Water Conservation in Today's Building: New and Proven Ways to Save Money and Resources

Sept. 1, 2011

By Gary Cardono, Gerber Plumbing Fixtures LLC

Water conservation is an important practice to adopt in today’s uneasy economy as it is a cost control and a way to enhance efficiency for a property. Building owners have much to gain by employing water conservation practices. Everyday amenities can result in significant water costs for a building. Fortunately in today’s energy efficient world, there are effective ways to decrease water consumption that will result in significant cost savings.

First, it is important to find out where your building(s) stands right now. Look at your current average water consumption by averaging the last three to four months of water bills, and compare it to other similar properties in the area. Usage varies depending on size of the building and location, but most studies indicate commercial environments like hotels use between about 100 to 200 gallons of fresh water per occupied guestroom per day. This averages out to about 36,500 to 73,000 gallons of water per room per year. Higher than average water consumption may indicate a problem with your plumbing. Routine inspections should be conducted of all the plumbing in your building to ensure that leaks, faulty valves, and out dated equipment are not costing you unnecessary water loss.  If a pipe springs a leak, the situation can get out of control rather quickly resulting in large repair bills. A leak such as a slow constant drip from a bathroom faucet can lose more than 40 gallons per day of water. This is an unbelievable waste of a valuable resource and think of the cost. Most commercial properties have leaks on a small scale so it is a good idea to check monthly or at least every other month for leaks. Adopt a detailed accounting procedure so the building operator can make informed judgments about the ways to better manage the costs of water usage.

Next you should examine your building’s practices when it comes to water use. Laundry and cleaning can consume a great deal of water, so make sure you are getting the most out of each drop. Many hotels ask their guests to reuse their bathroom towels and bed linens during their stay and have seen a positive response to such programs. This is a simple way to save a lot of energy and water. Hotels should examine their cleaning practices and ensure that unnecessary water is not being wasted. Housekeeping staff should be attentive to their water usage. Some properties even offer financial incentives for staff members that adopt water reduction goals. Hotel restaurants should also be carefully evaluated. Water use in food preparation and cleaning can be excessive so it is important to educate staff on best practices when it comes to water conservation in the kitchen. Installing low-flow fixtures or those with automatic shut offs have already resulted in significant water savings for many dining centers.

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One of the largest water consumption points in a building is in the bathrooms. Toilets, showers and sinks account for a large portion of the water bill. And with the introduction of today’s low-flow plumbing fixtures, products now deliver exceptional performance while still saving water. The EPA developed the WaterSense program to make it easier to find these water saving products. All the products carrying the Water Sense label must meet several requirements including at least twenty percent less water usage than the average product in the category and performance that is equal to or exceeds the average product in the category.

The EPA has certified many lines of showerheads, faucets, toilets, and urinals that all meet these requirements for water reduction. Water Sense labeled faucets reduce water use by at least thirty percent and shower heads use at least twenty percent less water. Toilet flushing constitutes thirty to forty percent of domestic water consumption, and for the hospitality industry, this translates to an even greater potential for cost savings and water reduction. Toilets certified by the EPA use twenty percent less water per flush. Some of the new urinals use half as much water as their predecessors.

In a single family home, the EPA has estimated that Water Sense products can save the average family of four 6,800 gallons of water a year. Imagine how much water an entire hotel can save!

And replacing bathroom fixtures does not just conserve water, it also saves energy. With less hot water required in the shower and sink, the cost of heating water is saved.

Two examples of successful implementations of water management are highlighted below:

  • 900 rooms Hilton hotel in Downtown L.A. has at 1990 an average water consumption of 910 (l/d/r). The hotel took several water conservation measures including replacement of showerheads, toilet and urinal flush valves, use of faucets with auto shut-off models with aerators, air-cooled cooling tower, education of staff on water conserving techniques, replacement of the main dishwasher with a more water efficient newer model. It was estimated that these measures saved 60,000 cubic meter of water per year (180 l/d/r), saving $85,000 annually, with a payback of 3.0 years.
  • 400 beds, Four-star hotel (Arabella-Sheraton near Frankfurt) installed a greywater recycling system for toilet flushing (Nolde, 1996). Up to 20 m3/d of water were reclaimed. The pay back time was calculated to be about 9 years according to: water price (4 Euro/m3) and installation, operation and maintenance costs.

As you can see the benefit for saving water is the reduction in costs.

(IHEI 1993; IH&RA et al. 1995; UNEP & IH&RA 1997; Genot et al. 2001; Perera 2001; Perera et al. 2003; Bohdanowicz, Simanic, Martinac 2004; andalmost every issue of Green Hotelier Magazine).

Moving outside the physical dwelling, there are several ways to reduce water usage in the hotel landscape. Plants native to the area are more acclimated to year round weather and soil conditions therefore require less water to maintain. Each area of the country has unique foliage that thrives in its weather with little to no care. Consider talking to a local landscaping or forestry expert about which plants would be best for your hotel. Scheduling watering times at appropriate hours of the day can maximize the amount of water delivered to roots. Maintaining a layer of natural mulch around plants helps them use water more efficiently and installing rain sensors on your sprinkler system prevents unnecessary watering. Water collection systems like cisterns can collect rainfall from downspouts and store it for later use in the landscape.

The hotel pool, while providing hours of enjoyment for guests, is a large water consumer. During the summer months, a pool can lose as much as one inch of water a day due to evaporation, splashing, and cleaning. Short from telling your guests they aren’t allowed to splash in your pool, preventing this loss is difficult but not impossible. Those native plants that use water efficiently can also be used to build a wind shield around your pool. Less wind means less water is blown out of the pool without the help of guests. If your pool is heated, consider using a solar cover to heat the water instead. This method not only heats the water, it also prevents water from evaporating when the pool isn’t in use. Running the pool’s backwashing cycle can also use a lot of water. Most backwashing cycles run longer than needed to properly clean the water. Monitor the cycle carefully and once you see clean water running through the system, turn the cycle off.

Climate conditions are another area of concern for hotel owners with incremental weather and fluctuations in rainfall that affect a hotel’s bottom line. This occurs when localities raise water during severe dry periods. Moreover, water officials may implement water restrictions and regulations on use, which again impact hotels.  The western part of the United states has growing water demands that are taxing water supplies If weather is an issue as it is for the state of Georgia right now, make water awareness and conservation an ongoing priority for your staff and guests.

Because of high volumes of consumption, hotels have the potential to be leaders in the water conservation movement. By embracing practices that not only reduce water use, but use water more efficiently hotels can reduce their water consumption by twenty to forty percent. Not only are these practices good for the bottom line they are also good for the environment and the future of our water supply.

To learn more about what plumbing fixtures are certified by WaterSense visit http://www.epa.gov/watersense.

Additional resources focused on high efficiency for plumbing fixtures can be found by visiting the following:

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