Many Americans do not anticipate or expect water shortages. Most of us are very accustomed to simply turning a faucet, or hose handle, to enjoy a continuous flow of clean water. This expectation might explain why so many of us take access to clean water for granted. But, the reality is that the water supply is increasingly fragile all around the world as consumption is increasing, primarily due to:
- Dramatic worldwide population growth, from roughly 2.5 billion in 1950 to an estimated 7.6 billion in 2018.
- Increased development, urbanization, and quality of life improvements. As populations continue to develop, urbanization increases and the demand for water per capita grows.
- The effects of climate change, including longer and more severe droughts.
- Increased consumption of natural water resources for industrial activity leading to increases in the energy-intensive processes of wastewater reclamation and desalination.
Even in the Northeast and Midwest, which contain 84% of North America’s freshwater, increasingly extreme weather means that we all need to watch our water use – not to mention the costs of literally flushing wasted water down the drain.
Why Water Conservation?
Water management and conservation are critically important to a successful sustainability strategy. We think water and energy management are not mutually exclusive, but rather should always be considered together. A projected $473 billion investment is needed in the U.S. alone over the next 20 years to provide and maintain drinking water infrastructure. There is no better time to begin implementing water conservation projects in the built environment. Here are two examples of how our clients have included water as part of their conservation equation.
Bright Power’s EnergyScoreCards benchmarking platform uncovered historically poor water performance in the initial analysis of a New York City client’s mixed-use multifamily and commercial building. Using our ‘Find, Fix, Follow’ approach, our team tracked down and fixed a previously undetected water leak. Fast-forward nine months and the client has reduced water consumption by 19%, saving $20,000. To prevent issues like this in the future, building management is implementing our MoBIUS service for ongoing monitoring. Once it is up and running, we are able to find and fix problems in real time.
The five-year drought (2013-17) through much of California put tremendous stress on its water supply One of our California clients recently installed low-flow aerators and showerheads across eight multifamily buildings and have seen an approximate 1.9 million gallon reduction in water consumption. That’s almost three Olympic sized swimming pools of water conservation for this client every year!
Making Water Part of Your Energy Equation
Water waste can often be overlooked. It can occur in the form of a slow but constant leak in a toilet or could be an unnoticed open valve that is piped directly to a drain. The good news is, building owners and managers can contribute to water conservation by making relatively modest investments like:
- Low-flow faucet aerators, shower-heads, and toilets (which some local governments require by law).
- Sub-meters to monitor building, unit level, and/or equipment water consumption, along with a company to actually monitor the data and react to it.
- Consumption-based billing of occupants to promote conservation.
- Thoughtful irrigation system planning including low-flow heads, nozzles, and controls.
- ENERGY STAR rated appliances including laundry equipment and dishwashers.
- Participation (where available) in Automated Meter Reading (AMR) which provides interval data for thorough tracking of water consumption. Upgrading water meters is also reimbursable in some markets.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac promote decreased water consumption by way of their financing programs, which offer refinancing based on water reduction or targeted energy efficiency thresholds. Additionally, the EPA (with the help of Fannie Mae and other research) has developed a Water Score allowing multifamily building owners to benchmark their water consumption in comparison with equivalent buildings across the country. Through benchmarking, owners also receive key insights on how buildings are performing and how their performance compares to historical data.
“Water is the ‘blue gold’ of the 21st century,” said Noel O’Halloran, chief investment officer of KBI Global Investors, a €9.2B Dublin asset manager that has run a water strategy since 2000. Building owners and property management companies that take an aggressive, strategic approach to water conservation can potentially realize significant financial savings while doing their part to help humanity turn away from the carbon trainwreck it is currently heading towards.
“Great Lakes Facts and Figures.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 12 Sept. 2017, www.epa.gov/greatlakes/great-lakes-facts-and-figures.
New York City Water Board. (2016). New York City Water and Wastewater Rate Report – FY 2017.
Current Reservoir Levels, NYC Environmental Protection Agency, www.nyc.gov/html/dep/html/drinking_water/maplevels_wide.shtml. 4/17/2018.
Flood, Chris. “The New Oil: How Investors Can Keep Water Flowing.” Financial Times, Financial Times, 12 May 2018, www.ft.com/content/c63d219c-536f-11e8-b3ee-41e0209208ec.
