4  FM quick reads on plumbing

1. Water Conservation: Identifying Targets

With the growing need to reduce water use, maintenance and engineering managers might wonder which areas of facilities to focus on first. Before performing a plumbing retrofit with the latest and greatest water-efficiency technologies, managers need to understand the way a facility is performing in terms of water efficiency. The first step in this process is establishing a baseline for water use from current utility bills.

For example, compile the last five years of utility bills and document water use for each month in a format that enables a comparison from year to year. Set the first year as the baseline. If the facility has implemented water-efficiency measures in the past five years, compare current use against this baseline to determine how much the facility has improved.

The next step in the process is to determine all components and systems in the facility that use water. This step includes documenting restroom plumbing fixtures, as well as major systems that use water. These include systems considered process loads, such as cooling towers and commercial kitchens.

One strategy for understanding the amount of water each system consumes is using sub-meters. By installing sub-meters, managers can quantify consumption and specifically target conservation measures.

Typically, most water use in an office building relates to restroom plumbing fixtures. The building's construction can have a great deal to do with the types of fixtures installed. The Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) and International Plumbing Code (IPC) typically dictate plumbing requirements for new construction. The table below compares plumbing fixture flow rates and requirements during different periods.

Water Woes: Locating the Sources of Waste

New plumbing products and systems have come a long way in terms of performance and water conservation in recent years. Unfortunately, restrooms in many institutional and commercial facilities continue to use outdated, inefficient plumbing fixtures, valves, toilets and faucets that contribute to water waste and drive up utility costs.

By identifying top water wasters in restrooms and fine-tuning inspection, maintenance, and monitoring procedures, maintenance and engineering managers can eliminate or minimize water waste. Beyond that, they can use benchmarks to determine whether a plumbing retrofit is the most appropriate course of action.

Outdated technology, piping leaks, and seal leaks are three of the top water-wasters in restroom plumbing systems. Old fixtures — those made before 1992, when regulations on low-flow showerheads, toilets, urinals, and sink faucets went into effect — used twice as much water as newer fixtures. This combination can make it difficult for managers to hold the line on utility budgets, especially when added to continued water and sewer rate increases.

Vigilance is the best defense against wasted water in restroom plumbing systems. The sooner technicians can identify the source, the quicker they can prevent water waste. Regular, preventive inspections are the surest way to spot and correct problems.

One waste-reducing strategy is submetering, which measures the flows in various areas and can help managers determine which buildings or systems are the biggest users and wasters. One quick way to determine the presence of leaks is to read the meter at two-hour intervals when no water is being used. The difference between the two is water wasted from leaks. With this comparison, managers can focus conservation efforts and resources on projects and produce the largest paybacks.

Restroom Retrofits Generate Savings for Atlanta Airport

When historic drought conditions seriously threaten living conditions in a significant part of the country, institutional and commercial facilities of all kinds feel the heat.

Such was the case in Georgia in 2007, when record dry conditions — reported as the worst in more than 100 years — made for difficult living conditions in the Atlanta area. For one of the first times in U.S. history, a major city was forced to take drastic steps to keep from running out of water.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was no exception to a state mandate that required public water system providers to reduce their use by 10 percent. In response to the conditions and the mandate, the airport began a major water-conservation initiative in early 2008 that included a significant retrofit of the airport's restrooms, which serve more than 90 million passengers a year.

As the drought eased and conditions returned to normal in 2009, the airport's water-conservation efforts continue to expand, with additional initiatives such as rainwater harvesting and low-water use landscaping, aimed at reducing energy savings 20 percent by the year 2020.

Because the water reduction request was a state mandate, the project's scope, schedule and budget were set by a state agency. A contractor hired by airlines servicing the airport to operate and maintain the passenger terminal complex handled the installation, says Tommy Davis, the project manager. The restroom retrofit had a budget of $5 million and consisted of:

  • removing 1,391 toilets with a rate of 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf) and replacing them with 1.28 gpf models
  • replacing 651 1-gallon gpf urinals with 0.5 gpf units
  • retrofitting 1,181 water faucets with flow rates between 1 gallon per minute (gpm) and 2.2 gpm with high-efficiency faucets with flow rates of 0.5 gpm.


plumbing , retrofits , water conservation

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