Saving Water Makes Sense

Sept. 7, 2006
EPA's WaterSense will offer commercial consumers a recognizable label for products and services that perform more efficiently

Thanks to the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), facility managers and building owners will soon be able to make more educated choices regarding water-efficient products. WaterSense, a new program introduced on June 12, 2006, identifies products and services that save water without compromising performance. It’s just one resource that commercial buildings can use to reduce the strain on the nation’s water supply and decrease operating costs.

Building off of the success of the ENERGY STAR® program, WaterSense will offer both residential and commercial consumers a recognizable label for products and services that perform at least 20-percent more efficiently than their counterparts. The label will appear early next year in the residential market; plans call for the emergence of WaterSense in commercial buildings by 2007.

Stephanie Tanner, environmental engineer for the EPA’s Office of Water, and former environmental engineer Jane Anderson, say that the key to the WaterSense program is third-party testing and verification. “Because of the problems with past water-efficient products, we wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just a manufacturer saying the product performed well, but that it was tested by a third party,” Tanner explains. Currently in the early stages, the EPA’s testing program is focused on residential toilets and irrigation systems, but commercial buildings are next on the list. “Next year, we’re going to do commercial plumbing fixtures, [including] toilets, sinks, and faucets. We’re also looking at sterilizers and other large water [sources]. We’re working with ENERGY STAR on commercial dishwashers and [similar products], so there’ll be a lot more commercial products [recognized by the EPA] in 2007 and 2008,” Tanner elaborates.

In the future, will commercial buildings be able to earn the WaterSense label in the same way they earn ENERGY STAR classification? Possibly, but there’s more work to be done, say Anderson and Tanner. “The problem with having a benchmark for a water-efficient building is that there isn’t the same database of information about water use in commercial buildings as there is [for] energy use. We’re doing some work right now to see if it’s possible to get better data through the same source (the commercial business survey [from] the EIA [Energy Information Administration]),” explains Tanner.

Even though WaterSense is still in its infancy, building professionals can achieve water efficiency today by understanding their buildings’ current performance. The EPA’s online Portfolio Manager now tracks and manages water consumption in addition to energy use. “There’s no water benchmarking, but if a building manager wanted to keep track of how [he or she is] doing over time, that tool is available to them now,” notes Anderson. The Portfolio Manager allows users to track water use and bills in four major categories: Indoor Use, Outdoor Use, Combined Indoor/Outdoor, and Wastewater. Information from each of the building’s water meters can be entered and, over time, the system will show users how much water is consumed per square foot. The EPA hopes to add benchmarking opportunities to the Portfolio Manager in the future.

The WaterSense program also emphasizes awareness - about both the new label and the impact of changing water use. According to the ENERGY STAR website, commercial buildings use nearly 20 percent of all U.S. drinking-water supplies; cutting that amount in half would save 2 trillion gallons of water per year. The EPA thinks that using water-efficient products soon to be recommended by WaterSense will be a significant step toward that reduction. “I think there’s room for 20- to 40-percent improvement in commercial building water use,” Tanner states. “But, it’s hard to say exactly where that would be - whether it would be in cooling-tower management or irrigation, [for example].”

Despite the disparity in water activities and types of commercial buildings, Tanner acknowledges that any amount of water conservation can have a large-scale impact. “Commercial buildings are a big sector in their communities. They use a lot of water, and it can make a big impact in the local area, especially in smaller towns, on how much water is being used.”

Monitoring water consumption can also bring significant cost savings. “It’s more than just the water costs. There are a lot of energy costs, there are water costs, there are maintenance costs, and all of those things should be considered. Also, water costs are rising in the United States, so it’s going to be even more valuable,” Tanner says.

To begin the process of conservation, even before the list of WaterSense products and services is available, building professionals can learn about more ways to save money and water from the resources available at ( “One of the good things about water efficiency is that it’s not all new technology,” Tanner explains. “You can save a lot of water just by knowing what’s going on in your building and monitoring [that].”

Anne K. Goedken ([email protected]) is new products editor at Buildings magazine.

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