Water Use Efficiency Vital for Commercial, Institutional Facilities
Conserving water resources is key to any overarching sustainability plan and that resonates strongly in South Florida, from where our own Larry Clark sends this dispatch.
May 06, 2021
[Editor's note: this column originally appeared in HPAC Engineering .]
This column has often been devoted to technologies related to energy efficiency. Energy reduction is, of course, directly related to carbon reduction, and is a critical climate change mitigation strategy.
Conserving water resources is also key to any overarching sustainability plan and resonates strongly here in South Florida, where we see the effects of sea-level rise every day. Recently I had the opportunity to present at the 2021 Water Conservation Expo, hosted by the South Florida Water Management District . The following is excerpted from that presentation, which addressed water use efficiency in commercial and institutional facilities.
The question of why water conservation in commercial and institutional buildings is important is fairly obvious. A study released in 2017 by the U.S. Energy Information Administration indicated that 46,000 of the largest – which they defined as more than 200,000 square feet – commercial buildings in the U.S. used 2.3 percent of the country’s total public water supply. Now, 2.3 percent may not sound like a lot, but in 2012, that represented nearly a billion gallons of water per day.
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According to that study, hospitals, correctional facilities, and hotels – in that order – were the largest water consumers and had the highest water intensity in gallons per square foot. Of course, those types of facilities – hospitals, prisons, and hotels – represent a much smaller share of the total building inventory than do commercial office buildings. A typical office building can have a water intensity which is less than a third of that of a hospital, but in the U.S., there are approximately 97 billion square feet of office buildings compared to only 2.3 billion square feet of hospitals. The EPA estimates that together, those hospitals, office buildings, and other commercial and institutional facilities use 17 percent of all publicly-supplied water in the U.S.
Interestingly, regardless of a building’s end-use, some 30 to 40 percent of the water use in buildings is typically for restrooms. So those are obviously low-hanging fruit when owners are looking for ways to conserve water. A number of state and national programs support water efficient plumbing fixtures and equipment, perhaps most notably the EPA Water Sense program . And the efficiency of these fixtures is constantly improving.
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In 1994, 3 to 5 gallons-per-flush (gpf) toilets started being replaced with 1.6 gpf (which became mandatory for commercial buildings in 1997). By 2014, 1.28 gpf was the new standard in many jurisdictions, 1.1/1.6 gpf dual flush toilets were gaining in popularity, and today 0.5/0.8 gpf dual-flush toilets are sold on the internet. Lavatory faucets and shower heads are also much more efficient than in the past, and even simple, inexpensive faucet aerators provide tangible water savings.
Clearly, conserving water in any commercial or institutional building should start with the development of a water management plan, and should include an assessment of the building’s water use in order to identify opportunities for reducing water consumption. It should also provide a means for tracking the results of any water conservation measures that are implemented. The old saying that you can’t manage what you can’t measure definitely applies to water conservation.
Of course, many of the water conservation measures in commercial and institutional facilities are just commonsense maintenance practices, like regularly checking for leaks and promptly repairing them. Not as obvious, perhaps, are measures such as retrofitting older, less efficient, water-consuming HVAC systems and equipment.
South Florida—like other vacation destinations–has a plethora of hospitality properties, and all of those visitors want clean sheets and towels. So it’s not surprising that hotels use 16 percent of their total water consumption in their laundry operations. A full-service hotel (one with a restaurant, pool, and banquet facilities) will typically wash 12 to 14 lbs of laundry per room per day. In a resort, with golf and tennis facilities, that can jump to 16 lbs per room per day. Towel and linen reuse programs, that encourage guests to use their towels and linens more than once during their stay can save an average of 17 gallons of water per day per occupied room, while also saving electric energy and reducing detergent use
Finally, for commercial and institutional facilities seeking green building certifications, water conservation is a must. LEED, Green Globes, and others all require buildings to demonstrate significant reductions in water, either through compliance with prescriptive requirements or by demonstrating successful performance outcomes, or both.
For example, the just-released Green Globes for Existing Buildings 2021 allocates 185 out of a possible 1,000 points to water. Of those 185 points, 65 are performance-based and 120 are prescriptive.
So, even if a building isn’t seeking certification, saving water makes good sense for the planet... and good ‘cents’ for owners, too.
A regular contributor to HPAC Engineering and a member of its editorial advisory board since 2012, Clark, LEED AP, O+M, is a principal at Sustainable Performance Solutions LLC, a south Florida-based engineering firm focusing on energy and sustainability. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Backflow Prevention: Why Every Plumber Should Get Certified
Plumbers may forgo certification, deeming it unnecessary, and causing them to miss out on a world of opportunity.
Apr 20, 2021
By Rose Morrison
Plumbing is one of the most profitable subcontracting careers out there. According to Money magazine, it’s the sixth highest-paying job that doesn’t require a degree and provides reliable job security. Backflow prevention training and certification can take these benefits further.
Backflow happens when the flow of water shifts within a piping system, causing non-potable fluids to flow back towards clean water. This can contaminate the water people use for cleaning or drinking, leading to a wide range of problems. It’s a preventable issue, too, but it takes a certified expert to install and test the necessary equipment.
