Using Water Wisely
The “green” revolution has gradually evolved from niche to mainstream and continually surfaces in our everyday lives. Whether it's eco-friendly cars or products/building materials for a more sustainable home, consumers increasingly understand that being green not only benefits the environment, but also benefits them and their children in the long run.
For instance, water conservation is a resonating issue today and not just in areas typically affected, such as Arizona or California. Everyone must conserve water, and this message is clear to consumers. Switching to a low-flow showerhead, for example, can both lower water bills and conserve energy and water.
Consumer trends such as these often drive trade professionals to utilize water-conserving products in their commercial specifying and construction processes. That being said, the next logical question to ask is just how green are commercial-grade buildings? Right now, commercial operations consume approximately 30% more electricity than residential homes. What about water?
High Efficiency, Low Flow
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, commercial buildings use close to 20% of U.S. drinking water supplies. Reducing total commercial building water consumption by just 10% would mean saving well over 2 trillion gallons of water each year! Keeping this in mind, another approach to increasing sustainability in commercial or hospitality segments is to install fixtures like low-flow showerheads and high-efficiency toilets. High-efficiency toilets use about 20% less water than the standard 1.6-gallons-per-flush toilets, flushing 1.28 gpf. Certain low-flow showerheads deliver 1.6 gallons per minute as opposed to the standard 2.5 gpm, ideal for the hospitality industry and residential high-rises. Some manufacturers are offering affordable, high-style designs that also incorporate cutting-edge water-saving technology so the end user is not sacrificing his or her shower experience.
WaterSense is a new water-efficiency program being developed by the EPA that acknowledges products and services that perform more efficiently than other products on the market. This voluntary, public/private sponsorship program has a working committee consisting of representatives from manufacturers and water utilities. The committee is currently creating specs for the program, which will hopefully launch in the next few years.
The installation of electronic faucets is another way to cut back on water usage. These hands-free fixtures feature built-in timeouts that turn water off automatically, cutting down on water and heating costs, because less hot water used means less energy consumed. As technology becomes increasingly advanced and more precise, manufacturers are making the function and operation of these applications more and more innovative. The ability to “command” your faucet to turn on and off, even setting the temperature using voice activation, is just around the corner.
Besides WaterSense, other programs have developed to help fill in the gaps since implementation of the first Energy Policy Act in 1992, which mandated that manufacturers meet specific conservation regulations for water usage. Specifically, the act required 2.2 gpm for kitchen, bath and metering faucets, 2.5 gpm for showerheads and 1.6 gpf for toilets. The code has not been revised since, and it will likely be some time before it will be modified. In view of that, many organizations and programs have been designed to create conservation incentives for engineers, architects and others responsible for developing not just single-family homes, but also commercial buildings for hospitality, residential and manufacturing applications.
Initiatives such as The U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program give engineers and architects the opportunity to certify their construction based on the sustainable products, materials and practices that they use in their projects. By conserving more than what's required by current government standards, professionals not only help themselves, but also the environment.
Irrigation Management Systems
Beyond water consumption indoors, there are a number of savings opportunities out doors. Landscape irrigation procedures are an area of focus that clearly constitutes a much larger problem than consumers' indoor water-saving crisis, since many commercial buildings lack efficient landscape watering systems. Experts from the EPA estimate that more than 50% of commercial and residential irrigation water use can go to waste due to evaporation, runoff or over-watering. There are specific commercial irrigation systems now (or micro-irrigation systems) that can water landscaping based on the daily weather data and vegetation needs. Popular in residential settings, they were originally developed for commercial applications to regulate the amount of water flow, reducing water consumption while protecting the landscape. However, the number of buildings today that use these systems is very low.
Furthermore, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, choosing a micro-irrigation system instead of traditional sprinklers is more efficient; during watering, micro-irrigation delivers 85% to 90% of the moisture supply directly to plants, compared with just a 40% to 50% delivery for typical broadcast sprinklers. They are designed to deliver a more precise amount of moisture to a specific plant's needs and adjust to the daily weather forecast. NRDC also suggests using plants that are well adapted to the local climate, which will cut down on water costs.
Companies and buildings can also use graywater, which is water that is reused and recycled. For instance, a building might use water collected from storm runoffs to irrigate the landscaping. Buildings can also take the water they use and turn it back to the city in a form purer than they received it. Builders and architects can learn more about this procedure from their local water treatment center. They should also check their local plumbing policies and laws to make sure they are following the correct procedures before implementing.
Some are taking another initiative to turn water back into their systems. Cities such as Austin and San Antonio, for example, reclaim their air-conditioning condensate and feed it back into their water-cooling towers, saving on the amount of water they need to bring back in.
Few Excuses Not To
By utilizing new eco-friendly building materials, products and procedures, builders and architects can continue to incorporate green practices into new construction as well as restoration and renovation projects. This will enhance their credentials as well as our environment, driving others to make their projects eco-friendly and environmentally sustainable.