Ways To Save Water In Commercial Buildings

Water Saving Toilet Handle and Sign | Sustainable Investment Group (SIG)
Dual Flush Toilets help save water and money because they offer the option to use only the water you need

Warm weather is finally here and, if you own or manage a commercial building, you’re probably thinking about ways to save on energy and water both inside and outside. Sustainable Investment Group (SIG) can help you improve your water and energy efficiency, and help you save money as you achieve LEED certification.

If you own or manage an office building or commercial building, water savers are important to you. Water savers like low flow faucets, low flow toilets, green handle toilets, low flow urinals, xeriscaping, drip irrigation, and cisterns for rainwater collection are some of the ways you can save by decreasing water and energy.

In this post, we focus on indoor water savers and why even small changes can mean a lot to everyone working in or visiting the space.

Water Saving and LEED Certification

If you’re considering LEED certification or already pursuing it, you’re committed to managing resources for the long run. Water efficiency is an essential part of achieving your goal.

That’s wise, according to WaterSignal: if you’re not monitoring water use, chances are almost certain you’re wasting money.

  • In some cases, retrofits can help to make the water use equipment and/or fixtures in the office building or building complex work better. If your building is an office facility and is connected to a larger utility commercial sector, you must consider more variables than the owner operating in a residential sector.
  • Before you decide to implement a new water saving program, it’s important to evaluate and audit the current fixtures and services in place.

Of course, some of the sustainable ideas discussed here are also helpful to residential owners in search of greater water efficiency as well.

Inside: Low Flow Toilets

Saving water in your commercial building might begin by checking the bathrooms:

  • Water savings may be achieved by removing older 3.5 GPF/13 LPF and installing newer ultra-low flow toilets (ULFTs with 1.6 GPF/6 LPF) or High Efficiency Toilets (HETs with 1.28 GPF/4.8 LPF) or dual-flushing HETs with 1.6 GPF/6.1 LPF (full flush) or 1.1 GPF/4.0 LPF reduced liquid waste flush capacities.

Example: Cost Analysis

According to EPA, commercial building toilets are flushed more frequently than residential toilets. Commercial employers encourage good health habits such as flushing the toilet after use and washing the hands after toileting:

  • EPA estimates that the worker in a commercial building is likely to use the toilet two to four times during an eight-hour work day. This amounts to one flush per toilet use, or up to four flushes for each worker during the work day.

If the commercial building welcomes visitors or customers into the facility, these individuals are likely to add to the amount of flushing frequency. Male and female toilet use differs. Men’s room toilets/male employee may be a different number than the women’s room toilets/female employee. Here’s an example of the information used to make a cost-benefit analysis for a business that wants to save water:

  • Assume: Men frequently use urinals if they’re available.
  • If the business is open 270 days/year with 400 employees (200 male and 200 female), the number of toilets needed to serve the male workers (10 toilets plus 10 urinals) and female workers (20 toilets) will serve the needs of workers and visitors.
  • Male flush levels = (270 days) (200 males) (2.5 urinal flush per day) = 135,000 flushes per year. 135,000 flushes per year / 10 urinals = 13,500 flushes per urinal per year.
  • In comparison, assume female flush levels are (270 days) (200 females) (3 flushes per day) = 162,000 flushes per year. 162,000 flushes per year / 20 toilets = 8,100 flushes per toilet per year.

Now, let’s consider the possible savings if the office building replaces flushometer valve plus bowl toilets (or older tank toilets). If you replace a flushometer toilet for a newer ULTF or HET toilet, you will spend up to 400 USD per toilet. You may spend more to replace older floor fixtures in an older building.

Depending on the cost per flush per toilet in your building, you’re likely to save money over the short-term by installing new water saver toilets. According to EPA, most commercial buildings report at least 20 percent annual savings. Although many commercial buildings install sensor-activated toilets, it’s important to note that EPA says there is “no evidence” that these fixtures serve the purpose of saving water.

Inside: Low Flow Urinals

The LEED program was designed to offer incentives and/or rewards for installing and using water and/or energy conservation products in constructing and renovating a commercial building. The LEED program also offers points/credits to offset property debits. If you install 1.6 GPF/6.0 LPF toilets, HET toilets/HEU urinals that offer at least average water conservation savings of 20 percent earn one LEED point. With 32 percent minimum water savings, two LEED points are earned.

Low flow urinals in your commercial building are another way to achieve water and energy savings. If the number of males in our example above use a urinal two to four times during an eight-hour work day, it’s important to consider the savings you can achieve by replacing the urinals’ flush values and/or the complete urinal unit with a High Efficiency Urinal (HEU). These urinals are offered as 0.125 GFP/0.25 GPF or 0.5LPF/0.95 LPF units.

Here are several items to consider if you’re evaluating urinals to conserve water in your commercial building:

  • As noted above, be wary about sensor-activated urinals. The mechanisms in these fixtures can actually trigger unnecessary phantom flushes.
  • Non-water or “waterless” urinals aren’t compliant in all cases. Practically speaking, waterless urinals require higher maintenance than other high efficiency flushing units. If you’re considering waterless urinals in your commercial building, a cycle cost analysis is essential before you buy.
Faucet with and without an aerator
The photo on the left shows a kitchen faucet without an aerator and the photo on the right shows the same faucet with an aerator. This is a simple change that leads to cost savings.

Inside: Low Flow Faucets

Along with toilets and urinals, wash basin flow rates can be decreased to save water, energy, and money. According to EPA, it’s reasonable to achieve 0.5 GPM/1.9 LPM flows per use [over five to 30 seconds’ duration], the present national standard in the U.S. Calculating your potential savings using retrofit equipment, such as replacement of the faucet aerator vs. replacement of the assembly, is usually a simple task once you’ve collected usage data about urinals and toilets in the building. Faucet retrofits are a low-cost addition to your water savers budget.

If you’re considering sensor-activated faucets to improve hygiene in your commercial lavatories, you should know that your purchase probably won’t help you save water over hand-activated valves:

  • EPA reports show that the average user opens the faucet at a rate of about one to 1.5 gallons of flow per minute.
  • In comparison, most sensor-activated faucets release water at the maximum flow level, about 2.2 gallons per minute.
  • Retrofits can help if you own them, however. Use a 0.5 GPM aerator to reduce the flow to the desired level of 0.5 GPM.

If you’re wondering about how these water saving ideas can be used at home, it’s simply a matter of scale. Water conservation is good for your community and you.

Bonus:  Energy Saving Checklist for Commercial Buildings

If you’re looking for ideas on how to be more sustainable at your commercial building, here is a bonus list of ideas:

This Energy Saving Commercial Checklist was created by Premiere Works

Many sustainable practices used in commercial buildings can also be used in residential settings. It’s exciting to consider how much water—and landscaping dollars—you can save by planting native grasses and plants or installing new water savers in your bathrooms. Collecting rainwater is also a relatively simple way to save money and protect against runoff.

Sustainable Investment Group (SIG) is a LEED Proven Provider®. We offer LEED consulting, engineering, and training services to clients throughout the U.S. We can also help you with utility benchmarking and more. Contact Michael Cichetti at 404-343-3835 to learn how much SIG can do for you.

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