How to Turn ‘Going Green’ Into Being in the Black

ct circle cropAs water rates rise across the country, what was once an insignificant utility bill is now costing you in a sizable way. While a number of building owners and managers are still missing the big picture, many have begun implementing LEED green initiatives, assisting greatly in conserving our most precious resource: water.

For commercial and multifamily, going green is a great initiative. Not only is it good for the planet, but it also encourages relations between individuals who share a similar mindset.

Using recent breakthroughs in green technology, you can now implement a water conservation program that not only replaces inefficient equipment to reduce consumption, but also continuously measures water flow to immediately alert you of potential leaks.

Sounds easy right? While buying and installing products may be simple, the hard part is developing the mindset that water conservation is important for your tenants, the Earth, and ultimately, your bottom line.

Getting Started

The first step is to create a game plan for water conservation. 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. Conduct 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 large impact on three major areas: restrooms (accounting for 40 percent of water used), cooling/heating (accounting for 28 percent) and irrigation (accounting for 22 percent).

Through a water audit, you can obtain detailed information on where and how much water enters and 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 large water bills) could quickly add up if you’re not tracking what is going on.

An audit typically includes a review of floor plans, occupancy and utility records to collect as much information as possible about a building’s current and future water use.

The next step is to conduct a facility survey to better understand how water is being used in the three major areas. Measuring fixture flow rates, irrigation system usage and cooling tower usage can help managers compute total water usage. If then you find a significant 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 collected, you are now able to create a plan of action to launch your water conservation program. Your plan should encompass the system and equipment changes required as well as a return on investment forecast taking into consideration the rising water/sewer rates. Additionally, you 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

Restrooms

Most toilets, urinals and faucets in use today were not designed for water conservation and are the main culprits for water (and money) needlessly being washed down the drain. 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

Irrigation

While having a beautifully landscaped area helps with tenant retention, keeping up with it can be costly. Since most sprinkler systems are set for pre-dawn watering, most managers don’t notice a major problem until an area goes brown because of a malfunctioning device or 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.

Heating/Cooling

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


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WaterSignal is a green technology company focused on water conservation. WaterSignal measures water flow in real-time to detect leaks and monitor domestic meters, irrigation systems, and cooling towers for commercial, multifamily, medical and educational properties. WaterSignal is located in Alpharetta, GA, and currently has operations in 19 states.