Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Water Issues Flow To The Top

September 19, 2010

According to Stephen Ashkin, the professional cleaning industry''s most outspoken advocate for environmentally responsible cleaning and sustainability, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program is reevaluating its certification processes and putting greater emphasis on water conservation.

The reasons are obvious: Much of the world lives without access to clean or potable water and this is likely to spread to many more places in the near future as more areas experience severe and chronic droughts and water shortages.

Along with this, it is predicted that the costs of water and related sewer costs are likely to rise significantly.

Whether they are hoping to address this problem before it becomes a crisis or simply seeking LEED certification, many building owners and facility managers are now taking steps to reduce their water usage and become more sustainable.

The first challenge they often encounter is figuring out exactly how much water they are currently using — and where.

Without establishing this benchmark, it can be hard to take significant, ongoing steps toward water conservation.

How is this benchmarking done?

"The most efficient way is to conduct a water audit," says Klaus Reichardt, founder and managing partner of Waterless Company LLC. "Some facilities hire a consultant or engineer to conduct the audit; but, in many cases, it can be conducted in-house with powerful and revealing results."

According to Reichardt, steps to a water audit include the following:

  • Collect billing information from the water supplier showing how much water is used in the facility currently and how much was used in previous years

  • Check employment records, as the number of employees in a facility can affect how much water is used

  • Conduct a walk-through of the facility to identify where water is being used for manufacturing, for landscape irrigation, in restrooms or as a coolant for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems

  • Landscape irrigation systems can be significant water users, so it is important to inventory flow rates, flow controls and the number of sprinkler heads

  • Take a close look at restrooms because the greatest amount of water used in a facility, next to landscaping, is usually in restrooms for flushing toilets and urinals and for washing hands

  • Review mechanical systems, as cooling towers, refrigerators and boilers consume as much as 25 percent of all the water used in a facility.

"With the audit complete, managers and owners can determine what and where water-reducing opportunities exist," explains Reichardt. "Taking this a step further, they can [then] determine which are the most sustainable and cost-effective measures that can be incorporated."

An example of how a water audit works — and how the results can be implemented — recently occurred in Ireland.

Starting this year, all of the country''s educational facilities experienced a major increase in the cost of water.

A water audit of the public school facilities revealed that one of the steps they could take was to replace more toilets in boys'' restrooms with urinals, which typically use about half the water of a standard toilet.

However, the school system decided to take this a step further.

Again referencing their water audit, they realized the most dramatic step they could take would be to install waterless urinal systems, essentially eliminating the need for water altogether.

These are now being installed in all of the country''s educational facilities.

Cleaning And Water

Water is used in many cleaning procedures, and the two cleaning tasks that use more water than any other are carpet cleaning and floor care.

JanSan manufacturers are addressing both of these areas to reduce the amount of water used.

For instance, according to Nick Wiebe, marketing manager for U.S. Products, older carpet extractors typically use 1 to 1.5 gallons of water per minute.

Conversely, newer, low-moisture machines use about two-thirds of a gallon of water per minute.

"Translating this into actual water usage, a 30-minute carpet cleaning would require about 45 gallons of water with an older machine," Wiebe says, "whereas less than 20 [gallons] would be necessary when a low-moisture machine is employed."

Wiebe adds that the carpets also dry faster with a low-moisture system — and the chances that mold or mildew will develop are minimized considerably.

Similar developments are occurring with floor care equipment.

According to David Frank, president of the American Institute for Cleaning Sciences (AICS), among the reasons we can expect more "low-moisture floor care" is that "the less water used, the better. You don''t want to use more chemical and water than you have to. You want to be [cost-effective and] efficient and decrease dry times."

Frank believes that to minimize water use, cylindrical brush agitation, also known as cylindrical brush technology machines, available in Europe for almost two decades but introduced in the United States only about six or seven years ago, will become increasingly popular.

"They use less water because they use rotating brushes instead of pads, and that''s a good thing," notes Frank.

There are many more ways facilities can reduce water usage.

With the help of the water audit, high-water-use areas other than those mentioned here — specifically landscaping — will likely pop up for evaluation.

In some facilities, more water is used for landscaping than for anything else.

"However, you really won''t know until the [water] audit is conducted," concludes Reichardt. "Once you have that accomplished, scores of water-conserving systems can be implemented with positive, cost-effective results."

Robert Kravitz is a former building service contractor and author of two books on the industry. He may be reached at