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Little changes can yield big water savings

Simple upgrades that cost only a few dollars can save thousands in the long run.


September 30, 2019
By Jon Gustafson
SinksPhoto courtesy T&S Brass.

Property management professionals looking to boost water conservation often set their sights on the biggest and/or most expensive water-using equipment in their facility—but while these big-ticket items are certainly an important part of overall conservation, there is also a lot to be said for the role of the ‘little guy.’ Some simple upgrades or updates that cost only a few dollars can save thousands in the long run.

According to the federal department of the environment and climate change, Canada is the world’s second-highest consumer of water per capita, following the U.S. The first step to reducing commercial water use is to understand how so much water is being used in the first place.

A quick ROI

A systematic look at water consumption, through an audit or other review process, can help operators get a clear look at use and ways to reduce it. A handwash sink without an aerator to reduce the flow of water from the faucet, for example, could easily be flowing at excessive rates, perhaps as high as 30 L of water per minute, well above the standard flow rate.

Indeed, aerators are one of the most commonly overlooked ways to reduce water consumption. They are inexpensive and simple to change or install, but the savings they achieve, multiplied across dozens or hundreds of sinks in a large facility, can make a significant impact, often in the order of tens of thousands of litres—and hundreds of dollars—in annual savings. By way of example, a facility with 40 hand washes per day, average 30 seconds per wash, can save more than 45,000 L of water by switching from an 8.3-L-per-minute (lpm) aerator to a 1.9-lpm model.

Also, aerators are sometimes removed by building occupants who assume more water is better. Vandal-resistant aerators are recommended to prevent tampering, maintain the integrity of the product and ensure targeted water savings are achieved. Plumbing advances have helped today’s aerators offer lower flow rates—anywhere from 1.3 to 5.6 lpm—without diminishing performance.

In addition to reducing a facility’s water bill, optimizing consumption also saves on electricity or natural gas bills because it means less energy is needed to heat the building’s water. As a result, the return on investment (ROI) for efficient aerators can be measured in just days, rather than years.

Flow-control options

When considering this type of change, it is imperative first to understand how faucets are used on a day-to-day basis.

For simple restroom sinks, low-flow aerators will not diminish performance even as they decrease water use. In high-use areas, on the other hand, proper selection of aerators based on flow rate is important, to ensure tasks can still be performed effectively. Going with the lowest possible flow rate available may not be the right option for maintaining efficiency in the workplace.

There are also some buildings, notably health-care facilities, where aerators are not the preferred method for reducing water consumption, due to concerns over bacterial contamination. In these situations, laminar or non-aerated flow restrictors are required.

Flow-control devices can be installed at the base of the faucet or spout to reduce annual water consumption by up to 20%. These types of controls are also inherently vandal-resistant, since they are installed inside the faucet body and therefore are not easily accessible.

Review and assessment

The key to capitalizing on this ‘low-hanging fruit’ for water conservation is to start with a facility-wide assessment. Many owners or operators may not be fully aware of their current water consumption and related issues. A review of plumbing equipment should address some basic questions: How old is it? Is it functional? Are there any leaks? Should it be replaced? Are better options available?

When excessive water use is taken into account, plumbing products may turn out to be a larger contributor to water consumption than they would otherwise appear.

Much as other major building systems, such as HVAC, tend to undergo regular evaluation and maintenance, so too should everyday plumbing fixtures undergo a periodic review of their status and functionality. With minimal expense and effort, there are often plenty of savings to be realized.

Jon Gustafson is a regional sales manager for T&S Brass, with a territory that includes the lab and plumbing sectors in Canada. He has more than a decade of experience in plumbing and is active in industry organizations and events. This article was originally published by HPAC. For more information, visit www.tsbrass.com.