Water conservation is an issue of increasing importance the world over as more awareness is being raised about crippling water shortages. Many areas are using water faster than it can be replenished in water basins and other sources and are facing dire threats to water availability.
The United Nations reports that 4 billion people experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year. India’s sixth-largest city, with a population of 10 million, has recently begun to bring drinking water to its residents via train to help alleviate a critical shortage. And in the U.S., a recent government-backed study predicted serious water shortages coming in the next half-century.
These threats — coupled with economic concerns and even local legislation mandating water conservation — have led many facilities to adopt a new focus on water use as part of an overall sustainability plan.
Commercial and institutional facilities are the second largest consumer of publicly supplied water in the U.S., according to the EPA. Use varies, but in no type of facility does restroom use account for less than 30 percent of total water consumption, so savings in this part of a building can have a significant impact on the facility’s overall water use.
Plumbing manufacturers are increasingly providing options for facilities that make prioritizing sustainability easier.
The easiest way to cut overall restroom water consumption is simply to use less water every time a sink or toilet is used.
Faucets are perhaps the most cost-effective place to realize immediate water savings. Adding or updating aerators — those easy-to-install and inexpensive devices that restrict water flow — can cut use to as little as 0.35 gallons per minute (gpm), a dramatic reduction from the 2.2 gpm common in non-public settings. Vandal-resistant versions also prevent unauthorized removal and subsequent increased water flow.
Toilets and urinals can also be guilty of unnecessary water guzzling, particularly when these fixtures haven’t been updated in several years. EPA’s WaterSense estimates there are nearly 27 million flushometer-valve toilets currently installed in the U.S. Of those, about 26% (7 million) have flush volumes as high as 3.0 to 7.0 gallons per flush (gpf), far higher than the federal standard of 1.6 gpf.
Updating toilets to the new standard, or going further to a 1.28 gpf or 1.1 gpf version, can reduce water consumption significantly. Urinal flush valves that use a pint (0.125 gallons) per flush are also an available option for curtailing consumption.
Modern devices can reduce water use and environmental impact further, often by taking messy, sometimes thoughtless humans out of the equation.
Take sensor faucets, for example. These commonly used, hands-free fixtures save as much as one gallon of tempered water per handwash by flowing water only when needed.
Sensor faucets also eliminate the potential for users to accidentally or purposefully leave water running. An automatic shut-off feature ensures any malicious efforts to cover or otherwise interfere with sensor operation won’t result in an untended flow of water.
Facilities can extend resource conservation further with hydrogenerators to power sensor faucets and flush valves. These devices employ turbines to harness the flow of water to produce and store energy, eliminating the need for regular battery replacements or electrical wiring.
Auditing and monitoring
While updated fixtures can make a significant impact, particularly when their impact is multiplied across larger facilities, knowing how water is being used is an important preliminary step. Before buying and installing a raft of new products, a commercial facility should undertake a water audit to analyze water flow across the facility and determine where efficiencies can be gained with repairs, retrofits, or updated equipment.
Leak monitoring is another critical component of a viable water savings plan. Leaks account for more than 6 percent of a facility’s total water use, according to the EPA, and may often go undetected if a facility doesn’t regularly monitor for and repair leaks.