Barry Bergstein 2017-05-12 02:36:01
Easy water conservation fixes result in big returns Conservation and sustainability efforts were once almost exclusively focused on energy and the ways to cut back on its use. Today, with the cost of water steadily on the rise and a growing global awareness about the need to protect and preserve water resources, many businesses and individuals are expanding sustainability efforts to more consciously incorporate water. Water, you could say, is the new energy when it comes to sustainability. The American Water Works Association reports1 that water and wastewater rate increases outpaced changes to the consumer price index almost every year between 1998 and 2014, the most recent year for which data were available — sometimes at a ratio of more than 5-to-1. As facilities look for ways to reduce consumption, there are some obvious high-volume culprits such as irrigation and heating and cooling systems. But it may be easier for a water conservation program to garner support and gain traction if you start with the low-hanging fruit of water use in everyday faucets and fixtures, which are responsible for a surprisingly large percentage of water usage. From hospitals to offices, hotels and schools, restrooms remain the biggest water hogs in almost every facility type, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).2 Combined with kitchens, those two hot spots account for half of water usage in office buildings,3 44 percent in hotels4 and 42 percent in hospitals.5 About 25 percent of water in grocery stores is used in kitchens and bathrooms, according to the Alliance for Water Efficiency.6 Water audits can help operators evaluate their water usage and ways to reduce it. Most people don’t realize how much water is going needlessly down the drain until the numbers are in front of them. Or how much relatively small changes, some with a price tag as low as US$15, can result in significant water savings. Reducing water usage has some obvious environmental and financial benefits, but it comes with some collateral advantages as well, including saving on sewer costs that are directly tied to water usage and energy costs associated with heating water. ASSESSMENT IS KEY The key to capitalizing on these readily available water conservation tools is assessment. Many facility managers may not be fully aware of their current water usage and existing issues, but a regular review of plumbing equipment should address some basic questions: How old is it? Is it functional? Are there leaks? Are better options available? Should it be replaced? Much as major building systems tend to undergo regular evaluation and maintenance, everyday plumbing fixtures should receive a periodic review of their status and functionality. With minimal expense and effort, there’s plenty of savings to be realized in some seemingly mundane places. REFERENCES 1) www.awwa.org/Portals/0/files/resources/water%20utility%20 management/water%20and%20wastewater%20rates/SurveyYears.pdf 2) www3.epa.gov/watersense/commercial/types.html 3) www3.epa.gov/watersense/commercial/docs/factsheets/offices_fact_sheet_508.pdf 4) www3.epa.gov/watersense/docs/saving-water-in-hotels_fact%20 sheet_508_Mar2016.pdf 5) www3.epa.gov/watersense/commercial/docs/factsheets/hospital_fact_sheet_508.pdf 6) www.allianceforwaterefficiency.org/uploadedFiles/Resource_Center/Library/non_residential/EBMUD/EBMUD_WaterSmart_Guide_Grocers.pdf Sinks alone offer several ways to start realizing potentially impactful water savings: 1 Aerators By reducing the flow of water from restroom faucets, aerators are one of the best ways to create water and cost savings. The typical water flow rate for handwash sinks is 1.0 gallons per minute (gpm), achieved with the installation of aerators. Unfortunately, these are sometimes removed under the assumption that more water is better. A handwash sink without an aerator may be flowing at excessive rates, in some cases as much as an astounding 8 gallons of water per minute. Vandal-resistant aerators are recommended to prevent tampering and maintain the integrity of the product. Plumbing advances also mean aerators available today can offer water flow lower than previously standard flow rates without diminishing performance. Lower-flow aerators can range from 1.5 gpm to 0.35 gpm, which are becoming the required standard in certain areas such as the drought-stricken U.S. state, California. An aerator change, which is inexpensive and simple to complete, can reduce water consumption by thousands of gallons and utility expenses by hundreds of dollars every year. For example, in a facility with 40 hand washes per day, at 30 seconds per wash, switching from a 2.2 gpm aerator to 0.5 gpm saves more than 12,000 gallons of water per year. It’s a return on investment that can be measured in days instead of years. 2 Flow control devices In some facilities, notably health care, aerators are not preferred due to concerns over the spread of bacteria, but unregulated faucets result in dramatically increased water consumption. Laminar flow devices are available to reduce flow to as low as 1.0 gpm, the minimum to be considered laminar, and non-aerated flow-restriction devices can restrict flow even further. Flow restrictors installed at the base of the faucet and paired with a plain end spout can also reduce annual water usage by up to 20 percent. These types of controls are also inherently vandal resistant since they are installed inside the faucet body and are not easily accessible. 3 Sensors Facility managers may also consider switching from traditional manual faucets to hands-free sensor faucets, which are exploding in use across industries because of their water- and money-saving properties. Not only do sensor faucets improve hygiene by reducing the number of touchpoints in a restroom, but they also contribute to water savings. Sensor faucets cut water use by up to a gallon per hand wash. The water savings can be even greater when you account for the occasional bad habits of users who may leave water running or fail to completely turn off the faucet after use. Facilities with kitchens may have additional opportunities to realize significant savings with a low investment. 4 Spray valves Pre-rinse units are a crucial and heavily used tool in most kitchens. They can also be one of the biggest water users. Older spray valves can potentially use 4 gpm or more to clean and rinse dishes. Today’s spray valves use far less water and actually perform better, based on cleaning time tests, thanks to technological improvements. Reducing spray valve water flow from 4 gpm to 0.65 gpm can save a busy kitchen more than 235,000 gallons of water a year, based on three hours of use per day. And in an average grocery department, reducing flow from 4 gpm to 1.07 gpm can save US$5,700 in a year. 5 Prep sink faucets As with most other applications, it’s all about the flow at prep sinks. Take, for example, a university that recently partnered with a plumbing equipment manufacturer to evaluate its water use. They learned water flow at two kitchen prep sinks was 13.3 gpm and 16.3 gpm. Retrofitting those with 2.2 gpm aerators made an immediate and profound impact on water use, without diminishing performance. Knowing how the sink will be used is key to pairing it with the best equipment — high water flow is still appropriate for a pot-filling sink, for instance — but fixtures that haven’t been updated recently can likely benefit from a simple, low-cost update to trim waste. BARRY BERGSTEIN is business development manager for retail/senior living at T&S Brass, a leading manufacturer of commercial plumbing equipment. Bergstein has more than 40 years’ experience in supplying equipment to the foodservice industry and is a current or past member of several industry organizations, including the National Association of Convenience Stores, International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association, and North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers.
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