5 Ways to Conserve Water in Residential & Commercial Buildings

February 25, 2022
running faucet

Sustainable construction for every area of your project

While water conservation regulations may vary from state to state, the need for preserving our limited fresh water resources is a global concern—and a high priority for many residential and commercial building owners. Learning about material and design options around water usage and sustainable building can help as your team pursues bids and talks with clients about their needs.

Here are five areas to focus on as you discuss water conservation in any construction project.

Outdoor Water Use

While it isn’t inside your building, most residential water usage takes place outside. According to the EPA, the average American family uses 320 gallons of water per day and about 30% of that is outdoor use. For dryer areas of the country, irrigation can take up nearly 60% of a household’s water supply.

While some landscape design is focused on native, drought-tolerant plants, contractors can also install rain sensors for irrigation systems to ensure water isn’t wasted when it’s not needed. Drip irrigation hoses are an option that provide slower hydration to plants, which is less likely to evaporate from the sun and wind.

Rain barrels, which collect rainwater and roof runoff, are another outdoor solution to conserving water. These tanks can be installed above- or below-ground, and can be outfitted with plumbing fixtures that meet clients’ needs.

For larger commercial projects, consider installing a smart water monitoring system that gives the owner and property manager access to data around water consumption. The system sends an alert when any leaks or a sudden increase in water usage are detected, so those connected can quickly address the issues.

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Water Conversation in Bathrooms

Bathrooms are a great place to start if your client is interested in using water-saving plumbing fixtures. For commercial buildings, low-flow faucets and motion-activated fixtures can help save water, especially if the area is at risk for constantly running faucets. Products with a WaterSense label meet EPA criteria for water conservation and help jumpstart the search for this type of fixture.

Toilets that conserve water with each flush can also help avoid wasted potable water; some options, like dual flush toilets, are estimated to reduce up to 71% compared to conventional toilets. You can also explore greywater options to make sure that toilets are flushed with water that is not connected to municipal or well-sourced drinking water.

Newer showerhead designs maximize water pressure while reducing water flow. Moving from a 2.5-gpm showerhead to 2.0-gpm can provide approximately 20% use reduction. Plumbing insulation is another area to look at for conserving water, as you want to be sure that hot water can travel efficiently and water is not wasted as it warms up. The International Energy Conservation Code states that any hot water piping, regardless of material, should be installed with at least 1”-thick insulation.

Saving Water in the Kitchen and Laundry Room

When choosing appliances and materials in a new-build kitchen or kitchen renovation, WaterSense faucets are just one place to start. You can also research ENERGY STAR appliances and brands to ensure that daily use does not steadily add up to water waste. Standard-size ENERGY STAR certified dishwashers use an average of 3.2 gallons of water per cycle, and compact models use an average of 2.7 gallons per cycle, compared to 4.2 and 3.5 gallons for standard dishwashers.

For clothes washers, brands like Electrolux and Whirlpool are introducing technology that not only increases the load capacity for lower water usage per load, but also introduces a steam feature that provides a quick and thorough clean while using fewer gallons of water.

Because water leaks are a huge waste of water, it is best practice to install a water shutoff valve both below the kitchen sink and at a refrigerator’s and washer’s water connections. This ensures leaks can be quickly stopped and repaired without having to find a main water shutoff for the house or building.

Water Efficiency for Cooling Towers

For commercial buildings, cooling towers are primarily used for water that has been heated during the HVAC or air conditioning process. They exchange the heated water for water that has been slowed and cooled through a series of pipes with large surface areas. Taking advantage of the natural method of cooling (i.e., small amounts of evaporation) and an electric fan, cooling towers can be a large source of water usage for a building.

Leaks, cracks, and runoff are common in cooling towers that are not consistently maintained, so you will want to implement a regular maintenance and inspection schedule to ensure your building’s cooling tower is running efficiently and applying sustainable construction best practices. Be sure to also check in with your HVAC designer to consider more efficient cross-flow or counter-flow cooling towers, rather than relying on once-through cooling. And, just as you do across your whole building, monitor the overall water pressure to ensure it doesn’t spike and cause pipes to crack.

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