By Anne K. Goedken
Rising water costs and increased concern for natural resources in many parts of the country have caused facility professionals to add "water conservation" to the list of sustainable building concerns. Updating washroom faucets is a simple way to control your buildings' negative impact on the environment, as well as reduce your water and sewage costs.
The Energy Policy Act of 1992 restricts water consumption of faucets manufactured after 1994 to 2.2 gallons per minute (gpm) at 60 pounds per square inch (psi). (The EPAct of 2005 did not change the requirement.) Faucets installed prior to this regulation may have flow rates of 3 to 5 gpm. If replacing all of your buildings' faucets isn't practical, there are easy, inexpensive retrofits. At a cost of under $10 each, low-flow aerators can be screwed onto faucet heads, adding air to the water stream and reducing water use. These aerators or stream straighteners are available in a variety of flow rates (all the way down to 0.25). George Spear, commercial marketing manager at Cleveland-based Moen Inc., says that a rate of 0.5 gpm is typically an adequate balance for water conservation and user comfort.
Flow restrictors - another retrofit alternative - are washerlike disks that can be used when aerators will not work because of faucet damage. Installed in the hot- and cold-water feed lines to the faucet, they typically cost less than $25 and are also available in a range of flow rates.
When your building requires a larger washroom makeover, upgrading to the next generation of water-conserving faucet models, such as metered and electronically activated sensor, will yield maximum savings. Reducing water usage can also cut down on your energy consumption since there's no need to heat the excess water. "The sensor faucet and metering faucet are very similar in water conservation because of their ability to meet the [American Society of Mechanical Engineers] ASME (0.25 gal/cycle) maximum flow-rate standard," states Pat Tanzillo, product manager at The Chicago Faucet Co., Des Plaines, IL.
Metered-valve faucets (also referred to as "self-closing" faucets) use a mechanical cartridge system with a built-in, automatic shutoff to dispense water for a pre-determined amount of time. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that the faucet remain on for a minimum of 10 seconds, but the length of time on most models is adjustable. Spear recommends the metering faucet to building owners looking to begin water-conservation efforts.
Sensor-operated faucets offer even more opportunities for reducing water use. In its handwashing guidelines, the Atlanta based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing hands with clean-running water for 20 seconds. To follow these guidelines with a mechanical faucet (including metering models), the water continues to run as the user applies soap and retrieves a paper towel. Using infrared sensors to detect movement, sensor-operated faucets only dispense water when the user's hands are directly beneath the faucet head. "That element of time [where] water [isn't] flowing can be considerable to a building owner in water savings," describes Pete Jahrling, director of design engineering at Sloan Valve Co., Franklin Park, IL.
Additionally, most sensing faucets have an automatic shut-off feature to stop the water from running after a pre-determined time (often 60 seconds). This guarantees that minimal water is wasted in the event that the sensor eye is blocked due to vandalism or malfunction. "Proper bathroom design (by limiting reflections and moving items in the path of the sensor eye) can limit malfunction and reduce maintenance costs, ensuring that water is not wasted," Spear states.
Sustainability issues may also factor into your decision to either hard-wire the faucets to your building's electrical system or to install battery-operated faucets. "[With hard-wired faucets], you have to pay an electrician at the building inception or remodeling to power them. [Conversely], the downside on the battery product is that, sooner or later, somebody [has] to change the batteries," Jahrling says. Tanzillo points out that, although the drain on the AC line with hard-wired faucets is minimal, "there's definitely [an energy] savings with the battery-operated faucet."
Building professionals need to take care when disposing of sensor batteries. "In a commercial application, you're usually not throwing out one or two [batteries] - you're throwing out multiple sets," Jahrling explains.
Although there's a price premium for the sensor technology, for some facility professionals, the added sustainability benefits and potential savings outweigh the costs. These faucets are most effective in high-traffic areas.
Anne K. Goedken ([email protected]) is new products editor at Buildings magazine.