Because preventing backflow is one of the most basic elements of system design and installation, many plumbers may forgo certification, deeming it unnecessary. But this may cause them to miss out on a world of opportunity. Here’s why every plumber should pursue backflow prevention certification.
Backflow Is Common
Plumbers, and contractors as a whole, have the opportunity to become certified in a range of specialties. Many of these can seem like small niches, which may improve business in some areas but could be unnecessary. Backflow prevention is not a niche. Instead, it addresses a surprisingly common issue.
Backflow comes from cross-connections. These are areas where a water supply could contact non-potable liquids, gases, or solids. These cross-connections are everywhere, including garden hoses, which happen to be the most common source of backflow in the U.S. Since these connections are so commonplace, backflow is a prevalent problem across the country.
More than 1,000 backflow incidents can occur in a single state every year. As long as there are cross-connections in water systems, this will be an issue that requires certified professionals. Plumbers can be confident they’ll put their certification to use.
Backflow Poses Health Risks
Another reason all plumbers should pursue backflow prevention certification is that this issue is a potentially dangerous one. When contaminated fluids enter clean water supplies, it can create considerable health problems. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recorded 57 waterborne disease outbreaks from backflow across 17 years, leading to more than 9,700 cases of illness.
Even in a nation with as much clean water as the U.S., there are 7.15 million waterborne illnesses a year. While backflow doesn’t account for all of those instances, it is a substantial contributor. Plumbers with the appropriate certification can help fight these diseases.
Certified plumbers can install backflow prevention measures during the construction phase of a building. That way, they prevent these health risks from arising from the start. Otherwise, issues could arise in the future, and another plumber will have to come to fix the situation, hopefully before anyone becomes ill.
Backflow Prevention Can Be Profitable
On a less severe note, plumbers may want to pursue this certification for business reasons. Plumbing is already a potentially profitable profession, earning a median wage of $55,160 a year. Becoming certified in backflow testing and prevention can increase earnings due to a couple of factors.
First, this certification increases the services a plumber can provide, giving them a bargaining chip for a higher wage. Preventing backflow also involves installing new equipment in a pipe system, not just addressing a problem within the pipes themselves. The workers who do this can charge their clients more to account for the extra expenses.
Second, backflow equipment requires regular testing and maintenance to ensure it’s working properly. That means every time a plumber installs these systems, there’s a good chance they’ll get repeat business from that client. These equipment checks provide a steady, consistent source of payment in addition to a plumber’s regular work.
Backflow Prevention Certification Can Attract Customers
Backflow certification may also help plumbers reach more potential clients. Considering how frequent an issue backflow can be, many customers will look for appropriately qualified professionals in their area. If plumbers advertise their certification, these clients will find them faster and provide more work.
Customers may not be aware of the need for certification in this area, but that doesn’t negate its advertising power. A quick Google search of “backflow prevention” or “backflow testing” will pull up certified professionals in the area. Being able to advertise these services helps plumbers appear in these searches and reach new clients.
Backflow certification can stand out even to people who don’t have any related issues. Certifications, in general, demonstrate commitment to the profession ( https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/346287) and build trust with potential clients. This showcase of a plumber’s knowledge and trustworthiness can help them stand out from any competitors.
How to Get Certified in Backflow Prevention
Plumbers who want to obtain backflow certifications have a few options.
As with many other types of certifications, multiple organizations offer training and licensing, so plumbers can choose whichever seems best to them. Generally speaking, larger organizations will be a better choice, as potential clients may be more likely to recognize their names.
Within each organization, there may be multiple certifications a plumber could pursue. These often differ by their specific field, so contractors should decide which best fits the work they want to perform. What the process looks like from there can vary depending on the organization and specific certification.
Some organizations, like the American Backflow Prevention Association ( https://www.abpa.org/page/Tester_Cert) , only require a test, not a specific training course. Still, if a plumber hasn’t trained in this area, they won’t likely be able to pass the exam. Other certification programs include classes and hands-on training before testing a plumber’s skills.
With most, if not all, certification boards, a plumber’s credentials will expire eventually. They will then have to re-test to renew their certification to keep advertising and providing these services. This renewal may require retaking the same test, but some organizations, like the Institute of Cross-Connection ( https://backflowinstitute.com/training/) provide different re-certification courses and tests.
Every Plumber Should Consider Backflow Certification
Backflow prevention certification can push any plumber’s career forward. It increases the scope of work they can perform, attracts new customers, raises wages, and helps them prevent health hazards. The certification process is also relatively straightforward and short, providing these benefits without a significant investment.
As the nation’s water infrastructure ages, these issues could become increasingly prominent, further raising the need for certified backflow workers. With the right credentials, plumbers can make an already in-demand and profitable business even more successful.
Rose Morrison is a freelance writer who covers construction, home improvement, and contracting topics. She is also the managing editor of Renovated.com, a site dedicated to the latest trends in the home industry. She has a passion for innovative technologies that are making the home industry sustainable and efficient. Check out Renovated.com to see more of her work.
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