ATLANTA - Going green in commercial buildings is a great initiative. In theory, it is supposed to be good for the planet and help with tenant relations who share the same mindset. However, while we’ve seen several building owners and managers around Atlanta implement LEED green initiatives, which are a good thing – many are still missing the big picture when it comes to one of our most precious resources – water.
And with one of the highest cost per thousand rates in the country, it’s costing you big money!
Through today’s technology, however, you can implement a water conservation program that not only replaces inefficient equipment to reduce consumption but can provide a proactive leak management system that can save you money.
What is water conservation anyway? It is defined as any action that reduces the amount of water withdrawn from water supply sources, reduces consumptive use, reduces the loss or waste of water, improves the efficiency of water use, increases recycling and reuse of water or prevents the pollution of water.
Sounds easy right? While buying and installing products may be simple, the hardest thing – and where most fail in creating an effective program – is developing the attitude that water conservation is important and the right thing to do… for your tenants, Earth and your bottom line.
One of the first things you should do is create a game plan for conserving water. An effective plan examines how much water is being used, when it is used and where it is being used. To accomplish this, your plan requires accurate data through a water audit to set a benchmark and use subsequent data to measure progress.
As we look at commercial buildings, a successful water conservation program can have a big impact – and cost savings – in three major areas:
- Restrooms – which account for 40 percent of water used
- Cooling/Heating – accounting for 28 percent
- Irrigation – accounting for 22 percent
Through a water audit, you can obtain detailed information on where and how much water enters the system and where it leaves the system. One of the major objectives of the audit is to estimate and reduce unaccounted for water use that occurs through leaks, inoperative system controls and water used from unmetered sources. As the earlier percentages indicate, significant water usage – and big bills – could quickly add up if you’re not tracking what is going on.
An audit typically includes a wide range of surveys – from examining floor plans to occupancy to reviewing utility records for the past two years – to collect as much information as possible about a building’s water use now and in the future.
Additionally, it’s important to conduct a facility survey to understand how water is being used in the three major areas (restroom, cooling/heating, irrigation) and check the water-using equipment for discrepancies against standard operating conditions. Measuring fixture flow rates, irrigation system usage and cooling tower usage can help managers compute total water usage. Understanding the water usage for each major area is important because if there is a major difference between a facility’s total usage and the sum of each area, a major underground leak may exist that is running up your water bill.
Time To Execute
With the data and visual surveys you’ve collected, now you can create a plan of action to launch your water conservation program. A plan should encompass the system and equipment changes required to succeed as well as a return on investment forecast considering rising water/sewer rates.
Additionally, your plan should include short-term no-brainer fixes and long-term remedies for each of the three major water consumption areas of your building. Based on our experience, the following items are typical within a commercial water conservation plan:
No Brainer Fixes And Things To Do
- Leads and drips of faucets… which can drip away more than 10,000 gallons per month if not fixed
- Winterize outdoor spigots and pipes in unheated areas to prevent freezing and leaking
- Check for wet spots and alligatored paving, which may indicate underground leaks
- Keep accurate reports on your inspection to note changes that may indicate a potential problem
- Educate tenants and employees on your conservation plan, what they can do to help and what to do if they spot a problem
Most toilets, urinals and facets in use today were not designed for water conservation and are the main culprits for water (and money) needlessly being washed down the drain. In fact, with 4.8 billion gallons of water flushed every day in America, toilets are responsible for approximately one-third of a building’s water use.
Here are some guidelines to conserve water and save money:
- Install low flow fixtures and consider metered valve, self closing, infrared and ultrasonic sensor fixtures
- Keep toilets in good working order by periodically inspecting and replacing flapper valves and ballcocks that deteriorate and case leaks and/or toilets to continually run
- Consider waterless urinals
- Adjust flush valve to use less water
While having a beautifully landscaped area helps with tenant retention, it can be costly to be pretty. Since most sprinkler systems are set for pre-dawn watering, most managers don’t notice if there is a major problem until 1) an area goes brown because of a malfunctioning device or 2) they get a high water bill at the end of the month.
Here are some guidelines for immediate water savings:
- Inspect irrigation system for leaks, broken heads
- Adjust sprinkler heads to ensure your watering landscape, not pavement
- Install rain sensors so the system won’t start while it’s raining
- Water before 9 am to minimize evaporation
- Consider irrigating from detention ponds or reservoir
- Stop using water to clean sidewalks, parking lots and other hard decks.
Cooling towers keep us comfortable, but as the largest single water user, their water consumption can make us anything but. Designed to remove heat through water and evaporation process, the system continually replenishes water as it loses it from bleed-off required to remove suspended or dissolved solids left behind, drift (mist and droplets carried out of the tower) and leaks.
Some guidelines for conserving water are:
- Inspect cooling tower for leaks and malfunctioning valves on a regular basis
- Install flow meters on make-up and bleed-off lines
- Read meters regularly and keep a log of make-up and bleed-off quantities
- Recycle and reuse by investigating other uses for bleed-off water and find additional sources for make-up water
Typically, water meters are read once a week while some managers do it every single day. But if a leak were to occur after the read, after hours or over a weekend, no one would know of the excessive usage spike until the next read, which by thousands of gallons would be lost and cost you $20/gallon.
However, new technology helps managers and owners manage their water conservation efforts through real time viewing of water usage and immediate detection of water spikes related to a potential catastrophic leak.
The new technology features a self-contained, non-intrusive device that listens to the pulse of a water meter. Through the process, data is collected and sent wirelessly to a website portal where managers and owners can view a property’s water consumption for the entire month or even down to the hour.
A daily reading bar chart provides a quick comparative view of how many gallons were used, if any day had excessive usage and if non-occupied days (weekends/holidays) recorded higher than normal use.
Much like an energy surge that pops a circuit breaker, when water spikes above the preset hourly or daily limit, the device detects the problem and immediately alerts the manager of the problem. Additionally, if a building has more than one meter being monitored, such as one for the cooling tower and another for the main line, the manager could quickly determine which meter spiked in order to isolate the problem area faster for repair.
John Lie-Nielsen, Scott Kale, WaterSignal LLC