4 FM quick reads on plumbing
1. 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 Unfortunately, restrooms in many institutional and commercial facilities continue to use outdated, inefficient plumbing fixtures, valves, toilets and faucets that contribute to water waste and drive up utility costs.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Outdated technology, piping leaks, and seal leaks are three of the top water-wasters in restroom plumbing systems.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.
2. 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.
3. Housekeeping Practices Important to Improved Hygiene
Managers can pay closer attention to housekeeping practices in their efforts to improve a facility's restroom hygiene. Trained custodians should use the standard methods to clean all restroom fixtures and surfaces. Three factors determine cleaning success: the cleaner used, the amount, and the application method. Manual cleaning methods leave germ-laden mops and brushes, while using a low-pressure power-spray washer and vacuum tends to leave surfaces cleaner and drier.
By testing restroom air and surfaces for contamination, managers can be proactive in their efforts to monitor and improve restroom hygiene, and they can use the results to fine-tune cleaning methods. Testing consists of collecting samples from the air, fixtures and surfaces with swabs and having the samples tested by a laboratory or using a hygiene meter for in-house testing.
A swab hygiene tester is a ready-to-use dilution-and-delivery device. The swab is contained in a tube with a reagent in the handle. After swabbing a surface, the tester places the swab in the tube and injects a reagent from the handle into the tube and mixes for five seconds. The mixture then is ready for testing.
Managers also can consider using a luminometer — an electronic hygiene monitor — to measure adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a universal energy molecule found in all animal, plant, bacterial, yeast, and mold cells. The luminometer is a 3- by 7- by 1-1/2-inch, handheld, battery-operated device that can track 100 programmable locations and store 500 tests. One set of batteries is good for 3,000 or more tests. When the instrument's reagent contacts a sample, the sample emits light. The amount of light emitted is directly proportional to the amount of ATP present in the sample.
4. Restroom Image: The Maintenance Connection
Restrooms are one area of facilities that most people never notice — until they do. When managers notice a restroom, it is usually because someone has complained about it. Even though restrooms frequently go unnoticed by managers, they are one of the most visible and memorable areas within any facility for both building occupants and visitors. Paying close attention to maintenance can pay major dividends when it comes to improving the image of restrooms.
While cleaning is the most significant maintenance cost, there are other issues that should be addressed during the design phase that will have a major impact on maintenance costs. One of the biggest complaints of maintenance crews is the lack of isolation valves on restroom fixtures. Without isolation valves, a problem with one fixture takes the entire restroom out of service. Each fixture must be installed with its own isolation valve.
During the selection process, particularly for fixtures and their controls, attention must be paid to the maintenance requirements of different options. While the rated service life of the fixtures may be very similar, the actual service life of individual components, such as seals, may differ widely. And the time and ease of getting to components that must be periodically replaced also varies widely from unit to unit. Components should be evaluated in part on how difficult it will be to maintain them.
Selecting dispensers for consumable supplies that are adequately sized for the level of use in a particular restroom will reduce the number of times that dispensers must be re-supplied, reducing maintenance costs. Touchless controls on these devices will limit the quantity of product dispensed, which also reduces the frequency with which they must be refilled.
Even something as simple as selecting the right lighting fixture can impact maintenance costs. A well-designed lighting fixture will require no special tools or disassembly of the fixture in order to replace the fixture's light sources. Similarly, the fixtures should be selected in part based on the cost of the lamps that they require.
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