Simple Water Retrofits with Deep Savings

11/01/2013 | By Jennie Morton

Strategies to improve water efficiency

Are high water bills making you blue? Reducing your water demand is a smart move because its benefits extend to many other areas of facilities management. Create a water efficiency game plan by identifying areas of high consumption and selecting the right replacements.

Flush with Opportunities
Common opportunities for water savings can be found in three places: plumbing fixtures, irrigation, and HVAC equipment.

But each facility’s usage is different, so establish your consumption rates for each area before embarking on efficiency upgrades.

“Water submeters can help break out your usage in more detail than your utility bill alone,” says Rachel Sowards, a practice area manager for Paladino and Company, a sustainability consulting firm.

You may find that because irrigation is your biggest user, upgrading controls should be a priority. In other facilities, replacing faucets or showerheads could have the biggest impact.

Water efficiency is one of the most straightforward sustainability initiatives because it typically involves one-to-one fixture replacements. Many times, investment costs can be recouped in under a year.

Low-flow urinals will provide the largest water savings per fixture, says Jeffrey Kling, a mechanical engineer with Gibbens Drake Scott, an MEP design firm. Improving sink fixtures may be as simple as adding an aerator rather than a completely new model.

“Toilets also yield strong savings, but both urinals and toilets require the upfront costs of flush valve and china replacement,” notes Kling. “Often modifications to waste piping in the plumbing chase or below the flow may be required.”

Low-flow showerheads can also have some of the quickest paybacks, adds Sowards, particularly for hotels, dorms, healthcare, or multifamily complexes. The technology has evolved to the point where it can significantly reduce water without sacrificing user satisfaction.

If you want to provide low-flow lavatory and shower upgrades, review your water distribution systems, Kling recommends. If the pipe diameter is oversized or if the fixture is far from the hot water source, it can take hot water longer to reach the fixture, wasting water as the user waits for the right temperature.

“To improve delivery time, you may need to make piping modifications in non-accessible locations,” says Kling. “Mixing valves should also be reviewed for minimum flow rates and replaced if necessary.”

As you pursue retrofits, make sure your project is in line with code considerations, stresses Kling. You must comply with a number of plumbing standards, including ASSE, IAPMO, IPC, and AWWA. HVAC replacements should also be in line with ASHRAE and IMC guidelines.

Be aware, however, that more extensive projects may be foiled or prohibited by state or regional regulations.

“For simple upgrades, you generally won’t have much pushback from local codes. But if you’re trying to capture stormwater, greywater, or condensate, you need to be aware of what’s permitted in your local jurisdiction,” Sowards notes.

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