The Alarming Cost of Poor Water Efficiency in Your Building (And 6 Basic Steps to Improve It)
Saving energy has long been the focus of decision makers in commercial and industrial buildings nationwide, leaving water efficiency as a less interesting side note. That thought process is changing, however, as water becomes scarcer and the potential financial benefits of increased water efficiency are better understood. What’s more, today’s building owners are looking beyond their internal water and energy use and asking the bigger question: How does my building impact the city/county/region I’m in?
Consider these facts:
- Nearly 75% of the Earth’s surface is covered with water
- 97% is salty or unusable
- 2% is located in the polar ice caps
- 0.5% lies more than half a mile below the surface
- 0.5% is available for our freshwater needs
- Commercial and institutional buildings (schools, hospitals, hotels, government, etc.) account for 17% of publicly-supplied water use and 18% of energy use in the U.S.
These statistics are sobering and cause for concern. California is currently experiencing epic draught, prompting its governor to order cities statewide to reduce water consumption by 25 percent, according to an article in the Business Insider. The article goes on to cite a study by the U.S. Government predicting 40 out of 50 states will face a water shortage in the next decade.
So why has water efficiency been less of a concern? Experts believe there are two reasons: cost and visibility. When compared to energy, water is inexpensive, experts say. And in the marketplace an emphasis has been placed on making energy savings more visible, such as creating impressive data-gathering technologies that showcase savings with attractive, easy-to-read digital displays.
In order to address the issue, one must first consider the three ways that water is used in commercial buildings: heating/cooling, irrigation and fixtures. Water used in heating and cooling systems includes cooling towers, which can account for one-third of a building’s water use, experts say. Irrigation might be for grass, plants and flowers, and trees. Fixtures can include dishwashers, showers, lavatories and drinking fountains.
With a better understanding of how water is used in commercial buildings, facility managers next can look for ways to increase water efficiency. Consider these six steps:
This is a critical first move in managing water use. Facilities managers should review – or in some cases, learn - how water is being used at their facility. Additionally, managers should consider conducting a facility audit, forming a water management team to evaluate water usage, comparing water use to industry benchmarks, setting goals and creating a plan to meet those goals, and increasing the efficiency of equipment.
You can’t manage what you don’t measure, the old adage goes. Facility managers should monitor water use and locate leaks, or discover unnecessary water usage by metering and sub metering (These steps allow managers to discover successful water-saving measures and track savings and are especially helpful when tied to a building management system. Choosing the correct meter and making sure it operates properly is critical, however).
As a first priority, facility managers should consider establishing a leak detection and repair program. Experts say leaks can account for more than six percent of a building’s total water use (For example, a leaking toilet can lose 21,600 gallons of water per month, costing an estimated $2,100 per year, while leaving a water hose unattended overnight can result in 5,400 gallons lost per month at an average cost of $16,000 annually).
Alternative Water Sources
In some regions, collecting rainwater is a viable water efficiency practice. Here, tanks of various sizes capture and store rainwater, which can be used for irrigation, domestic use or heating and cooling. Another strategy is wastewater reclamation, which is slowly gaining popularity in North America. In this process, wastewater, or sewage, is first treated to remove impurities and used to flush toilets, wash laundry, irrigate and even for bathing or drinking.
Experts encourage large facilities to reach out to their local water utility providers to learn if incentives are available to facilitate water efficiency. Additionally, water utilities can better manage water supply and energy use if a building or facility can adjust the time it uses large amounts of water.
Sometimes all one needs is a new attitude. Inspiring behavioral change alone can account for significant savings. Options exist for education around conservation, and savings can be achieved with very little cost. Additionally, these savings are immediate and sustainable. Once building occupants take ownership of the building and how they use water, great things can happen.
One final point to consider: saving water saves energy. Energy is needed to purify and pump water to a building as well as to treat sewage, meaning part of a water and sewage bill includes energy use. So saving water leads to reduced energy use and financial savings.
As water resources become scarcer, everyone has the responsibility to use water more wisely at home and work. Facility managers who look for ways to increase water efficiency and implement those methods in their facilities will improve their bottom line and, more importantly, help save a precious resource. Creating a water efficiency plan, monitoring water use, repairing leaks and looking for alternative water sources are all ways facilities are shifting the focus from energy to water.
For more information about improving your building’s water efficiency, please contact Joe Reintjes at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Curtis Winter at email@example.com. Or call 316-265-9655.
For a downloadable PDF chart of commercial and industrial water savings tips, click here.
Knipp Services works with commercial and industrial building owners to identify building solutions that can reduce downtime and increase the efficiency of their building. We provide services that enable building owners to have a high performance building.
Topics: water efficiency, freshwater supply concerns, water saving tips