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Sustainability

Drowning In Excess

May 05, 2011
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Did you know that between 1950 and 2005, our U.S. population doubled, while our demand for water more than tripled?

To prepare for potential water shortages and to take advantage of the corresponding savings in energy and operating costs, 50 percent of building managers plan to incorporate water-efficient practices in the next five years.

From universities to office buildings and hospitals to hotels, there are numerous opportunities to reduce water use without cutting corners.

Because commercial and institutional customers can account for anywhere from 15 percent to 25 percent of the country''s total municipal water demand, utilities in your area may offer programs and incentives to help you reduce water use and alleviate the burden on dwindling water supplies.

Also, many resources are available to optimize a facility''s water use and reduce operating costs.

One such resource is WaterSense, a partnership program created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help Americans save water for future generations.

It is both a label for products and an educational resource for consumers and businesses interested in saving water.

WaterSense is developing a free, downloadable resource as a compilation of 34 best water management practices for facility and equipment maintenance.

WaterSense at Work: Best Management Practices for Commercial and Institutional Facilities will be available on the EPA''s website at www.epa.gov/watersense later in 2011, but the following is a preview of some of the best management practices for operations and maintenance personnel to save water in facilities.

Assess Water Use

Saving water starts with understanding your facility''s water-using processes.

Conducting a facility water assessment can help you understand how much water your facility uses and the processes that require the most water.

First, collect any existing information about the facility''s water use — data from utility bills and water meters — to determine how water is being used from the time it enters the facility through disposal.

Next, tour the facility, noting the equipment or processes that use water and how the equipment is performing — malfunctioning, leaking or operating as it should.

Once you are familiar with the water use in your facility, you can use best management practices to identify the most cost-effective water-saving opportunities.

You can then develop a plan to implement those priorities, including payback periods for each measure and water savings goals.

WaterSense at Work can help you identify options for improvement and includes simple formulas for calculating the payback period when investing in specific technologies.

Maintain Your Cool

Occupant comfort is a main concern of building maintenance.

Cooling towers, evaporative coolers and boilers require considerable amounts of water to do their jobs.

There are a number of best management practices to use less water in mechanical systems without compromising safety or performance.

Facility managers and maintenance personnel can consider the following to increase the efficiency of their cooling towers:

  • Minimize the amount of dissolved solids in the water to allow the water to be recirculated more often before being replaced

  • Implement energy-efficiency measures to reduce the heat load to the tower: As the heat load is reduced, cooling tower water use will be commensurately reduced while producing cost savings

  • Use other sources of water besides municipal water to replace water lost to evaporation; one alternative source of water is air handler condensate — water that collects when warm, moist air passes over the cooling coils in air handler units.

Every Drop Counts

Repairing leaks is one of the most cost-effective methods to prevent excess water and money from trickling down the drain.

A toilet leaking a half gallon per minute, for example, could be wasting more than two backyard swimming pools worth of water per month.

To detect leaks, read the facility water meter during non-peak use hours when all water-using equipment has been turned off or is not in use.

If the reading significantly changes in one hour, there may be a leak within the distribution system or within the facility.

To ensure your facility continues to save water after you''ve made repairs, educate staff and users about proper maintenance and usage.

Post signage to encourage employees and other users to report leaking or malfunctioning equipment to the appropriate contacts.

Everything And The Kitchen Sink

Dishwashing is one of the largest drains on water resources in commercial kitchens, in some cases accounting for more than two-thirds of the kitchen''s overall water use.

Dishwashers should be run within manufacturer specifications and only at full capacity to get the best cleaning for the amount of water used.

Scrape dishes with a rubber spatula instead of rinsing food particles.

Commercial foodservice preparation includes a wide variety of water-using equipment beyond dishwashing.

Here are just a few of the cleaning and maintenance practices from WaterSense at Work that can help prepare commercial kitchens for significant savings:

  • Prevent steam from leaking from combination ovens by replacing gaskets when necessary, and keep door hinges tight so the doors stay aligned and provide a good seal

  • Ensure wok stoves'' cooling water is shut off when not in use, especially at the end of each day

  • To remove scale buildup in pre-rinse spray valves and other water-using equipment, find appropriate cleaning products rather than cleaning manually, which can use more water.

Look Outside

Landscape water use can range from seven percent for hospitals, 22 percent for office buildings and up to 30 percent for schools.

A well-designed landscape can save water by incorporating healthy soils and appropriate grading, helping ensure water stays where it was applied.

Keeping mulch on landscaped beds can help keep plants cool and minimize evaporation.

Experts estimate that as much as 50 percent of outdoor water use is wasted by evaporation, wind or runoff due to overwatering.

If your landscape includes an irrigation system, WaterSense partners are certified irrigation professionals that design, install, maintain and audit water-efficient systems to ensure a beautiful, low-maintenance landscape.


Tara O''Hare is the implementation and recruiting lead for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency''s (EPA) WaterSense program. To learn more about best management practices for commercial and institutional facilities, visit www.epa.gov/watersense/spaces/ci.html. A searchable database of WaterSense irrigation partners can be found at www.epa.gov/watersense/meet_our_partners.html.

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