of the product. Choosing LED luminaires with dimming capability paired with a compatible lighting control device, like a wall dimmer, can provide a comfortable environment, giving occupants the ability to adjust the brightness to a desired level.
With improved energy efficiency resulting in decreased operational costs and optimized lighting quality, LED lighting offers a well-rounded, beneficial solution. LED lighting retrofits serve as a simple way to maximize return on investment.
Tanya Hernandez is manager of energy and environmental standards at Acuity Brands Lighting. Ryan Ramaker is director of product solutions at Acuity Brands Lighting.
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