By Chris Matt
Canadians are among the world’s largest consumers of water. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Canada’s per capita water use is 65 percent higher than the OECD average, second only to the United States.
Systems within commercial and residential facilities—plumbing and restroom fixtures, cooling equipment for applications such as walk-in coolers, freezers and computer server rooms, as well as irrigation systems—all consume significant amounts of water. Property managers can take steps to reduce water use in these systems, and plumbing fixtures are common targets because they exist within both residential and commercial facilities.
Whether it’s new construction or retrofits to existing buildings, water-efficient plumbing technology can help conserve water and lower utility costs for building owners and property managers.
For retrofitting existing facilities, a solid first step in curtailing water use is conducting a water audit. Audits can identify your building’s highest water-using systems and provide insight contractors or managers can use to decide which fixtures to retrofit.
"A water audit helps you benchmark against the previous year’s consumption and other similar buildings," says Martin Malette, facility management and security services manager with the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corp. "You start to look at what your building has, as far as plumbing systems and their components, to see if there’s anything you can do [to save water]."
Some organizations give water-audit results to building occupants as a way to build support and buy-in for water-conservation initiatives. As part of a water audit, managers also can conduct a fixture inventory and interview building occupants to get a better sense of water-consuming practices in the facility, says Kevin Reilly, demand management coordinator and deputy sewage control manager with the Capital Regional District, a regional government organization.
After conducting a water audit and fixture inventory, managers can identify low-hanging fruit, or the fixtures that provide the easiest path to water and monetary savings if replaced. Low-flow fixtures, such as showerheads and aerators for faucets, are simple replacements and can reduce water use significantly, according to Peter Sundberg, executive director of City Green Solutions, a non-profit in Victoria, B.C., that promotes environmental responsibility.
"Not only do low-flow fixtures reduce water consumption by 20 to 50 percent; they also reduce hot-water use," Sundberg says.
If you’re upgrading plumbing fixtures in your facilities, you can look to the following water-flow measurements as a guide:
Due to the culture of high water use, simply installing new, water-efficient fixtures and hoping water use and utility costs will drop is not enough. Successful water-conservation efforts require education for residents and building occupants in commercial facilities, as well as ongoing maintenance.
"It is very important that education be part of any water conservation initiatives," Reilly says. "Education plays an important role in that it provides the ‘why’ are we doing this and promotes buy-in into the initiatives."
For example, if you install dual-flush toilets, consider hanging signage on the wall behind the fixture to provide users with directions on how to use the device and the reason the fixture was installed.
In addition to education, managers should create comprehensive operations and maintenance plans to ensure fixtures operate properly and actually result in the savings they’re designed to generate.
For example, if you install a water-efficient, automated faucet, maintenance personnel should routinely assess proximity-sensor settings and aerator function to ensure the fixture is generating the greatest potential water savings, Reilly says.
"Improperly maintained solenoid valves, flapper valves, and equipment may result in additional water and energy consumption, and therefore proper maintenance is imperative," he says. "Operation and maintenance plans should require an assessment of the water efficiency of each device."