How Water Features Contribute to Conservation and Cost Savings for Buildings

10/07/2019 | By Chris Roy

Building owners and facilities managers must walk a fine line between aesthetics and efficiency.

Recognizing the need to please tenants and remain within budget, these professionals are often faced with challenges when it comes to integrating design elements that can improve property appeal while also adhering to the three pillars of corporate sustainability: environmental, economic and social.

Today’s water features can provide a solution to this challenge.

When well-designed and thoughtfully constructed, a water feature will enhance a building’s appeal and value, while also conserving water and reducing overall operating costs on an ongoing basis.

Sustainability has become a key element in the design and construction of modern water features. In fact, sustainable methods and materials have grown so sophisticated that they can now serve multiple purposes, working in sync with other building systems to multiply efficiencies seamlessly—all while providing a “wow” factor that drives traffic and retains tenants, clients and customers.

Below are a few techniques today’s water features utilize to promote sustainability and reduce waste while lowering building operating costs.

Combine Water Features with Building Systems

When most building owners and architects consider adding interior water features, one of the first concerns is how to address the added humidity a fountain can bring.

While it may seem counterintuitive, today’s atrium fountains and other interior water features can actually be integrated as part of a property’s environmental system as a means of reducing the relative humidity within the interior space, which in turn reduces load on the HVAC.

The simplest way to accomplish this is to add a chiller system to the fountain equipment; moisture from the air will actually condense onto and into the chilled water within the fountain, decreasing humidity and cooling the surrounding area.

A higher tech method of using a water feature for dehumidification is the use of a liquid desiccant water feature, which requires little energy to run and can absorb moisture from the air.

These systems, typically comprised of calcium chloride (CaCl2) and an outdoor regeneration unit, will continually absorb humidity from the interior space and discharge excess moisture to the exterior during the regeneration cycle.

[Related: Conserve Water, Save Money with an Efficiency Plan]

For example, a 40,000-square-foot lobby that is equipped with a properly designed water feature can benefit from reduced humidity, resulting in the ability to run air conditioning at a higher temperature – saving energy and costs—while keeping all building occupants comfortable.

Property owners and managers can also tie outdoor fountains into a building’s mechanical system by utilizing the water system as a heatsink for HVAC equipment. This passive heat exchange can reduce cooling electricity use substantially—a boon to the building’s overall environmental and economic impact.

Recycle Water

In addition to potable water, there are several alternate sources of recycled water that can be used to increase a building’s sustainability, reduce costs and deepen social impact.

  • Building owners and managers can employ rainwater harvesting, as well as HVAC condensate, which is naturally distilled, for use in on-site water features.

  • Another option is to utilize greywater, water that is recycled from on-site systems such as sinks or other non-sewage uses.

  • Or, one can use municipal recycled water, typically delivered in purple pipes for irrigation.

The above water sources can be easily redirected to fountains and water features to ensure consistent motion with little environmental footprint.

Whether water features are filled with potable water or any of the alternate sources listed above, the most important thing is to create a fountain or water feature that recirculates water, ensuring that only a finite amount of H2O is utilized. The vast majority—nearly 100%—of the fountains and water features our team at OTL builds are engineered to recirculate water.

The only exception are a few small interactive fountains operating as pass-through systems to negate the need for complicated and expensive sanitation systems.

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Use Non-Toxic Materials

In the past, many of the materials used to protect a building were found to be toxic. By ensuring that non-toxic materials are used throughout the construction of water features, building owners and facility managers can reinforce the safety of their property while also enhancing sustainability.

For example, at OTL, we exclusively use low-VOC-emitting adhesives and waterproofing membranes to ensure fountains are property sealed and waterproofed with little to no emission of volatile organic compounds.

Sanitation and filtration systems are another key area to potentially reduce or eliminate use of toxic chemicals.

Some water features can take advantage of chemical-free, biological filtration systems which use natural bacteria to replicate processes that occur in nature. Through bog filtration, for example, one can create a “wetland” of plants; and as water moves through the roots, the plants naturally remove nutrients, ensuring that algae cannot grow.

These strategies keep a building’s water safe and clear.

Use the Latest Technology

When designing and constructing water features for today’s properties, it’s important to recognize that technology is constantly advancing. By ensuring the use of the latest technology, building owners and facility managers can typically conserve energy and reduce utility bills.

For instance, we integrate technology such as variable frequency drive pumps and LED lights in the water features we design and build—ultimately reducing energy even further for the property as a whole.

Today’s highly capable control systems aid in this endeavor as well—simple systems may just be programmed to run at higher flow rates when visitors are most likely to be present, and some systems are outfitted with sensors to only be active when passersby approach.

[On topic: Connect With Your Smart Building Technology]

Animated fountains add visual interest with various pre-programmed shows and sequences, while also saving energy as the pumps are rarely running at their maximum power.

Conduct Regular Maintenance

A majority of today’s building owners and facility managers understand that regular maintenance is the key to both cost-efficiency and sustainability.  By keeping all building systems in working order and up to date, owners can minimize expenses while supporting sustainable operations.

Water features are no exception.

Regular maintenance checks will ensure that these features operate properly and maintain their visual appeal and sustainability for the long term.

When designing and constructing fountains for today’s buildings, our team is careful to properly detail each of the finished materials, which can minimize or simplify the amount of water feature maintenance that is needed.

Sustainable water features attract high-quality tenants and provide enhanced return on investment for many years to come. As today’s Millennial workforce and trendsetting tech firms continue to demand corporate spaces that are poised to attract top talent, they are also looking carefully at fundamentals of social sustainability.

Facility owners and managers who invest in sustainable water features have the benefit of creating a competitive edge for their property while also demonstrating a positive impact on the people who occupy and visit their property.

When implemented together, the sustainable strategies described here will deliver an eco-friendly, money-saving experiential amenity that is ideal for the built environment.

Chris Roy, director of Creative Design for Outside the Lines, Inc.About the Author: 
Chris Roy is director of Creative Design for Outside the Lines, Inc., a design-build themed construction company that specializes in creating one-of-a-kind rockwork, water features and themed environments for retail entertainment, hospitality, gaming and golfing projects around the globe. Contact him at chrisr@otl-inc.com.

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