How A Water Audit Pays Off

Klaus Reichardt | Industrial Maintenance & Plant Operation

Posted: 5/06/17

How A Water Audit Pays Off

Managers of industrial facilities want to conserve water and find ways to use it more efficiently, if for no other reason than it is the right thing to do, right? Well, yes, it is the right thing to do, but there is another reason managers of industrial locations should consider ways to reduce water consumption, and that is to save money.

This article is being written in Chicago, where water and sewer rates have essentially doubled since 2007 and have yet to plateau. One report indicates they will go up another 14 percent by 2019. So, if the average water bill for a homeowner in Chicago (apartments and single-family homes) was about $35 monthly in 2007, they are now looking at $70 per month, which will likely be getting closer to $100 per month fairly soon.

By comparison, for an industrial location using thousands of gallons of water each month, we're talking about rate increases that could total several thousand more dollars per year. Managers of industrial locations do not have to be victims of these increases, however. They can take action now to help minimize them and possibly even reduce water and sewer costs. It all starts by conducting a water audit.

Clarifications First

Before discussing water audits, we need to clarify a few points. First, although the terms are often used interchangeably, "water conservation" and "water efficiency" are not the same. Possibly this will explain the difference:

If your facility was told to cut back water consumption by 25 percent for 12 months due to a drought, that would be water conservation. You are reducing water consumption to address a current water shortage.

If your business was notified to reduce water consumption by 25 percent on a permanent basis, you would need to find ways to use water more efficiently. Water efficiency is long-term conservation. Another thing we should clarify regards saving money. There is a very close connection between water and energy. Most facilities use quite a bit of water for heating and cooling, both of which require fuel and energy. Reducing consumption here can help lower power bills as well as water and sewer bills.

Water Audits 101

A water audit is designed to identify where water is being used in a facility, where it may be wasted, and where the amount of water used can be reduced.

If this is the first time you have conducted a water audit, the task can be made a lot easier if we focus on certain areas of the facility. According to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), in a commercial/industrial facility most of the water consumed is in these four areas: 

  • Kitchens and restrooms, 41 percent
  • Cooling/heating, 28 percent
  • Landscaping, 22 percent
  • "Other," 9 percent (Note: "other" was not defined)

It is typically best to have water audits of cooling and heating systems conducted by an expert in that area. Landscaping may also require someone specializing in irrigation. However, conducting a water audit of kitchens and restrooms is something most facilities can easily do in-house, and as we see, it is where the largest amount of water is typically used.

Our next step is to establish a benchmark. We need to know exactly how much water is being used in the building so we can see if our efforts are proving successful. Even though our focus now is just restrooms and kitchens, our efforts in reducing consumption here will be reflected in future water consumption and water bills.

To establish a benchmark, gather 12 months or more of water utility bills. Our concern now is not costs but the amount of water consumed. Total and then average these amounts to find your monthly usage.

Next, complete the water audit by following these steps:

  • Pay vigorous attention to leaks. According to SFWMD, "leak detection exercises can save a facility tens to hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per year."
  • Total all toilets in the building and list how much water each is designed to use per flush. Newer toilets are required to use no more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush (GPF). Be aware that as toilets age, they may use more than the amount specified. Kits are available to help reduce the amount of water used by toilets or replace toilets so that they use about 1.25 GPF, a reduction of about 20 to 65 percent in water consumption, depending on the toilet.
  • Now, collect similar data regarding urinals. Newer urinals are designed to use 1 GPF; however, just like toilets, as the flush handles age, they may use more. Kits to reduce water use in urinals may not be dependable. While some urinals are available that use .5 GPF, due to installation costs, many facilities choose to install no-water urinals. Water consumption is eliminated entirely, and waterless urinals tend to be relatively inexpensive to purchase and install compared to a water-using urinal.
  • If your facility has shower areas, make sure inexpensive aerators have been installed in all showerheads.
  • Check that aerators have also been installed in all faucets. A faucet can use more than 2 gallons of water per minute; aerators installed in faucets can reduce this to 0.5 gallons per minute.
  • Retrofitting a commercial kitchen with a new dishwasher can reduce water consumption by as much as 50 percent, depending on the age of the dishwasher. Similarly, and often overlooked, ice makers that are air-cooled use considerably less water than a water-cooled system.

According to SFWMD, by taking these and similar steps, commercial and industrial facilities can significantly improve water efficiency. In fact, they indicate studies have found that water savings can range "from 15 to 50 percent, with 15 to 35 percent being the most typical savings."

Of course, the actual savings can depend on many variables, such as when the building was constructed and whether water efficiency efforts were designed into the building when constructed. In either case, a water audit can be conducted and should be re-conducted every couple of years to make sure the facility is using as little water as possible and that which it is using is used efficiently.



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