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Plumbing steps that save water.

By current predictions, 45 percent of the U.S. population will live in areas regulated by water-conservation legislation by the beginning of next year. States like California, Texas, and Arizona, which have been plagued in recent years with continuing drought, already have in effect water-saving measures like "low-flow" ordinances, which mandate the use of plumbing fixtures that operate on reduced water volumes, and cash rebates for purchasing low-flow products.

With increasing pressure on state and local governments to enact more low-flow product legislation, the demand for the latest water-conserving plumbing products--and rental spaces equipped with these devices--will continue to grow.

Indeed, with the lastest advances in plumbing technologies and products, property managers today have more ways to reduce a building's water consumption than ever before. Beyond the environmental benefits, conserving water can assist managers in reducing both water utility costs and water-related taxes. Smart water use can ensure a healthier building environment, enhance tenant satisfaction, and improve a building's marketability.

Starting small

Better water management begins small, with such simple steps as monitoring and regularly repairing a building's leaky faucets and toilets. An average faucet leak can waste up to 5,000 gallons of water per month, totaling an estimated $45 per year. If the leak is from a hot water faucet, managers can add an additional $35 to $45 per year to the cost. A leaky toilet can cost $30 to $40 a year and can waste 3,000 to 5,000 gallons of water per month.

To start with, managers can employ any of several low-cost tests to evaluate any problems in a building's plumbing fixtures, including food coloring, water dyes, and leak-detection products. For example, managers can detect leaks in a toilet by placing a bottle of food coloring or a dye tablet into a toilet's water tank; if the toilet is leaking, the dye will be visible in the bowl within about half an hour.

Managers also can encourage tenants to modify their own water-use habits through regular communication: newsletters, flyers, and other printed materials. Although a manager would in most cases be unable to pass through any water-cost savings to individual tenants, he or she can appeal to tenants' environmental concern by suggesting some easy water-saving tips. These include:

* Taking shorter showers.

* Filling the sink with water instead of allowing the water to run continuously while shaving or washing hands.

* Using dishwashers or washing machines to clean only full loads.

* Reporting immediately to building management any faucets that leak or toilets that "run."

New fixtures

However, property managers can realize their biggest savings by installing water-efficient fixtures that reduce the amount of water their tenants use. Well-designed fixtures can quickly pay for themselves in water-cost savings.

A building's biggest water user, the toilet, consumes nearly one-third of the building's total water supply (see chart). But toilets can be made more efficient quite easily.

Traditional toilets use 5 to 7 gallons per flush; that means nearly 4.8 billion gallons of water is flushed down American toilets each day. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports that replacing all toilets with new low-consumption toilets, which use only 1.6 gallons per flush, would save almost 70 percent of the current U.S. water supply and 5,500 gallons of water per person each year.

Although a low-consumption toilet costs roughly $300 (compared to $100 for a 5-to-7-gallon toilet), the decrease in overall water consumption and related sewer costs can be regained in water saving in less than four years.

In addition to low-consumption toilets, property managers also can save water through low-flow showerheads and faucets. Replacing conventional showerheads, which use 4.5 gallons per minute, with water-saving 2.5-gallon-per-minute fixtures has been shown to save over 10,000 gallons of water and $50 a year in hot water and sewer costs for an average family of four.

Replacing hand-valve showers with digital-temperature-readout showers can save an estimated 3,500 gallons yearly for a four-person household. Digital-temperature showers allow the user to select a comfortable water temperature before turning on the shower. This means that far less water is wasted than in the typical shower with old-fashioned fixtures, most of which force the user to waste gallons of water while searching for the perfect water temperature.

And, installing energy-efficient faucet aerators can save 6,500 gallons of water per year, equal to 3 to 5 percent of total indoor residential water use. Aerators add air to the water flowing out of a faucet, thus allowing for higher-pressure water flow without excessive water waste.

In addition, replacing traditional twist-on hand faucets with push-on fixtures can save nearly 5,000 gallons of water per four-person household every year. Push-on hand faucets keep water flowing for only five seconds at a time, thus dramatically reducing the amount of water wasted. Because push-on faucets are relatively inexpensive--$10 to $50 per fixture--they usually pay for themselves in water savings in less than a year.

Clothes- and diswasher manufacturers also have begun to follow the plumbing industry's lead in designing their products with better water management in mind. In order to appeal to today's environmentally conscious consumers, manufacturers have added shorter cycles, adjustable water levels, and water recycling features.

These new product features have eliminated nearly 40 percent of the water waste that dishwashers and washing machines made less than 10 years ago, resulting in an average savings of over $50 a year in hot water and sewer bills for each machine installed.

Managers also can install pressure-reducing valves on all water mains. By lowering the building-wide water pressure to 50 to 60 psi (instead of the 100 psi that many water utilities provide), managers can dramatically reduce tenants' water use.

In addition, the reduction in water pressure will reduce the wear and tear on both the solenoid valve, which controls the water that flows into all plumbing-related appliances, and the entire plumbing system. Thus, managers are better able to reduce the related costs and frequency of expensive plumbing-related appliance replacement and plumbing system repairs.

With the invention of low-flow plumbing products and an increased emphasis placed on saving the environment, the plumbing fixtures like the toilet, showerheads, and faucets produced today substantially outperform their pre-1980 counterpart by providing an opportunity to save twice as much water per tenant. Therefore, while it might cost slightly more to purchase and install these water-conserving products, the long-term benefits of decreased indoor water use and sewage waste will allow managers to reduce their tenants' water utility costs while at the same time improving the marketability of the building.


Because of widespread concern over water conservation, plumbing experts and others are studying a variety of products and technologies that will allow Americans to use less water in their everyday activities. For instance, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency currently is funding research on the use of "grey" or recycled water in some applications that do not require potable water.

Grey-water systems employ dual water-piping systems that recover water discharged by washing machines, bathroom sinks, and other places and carry it to cleaning equipment, where it will be processed for use in appropriate functions.

In addition, many water-conservation groups are lobbying Congress to pass a comprehensive bill that would require the use of low-flow fixtures in all new residential construction next year. The proposed bill also would include measures for controlled water consumption in agriculture, tax incentives for voluntary water conservation, and funding for further research in gray-water systems.

In the meantime, managers can take several steps to reduce the consumption and waste of water in their own buildings right now. By encouraging tenants to get into the habit of using less water, scheduling regular maintenance and/or replacement of plumbing fixtures, implementing the latest water-conservation systems and products, and hiring a qualified contractor to select and install low-flow plumbing products, property managers now have the capability to further increase the efficiency of their building's water use while at the same time reduce the building's water-related expenditures.

[Allen R. Inlow is chief executive officer of the National Association of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors. He also has served as executive director of the Kansas PHCC Association, manager of the Kansas chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association, and assistant superintendent of code enforcement for the city of Wichita, Kansas.]
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Title Annotation:Operating Techniques & Products Bulletin 416
Author:Inlow, Allen R,
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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Next Article:Community associations come of age.

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