Too much water in Houston, not enough water in California, and bad water in Flint. Water, often so easy to take for granted, has been in the news a lot lately, and the headlines are troubling. Changing climate, aging infrastructure, and rising costs are all driving water to the forefront of many people’s minds.
For those of us with small children, a paranoia can set in. I already filled the bottles and mailed back my free lead testing kit from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and am anxiously waiting for the results from my 91-year-old apartment building. A less patient friend with similarly small children bought a lead-testing kit on Amazon and is now puzzling through the seemingly ambiguous results (“It’s like a poorly-designed pregnancy test!” she exclaimed). She’s drinking only bottled water until she can get something more conclusive.
Vital to life, and catastrophic when toxic or scarce, water is a big deal. Plus, the cost keeps going up to cover the costs of fixing and maintaining the infrastructure.
What Can You Do?
Delivering a sufficient supply of clean water to the residents of apartment buildings is one of the critical tasks for every landlord. With such an overwhelming issue at hand, it can feel hard to know what to do. In celebration of Earth Day, and the vital role that clean water plays on our blue-green planet, here are some water tips:
First, test your water. Test kits are inexpensive and the potential impacts of water contaminants are drastic. If your building has old pipes, be sure to test a few locations for lead, in case only some of the pipes are deteriorating.
Then, save water. Flint’s water problems started with a decision to switch the city to a cheaper, lower quality water source. A better way to lower costs is to stick with high quality water and reduce the amount we use.
Low-flow Faucet Aerators and Showerheads
By limiting the amount of water that comes out of your faucet or shower, low-flow faucet aerators and showerheads can save bucket loads of water and money. The best part is that they’re about as simple as it gets when it comes to installation (just unscrew the old and screw on the new).
But don’t just buy the cheapest thing you can find – there’s a big difference between properly “engineered flow” and a simple flow restrictor. And always test out which ones work best at a particularly property before installing them. Resident buy-in is crucial – aerators and showerheads are as easy to screw off as they are to screw on. Using quality devices that look and feel good will ensure that residents view the devices as an improvement and an amenity, and don’t circumvent the savings. Ongoing monitoring, strong communication and resident partnership are key.
High Efficiency Toilets
When it comes to wasting water, our toilets are some of the biggest offenders. Put it this way: when you flush a “regular” toilet, you could be using up to 7 gallons per flush (gpf)! And unfortunately you can’t just believe what is printed on the tank – our engineers have measured toilets marked as “1.6 gpf” with flushes as high as 4 gallons! Today’s toilets can bring that rate down to 1.28 gallons per flush – a great investment in water conservation and cost savings. But maintaining your equipment is critical, too – when valves and flappers wear out, precious fresh water goes straight down the sewer.
Heating System Leaks
It’s normal for steam heating systems to take in some fresh water over time, but when they take in a lot of this “makeup water” it is indicative of a larger problem – often a boiler or piping leak. Excessive makeup water can also drastically shorten the life of a boiler by as much as half. That’ll really sink your sinking fund. Luckily, measuring makeup water levels is simple, cost-effective and insightful, as long as you put a meter on the makeup water line and someone actually reads that meter.
And if a hot water heating system and requires you to add any water, that is a sign of a problem.
Saving irrigation water can take many forms, from planting only native plants that require no irrigation, to better controlling the irrigation you do use. Many properties are guilty of overwatering – most obviously when sprinklers are running during a rainstorm. This can be tackled by hooking a soil moisture sensor into your irrigation system, or, better, using a WaterSense irrigation system that is networked to weather data to adjust the watering cycles.
But whatever you do, you can’t set it and forget it – analyzing water data can give an indication of a problem, like a mis-set irrigation control, a broken pipe or damaged equipment.
Rainwater and Greywater Capture
Rainwater and Greywater Capture are methods of reusing water that has either accumulated due to rain, or has already been used once (kitchen sinks, showers, etc.). Both can significantly contribute to efficient water usage in buildings. The simplest applications of rainwater and greywater are for irrigation. Rainwater can also be used as makeup water, particularly in cooling towers. Greywater – because it requires additional piping – is more commonly used only in new construction projects. Treated greywater can even be used to flush toilets instead of fresh water.