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By Thomas A. Westerkamp
Plumbing & Restrooms Article Use Policy
Managers focused on water conservation have a range of proven options when specifying low-water-use, low-maintenance, and low-cost products that offer solid design and construction. Installing low-flow fittings is one proven way to start a water-conservation program. Water use, especially hot water, is becoming increasingly expensive. The cost to heat water in some facilities can be greater than cost of space heating.
Multiply these savings by the number of patients in a hospital, the number of students in a school or dormitory, or the number of employees in a commercial office building, and the potential savings can be substantial. Providing reliable, well-designed plumbing products also will add to the health and comfort of users.
New plumbing fixtures also can contribute significant significantly to water conservation plans, especially if a building is 30-40 years old, as is the case for thousands of facilities throughout the country. But managers should pay close attention to the limits of existing plumbing systems. Among the most common plumbing products specified with water conservation in mind are:
Low-flow fittings. Investments in low-flow aerator nozzles for faucets can reduce water use. The water volume consumed by faucets varies widely among fixtures. For example, up-to-date faucets with low-flow aerators can cut water flow rates by 50 percent, to 0.5 gpm.
If managers also specify battery-operated, no-hands operation and design, they not only lower water consumption. They also create a healthier environment by minimizing germ transfer from handling faucets. These faucets deliver water only when users place their hands under the faucets, breaking the sensor beam. Removing the hands restores the beam, and the faucet turns off the flow of water.
Low-flow flush valves for urinals and toilets. Low-flow designs, along with battery-powered and no-hands operation, also are available for flush valves. Urinal flush-valve volume varies from 1-1-1/2 gpm, while toilet flush-valve volume varies from 1.6-4.5 gpm. By upgrading to low-flow valves for optimum performance, managers can save significantly on water bills.
One note of caution: The operative word with these products is optimum, not minimum, flow. One common complaint is that low-flow fixtures are too low for some uses and that they can cause stoppages because they might not flush completely each time. To avoid these issues, managers need to consult local codes and talk with building inspectors to find out about their experiences before finalizing specifications. Managers also might consider upgrading toilet bowls to newer designs before installing low-flow flush valves on toilets.
Some early designs for toilet fixtures intended to save water did not meet expectations because older bowl designs were not compatible with new low-flow valves. So managers should be aware that high-efficiency toilet valves might require new bowl designs. Bowls now have the flow rate permanently imprinted in the rim.
Managers who decide to retrofit existing valves with automatic, battery-operated, vandal-resistant models, or to replace manual valves with the new automatic models will save water and improve cleanliness and hygiene.
If managers are concerned that batteries will fail and render the valves inoperative, consider this: Battery-operated, automatic valves continue to operate for several thousand cycles after the low-battery light comes on, giving maintenance technicians plenty of time to replace the batteries, especially if the department has a solid preventive maintenance program that requires regular checks and repairs. Also, there are handheld scanners available that allow technicians to check the range of operation and reset the valve for optimum operation.
Water filters. Using these filters reduces stains on fixtures and corrosion on piping. Stains and corrosion can result from minerals or other chemicals in the water, such as iron, sulfur, low-pH water, chlorine, or turbidity. If testing indicates the presence of these contaminants, it is wise to invest in a filter system customized to facility needs. It will pay for itself in improved performance, longer piping system life, and lower costs.
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