Water-Saving Strategies

12/01/2015 | By Janelle Penny

Don't let your dollars go down the drain

Looking for a way to start a water conservation program? Need to fulfill the requirements for a green building certification? WaterSense, a voluntary partnership program by the EPA, is ready to help.

Backed by third-party verification, WaterSense certifies that any fixture or appliance bearing its logo will perform as well or better than conventional models while reducing the flow rate or flush volume by at least 20%.

More than 16,000 products are available, a number that encompasses tank-type toilets, flushing urinals, private-use lavatory faucets and faucet accessories, and showerheads, as well as commercial pre-rinse spray valves and irrigation controllers (the latter can save roughly 15%, as they impact water use but doesn’t use water themselves). An upcoming specification for flushometer-valve toilets will provide even more certified options for water-conscious FMs, according to the EPA.

Pairing WaterSense-labeled products with smart water saving strategies can help you conserve considerable gallons and dollars. Get started with these tips.

Where to Begin
Not surprisingly, the biggest waste is found in older buildings with aging fixtures. Facilities that were built before the Energy Policy Act of 1992 was passed are likely to have older plumbing equipment that uses significantly more water than even today’s non-WaterSense models.

“Toilets installed before the implementation of EPAct standards can flush as high as 3.5 to 7 gallons per flush,” the EPA explains. “Similarly, urinals installed prior to 1994 can flush as high as 1.5 to 3.5 gpf. Models that flush at 1.28 gpf or less for flushometer valve toilets, per EPA’s draft specification, and 0.5 gpf or less for WaterSense-labeled urinals could save significant volumes.”

An office building with 200 occupants could save 230,000 gallons of water and more than $2,000 every year just by replacing old flushometer-valve toilets with models that flush at 1.28 gallons, the EPA notes. Installing urinals that have been WaterSense-certified could save another 52,000 gallons.

Flush Out Water Savings
Chart the first step to savings by conducting a facility assessment. This walkthrough is vital to understanding how your facility uses water and where you can boost efficiency to save money. “An assessment involves creating an inventory of existing fixtures, equipment and systems to understand where and how much water is being used,” the EPA explains. “A facility water assessment is also helpful for identifying leaks or other operational inefficiencies, which should be addressed immediately as a no-cost or low-cost water savings project.”

Use the data you collect during the assessment to create a water balance, a next step that estimates the water use of every area and piece of hardware you noted on your inventory. “Facilities can estimate water, energy and cost savings that could be achieved by making changes to operating procedures, fixtures or other equipment,” the EPA advises. “Prioritize projects within certain water use areas based on the amount of potential savings or other performance goals.”

Calculators and other tools can make this task easier. Brendle Group developed an Excel-based water assessment spreadsheet for Boulder, CO water customers, says Becky Fedak, Water Practice Leader for the Brendle Group, a sustainability engineering and planning firm. “FMs can use it to take an inventory of water-using devices at their facility and run scenarios of what the savings might be if they replaced any of their equipment,” Fedak explains.

The tool can easily accommodate users who aren’t in Boulder – just use some recent bills to fill out the utility information worksheet so that the water, wastewater, electricity and natural gas projections reflect your local costs. (See “Water Conservation Resources” at right to add this tool to your own water management practices.)

Your utility or a local conservation nonprofit may have similar offerings, adds Morgan Shimabuku, Senior Manager of Sustainability Programs at the Center for ReSource Conservation, a community environmental nonprofit emphasizing water efficiency. The organization conducts free assessments for customers of certain water providers – trained technicians will visit your building to test your fixtures and appliances for flow rate efficiency, recommend possible improvements and calculate the ROI of efficiency projects to help you decide where to invest retrofit and replacement dollars first.

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