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Water Efficiency Requires Occupant Cooperation, Change Of Habits

By Casey Laughman, Managing Editor - June 2014 - Green


Water also tends to be overlooked by occupants in areas that are not undergoing droughts or shortages. It’s easy to think, “Hey, I should turn my computer off,” to save energy, but it takes a change in thinking to build habits such as turning off faucets while soaping up your hands. So, when it comes to water-saving efforts, one obstacle is changing occupant behavior to ensure cooperation. Water is an area where people can be particular, such as the previously mentioned concerns about aerators keeping the water in the faucets from warming up quickly enough. Occupants also sometimes raise concerns about flush rates due to horror stories of low-flow toilets and urinals leading to clogging.

In some cases, it’s ingrained behavior that leads to the challenge. John Koeller, partner, MaP Testing, points out that while dual-flush toilets work great from a mechanical standpoint, the savings they offer can fail to materialize due to occupants not using the half-flush option for liquids. If the dual-flush handle is a model that gives a full flush when pushed down, but a half flush when pulled up, then the odds are very good that people, used to pushing the handle down, will not pull the handle up.

“Most people won’t do it because in a lot of restrooms, people use their foot to activate the flush,” Koeller says. One manufacturer makes a model where the half-flush mode is activated by pushing down, so that may be an option. Other dual-flush toilets have push buttons, which force the user to decide which mode to flush the toilet in.

Changing Behavior

There are ways to work around these challenges. First, you can engage occupants during any changeovers to explain what steps are being taken to mitigate these concerns, such as installing instantaneous water heaters to ensure warm water for hand washing.

Another option is to test the new fixtures in only a few locations and gauge feedback that way. You can tell occupants where the new fixtures are, or you can install the fixtures quietly to see if there are actual concerns or if it’s more of a psychological issue.

“Test and see if people are really going to notice a difference,” Fedak says, “or if it’s just them anticipating they’re going to notice a difference.”

Educating occupants on the importance of using the proper flush or a similar concern is a bit trickier. The main reason is that, unlike electricity, which is an expensive resource that has been the focus of well-publicized campaigns to cut consumption, water efficiency is still a somewhat nebulous concept for most people, as evidenced, Koeller says, by the simple question, “Where does my water come from?”

“Invariably, people will say ‘Well, it comes out of the tap,’” he says. “Yeah, but where does it come from?” With this in mind, remember that, ultimately, water-efficient fixtures are only as efficient as their usage. If you can get occupants thinking about water the same way they do energy, then you can see your efficiency efforts pay off.

“That’s the difference between conservation and efficiency,” says Koeller. “Conservation is all about actions of people, and it’s all behavior-related.”





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